If you read the headlines following the Democratic Nevada
caucus and the Republican South Carolina primary on
Saturday, you would think the two presidential nomination
contests are over, and the winners are Hillary Clinton and
But that’s not what happened on Saturday.
Yes, Mrs. Clinton eked out another controversial caucus win
as she did in Iowa, but once again the margin was small, and
the turnout was very low. Exit polls also indicate that
about half of the Democratic caucus electorate do not trust or
like Mrs. Clinton.
She is expected to win South Carolina handily next week, and
is also expected to win most of the Super Tuesday primaries.
Hillary Clinton might well win her party’s nomination in the
end, but it won’t be because of the vote on Saturday.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump won in a six-man field
with his usual one-third of the popular vote. The big story,
however, was the person who finished in second, Marco Rubio.
Mr. Rubio not only beat Ted Cruz (expected to be the runner-up),
he much more importantly established himself as the
Republican mainstream grass roots choice to take on Mr.
Trump in future contests. With Jeb Bush’s withdrawal, and
John Kasich likely to withdraw after Ohio (March 15), the
mainstream grass roots will now likely increasingly reassert
itself in the large states which have yet to be decided.
Donald Trump might still win the GOP nomination, but it won’t
be because of the vote on Tuesday.
Next week, the Republicans will hold their caucus in Nevada.
The GOP senator from Nevada, Dean Heller, has now endorsed
Mr. Rubio. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee
who carried Nevada (large Mormon and Hispanic populations)
handily is reportedly set to endorse Mr. Rubio. All over the
nation, Republican officeholders and major figures have
endorsed, or are set to endorse, Mr. Rubio.
Of course, endorsements have their limits, especially in 2016,
but the large majority of Republican voters are mainstream
conservatives, and they will not need much of a push to unite
behind the senator from Florida, especially if the Democratic
nominee is likely to be Hillary Clinton.
The same problems that beset Democrats in their caucus in
Nevada will now confront the Republicans in theirs next week,
that is, informal settings difficult to manage and low eligible voter
I want to remind the reader that Mr. Trump is so far stuck at
one-third of those who are turning out to vote this year. Some of
those voters are not Republicans, and many of them normally
do not vote in presidential elections. Mr. Cruz also receives
support from some of these voters, and as long as he is in the
race, Mr Trump is very unlikely to rise above one-third.
Should Mr. Rubio be the sole credible survivor of the Rubio-
Kasich-Bush-Carson vote (Mr. Bush has already withdrawn;
the others have dim prospects), the contests in April, May and
June will likely produce quite different headlines.
Donald Trump is not going away. His voters are motivated and
loyal, and seem to pay little attention to his verbal controversies.
He has been underestimated by the pundit class, myself included,
for the past year. He is an exceedingly smart businessman, and I
am told, a quick learner. As Newt Gingrich did in 2011-12, he has
dominated the debates. Nevertheless, he has not demonstrated an
appeal to the mainstream conservative majority of the Republican
Party, the most critical element of the party.
Marco Rubio stands to inherit that majority. In order to keep it,
and transform it into a winning majority, he will have to show he
has learned from his past campaign mistakes, including his
confrontation with Chris Christie, and forge a new coalition
behind his candidacy. He might strategically choose John
Kasich as his running mate.
In 1860, a young political underdog, whose only previous national
elective experience was a single two-year term in the U.S. house
of representatives, had little chance to be nominated by his party,
much less winning the presidency. Circumstances, however,
gave him an extraordinary opportunity and he took it.
He then assembled a team of his rivals, and changed history.
Anything could still happen. Let’s see what the Florida senator
is made of, and what he will make of his opportunity.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.