The results are in: Donald Trump won a clear victory in South Carolina on Saturday, with Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) battling it out for second place.
Trump’s victory in the South Carolina primary makes one fact eminently clear: as I wrote on Friday, either Cruz or Rubio will have to get out for Trump not to be the Republican 2016 presidential nominee. Here’s what I wrote Friday:
A close finish for second place in South Carolina means nobody leaves. Just as importantly, Marco Rubio’s decision to cut up Cruz personally, suggesting that Cruz is a nefarious crook and brutal manipulator, means that Cruz will never drop out and endorse Rubio; Rubio obviously won’t do that for Cruz, either. Which spells a Trump nomination.
Those predictions look pretty solid.
Unless both Rubio and Cruz put their egos aside.
Unless Cruz recognizes that while he may have strength down south, it isn’t enough to overcome the Trump wave, and he won’t have enough delegates to win the nomination in a fractured field – he’s going to run out of steam just before the winner-take-all primaries begin.
Unless Rubio acknowledges that Cruz in the race prevents the consolidation he so badly needs to win the nomination outright. The blue, winner-take-all primary states in which Rubio needs to clean up come late in the process; there are just 778 delegates there, and another 162 delegates in purple states. Even if Rubio were to win all those delegates – which he won’t -- that’s not enough to win Rubio the nomination if Cruz stays in and he and Trump divvy up the south.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s exit means nothing in this race; he took his best shot in South Carolina, and his presence stopped Rubio from truly competing with Trump to take the state. The same is true for Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has no intention of stepping out.
So here’s where we stand.
Right now is Cruz’s high-water mark in terms of utilizing his power to stop Trump. Rubio isn’t going to drop out – not after another “surge” and before his strong states – and Cruz isn’t going to have any leverage with which to work after March 1. By then, of course, Trump will be the prohibitive favorite if he does well down south. And even if Cruz receives enough votes down south to stop Trump and Rubio from winning the nomination, he’s unlikely to benefit from a brokered convention, given how much the establishment despises him.
Here’s what needs to happen: Rubio needs to call Cruz and offer him either the vice presidential slot or a nomination on the Supreme Court – the actual best place for Cruz – in return for Cruz throwing all of his support to Rubio. That would put Trump behind the eight-ball in a serious way. Cruz would likely hold out for the vice presidential nomination, given how many enemies he has in the Senate; he knows he can’t count on them to confirm him even if nominated.
But the deal needs to be cut. Only a Rubio-Cruz alliance will save the party from Trump. And both men need to put aside their differences for the good of the country and conservatism.