Horrible week for Trump
Before the South Carolina debate, Trump had a commanding lead in South Carolina polls fresh off of his huge win in New Hampshire. Before the debate, I predicted that Trump would hit 40% in the South Carolina primary based on his overperformance compared to live-interview polls and his momentum from New Hampshire.
Those same polls also showed that Rubio was by far the strongest “establishment lane” candidate in South Carolina despite his poor performance in New Hampshire. So before the debate, it seemed obvious to me that Trump would go after Rubio at the debate in order to prevent an “establishment lane” candidate from breaking out.
Instead, Trump ignored Rubio during the debate and swung at Jeb, and attacked him by attacking his brother hard, blaming W for 9/11 and lying about WMD. I think his attacks were effective against Jeb. Jeb is gone. Which doesn’t help Trump at all because it just makes it easier for the establishment to consolidate around Marco “the Boy Wonder” Rubio.
And I think that the attack on W, plus the other stuff which happened during the last week, hurt Trump’s support by a lot. Instead of winning 40% in South Carolina, he only won 32.5%. That’s a loss of 7.5 percentage points.
Frank Bruni, writing in an op-ed in the New York Times, sums it up:
[Trump] won [South Carolina] after what appeared to be one of the worst weeks that a candidate could have.
It began at the most recent debate, where he trashed the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and accused him of lying to the American people as he led them into war in Iraq. He sounded like a liberal Democrat. Republican primary voters, especially those in the South, aren’t typically receptive to that.
Over the next days, Trump sounded even more like a liberal Democrat, at least as described by Ted Cruz, who went after him relentlessly, armed with Trump’s own past statements in support of abortion rights and Planned Parenthood.
The week got messier from there. Trump picked a fight with the Pope. Trump picked a fight with Apple. It became evident that no personage or brand, no matter how beloved, was safe from his wrath. You had to wonder what or whom he’d go after next. Kittens? Betty Crocker? Betty White?
Then Trump spoke up for a key aspect of Obamacare before realizing what he’d done and assuring everyone that he deplored every aspect of Obamacare, which paled in comparison with Trumpcare, whatever that might turn out to be.
This prompted extensive commentary on Trump’s inconsistencies and a fresh round of murmuring about an imminent tumble.
Despite the bad week, the headline for the op-ed is “Is There Any Stopping Donald Trump?” and that sums up the tone of the rest of the op-ed, and there’s a lot of that in the MSM.
There’s a lot of irony here. For months and months I’ve been explaining that Trump is the real deal and that the MSM is completely wrong. But today, I am telling you that Trump had a bad week, while the MSM is saying that Trump had a “huge” win in South Carolina. Yes, Wolf Blitzer and other talking heads on CNN last night kept using the word “huge.” Even though Trump had a horrible week, the expectations of the MSM have always been that Trump would magically disappear by around now. Even though Trump underperformed polls from two or three weeks ago, the MSM never believed those polls and always expected that Trump would lose support once voting started for real. Trump, by winning South Carolina, has vastly exceeded the expectations of the MSM which were always in denial of the polls, and it shows in how they are talking about him.
What Trump needs to do between now and Super Tuesday (also called the “SEC Primary”) is to get his act together. He needs to stop being controversial and start acting more boring and more presidential and suck up to the Republican voters on stuff they care about even if Trump thinks those things are stupid. And he also needs to take down Rubio at the next debate. Rubio can easily be attacked on immigration and his co-sponsorship of the so-called “Gang of Eight” bill. Attacking Rubio on immigration doesn’t cause any harm to Trump. Trump can also safely point out that being a Senator just means going to committee meetings and schmoozing with big-money donors and Rubio doesn’t have any experience running a huge organization like Trump does.
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Good news for Trump is that Kasich is definitely staying in the race. At least that’s what he’s publicly saying. We (as Trump supporters) should hope that he does surprisingly well in NV at the expense of Rubio.
Note that for the last week I have been predicting that Bush would drop out but I have been a lot less sure about what Kasich will do. My take has been, and still is, that he really wants to stay in, but he will face intense pressure from the GOPe to drop out in order to clear room for Rubio. Maybe the GOPe intends to let him play in NV before they call him with demands to drop out before the debate on Thursday.
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Conventional wisdom on Carson is that he takes votes away from Cruz, but I think he also takes votes away from Rubio. Cruz attracts only the TrueCon vote. I think that Carson and Rubio split the vote of evangelical anti-abortion voters who want a more soft-spoken candidate. As I previously pointed out, Rubio, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape, is considered a True Christian (even though he’s Catholic), unlike Jeb, Kasich, or Trump.