Jeb Bush is out, Bernie Sanders is down ... and the race is shaping up for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
Three time zones apart, the eight presidential candidates from two parties vied for the hearts, minds and votes of South Carolina and Nevada. And if Saturday night’s results were any indication, many Americans are starting to really see the 2016 campaign as an opportunity for revolution.
Here are a few quick takeaways from the third round of a gauntlet toward the White House:
Bush family values only get you so far
Nearly every Republican presidential candidate applauded the campaign run by Jeb Bush, who dropped out after a bitterly disappointing fourth-place finish in South Carolina , a state that helped make the Bush dynasty.
- Ted Cruz called him “a man who ran a campaign based on ideas, based on policy, based on substance – a man who didn’t go to the gutter and engage in insults and attacks”, a clear reference to Donald Trump.
- “He’s the greatest governor in the history of Florida, and I believe and I pray that his service to our country has not ended,” said Marco Rubio, Bush’s one-time protégé who vanquished the mentor and came second by a tiny margin over third-place finisher Cruz.
And yet ... Despite his principled stand against Trump – Bush was, for a stretch, the only candidate willing to take on the New York billionaire – the voters wouldn’t, or couldn’t, embrace him. The success of Cruz’s campaign tactics in Iowa and, to a point, in South Carolina only underscore the reality that a willingness to play hard and even dirty is the most effective weapon in a campaign like this.
Clinton has cooled the Bern – for now
A few months ago, Hillary Clinton was expecting to take the Nevada caucuses at a walk. A loss on Saturday would have represented an existential crisis for Clinton, but a single-digit win in a diverse, working-class state like Nevada is hardly the victory the former secretary of state was hoping for.
South Carolina and the so-called “Super Tuesday” states of the deep south promise to be more hospitable ground for Clinton. But it’s going to take the kind of work that usually stops after the New Hampshire primaries. Verdict: we shall see .
The Republican ‘establishment’ still doesn’t have a candidate
Bush was frequently criticized for selfishly using his Smaug cave’s worth of campaign cash to wage a one-man war against Marco Rubio, who many in the Republican establishment see as the party’s best chance at winning the White House in the general election.
Should Bush drop out, the criticism went, Rubio’s road to the nomination would be cleared for mainstream Republican support. But even with Bush gone, Ohio governor John Kasich remains in the race, galvanized by his surprise second-place finish in the New Hampshire primaries and ready for a long-haul primary campaign until his home state votes on 15 March.
Even if every one of Bush’s supporters had voted for Rubio in South Carolina, the Florida senator still would have come in second to Trump, who won 32.5% of the vote. Rubio needs every “establishment” vote the polity has to offer, and Kasich has no intention of giving them up without a fight. Meanwhile, Trump’s delegate count will continue to climb ...
Donald Trump has cleared a path to the nomination
Yes, you read that right . With the notable exception of the 2012 primary campaign, every candidate who has won two of the first three contests has secured the Republican nomination.
Trump captured a guaranteed 29 delegates from Saturday’s win in South Carolina, and the likelihood is that he’ll win the vast majority of the state’s remaining 21 district-based delegates, too. As the great man said: “When you win, it’s beautiful.”
Trump is now on the verge of having more than twice as many delegates as his nearest Republican rival. Cruz and Rubio may decry “the pundits” who have called the race for Trump, but mathematics don’t lie.
You say you want a revolution? Well, almost
Two months ago, Clinton’s lead in Nevada appeared nearly insurmountable. Six months ago, the notion that the billionaire Donald Trump could actually win two primaries would have gotten you locked in a padded room.
And yet ... here we are. Dissatisfaction with the political status quo is no longer easily dismissed as the capricious anger of the perennially dissatisfied; it’s the motivating force behind the two most ascendent political campaigns on the national stage.
Oh, and expect Ben Carson to drop out after the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday – earlier, if he has to go home for a fresh change of clothes.
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