Nate Jackson / February 22, 2016

The GOP Race and the Obama Effect

The Trump Train remains impossible to derail until the field is down to two.

The results from South Carolina are in with few surprises, unless perhaps it would be Marco Rubio’s second-place finish after coming in a dismal fifth in New Hampshire. Ted Cruz came in third (though only about 1,000 votes behind Rubio) in a state that should have been tailor-made for him. Donald Trump performed strongly despite praising ObamaCare and essentially calling the last Republican president a war criminal. Perhaps he can, as he recently boasted, “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and [not] lose any voters.”

The Trump Train remains impossible to derail until the field is down to two. Yes, Jeb Bush dropped out, but John Kasich and Ben Carson remain in the race, diluting the not-Trump vote. As Rubio put it, “[O]ver 70% of Republicans nationally have basically said we’re not voting for Donald Trump. And as long as that 70% is being divided up … of course he’s the frontrunner.” That’s assuming Trump has reached his ceiling. He’s defied all conventional wisdom so far, but it does seem that 30-35% is his plateau in the primary. Until Rubio or Cruz bows out, Trump has the clearest path to the nomination — followed by what at present appears to be a significant loss to Hillary Clinton.

The trouble is that neither Rubio nor Cruz has any reason to leave the race yet. They virtually tied in South Carolina, and are polling neck-and-neck in Nevada (which votes Tuesday). Most unfortunately, they’ve spent most of their time in recent weeks attacking each other, which has made both of them less appealing.

As we have said before, Trump’s card is the ace of anger affirmation — he’s tapping into an entirely justified swell of frustration among voters. And for that, we can thank Barack Obama and the failure of the GOP establishment to effectively stop him. If Trump wins the nomination, it may simply be the Republican establishment reaping what it sowed. That’s all well and good, but we think it will ultimately lead to Clinton carrying on Obama’s legacy from the White House. What will that have accomplished?

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