By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
And then there were six, Save Jerseyans. It’s starting to feel like a bad, obnoxiously-protracted Survivor reboot, isn’t it?
Tonight (Sat. Feb. 13th) at 9:00 p.m. EST on CBS, the remaining GOP contenders – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and John Kasich – will gather at the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina to
debate brawl ahead of next Saturday’s Republican Primary. Public polling (it’s been limited) suggests another significant Trump lead – maybe a bit closer – and another tight pack competing for second place.
The stakes in Greenville:
Can Trump do anything to disillusion his rabid supporters? Unlikely. They’re fanatically loyal to their authoritarian, progressive crush with a comb-over. That’s a story for another time (and one that plays havoc on my stomach lining). The Donald’s path tonight is simple as a result; he wins tonight if he continues to do what his voters expect: say crazy shit and speak plainly with lots of nationalistic triggers woven into his rants. Remember: the delegate math works strongly in his favor IF the field remains crowded…
Whether the Donald wins or loses this nomination fight hinges on consolidation. Can Cruz be the consolidator? It’s an open question; for all his many attributes, the Senator from Texas has never had a reputation as an intra-party peacemaker. On Saturday night, he needs to do a LOT more of what he’s started to do: attack the Trump fraud effectively to peel off the small percentage of persuadable Trumpies but primarily with the intention to woe folks like myself (mainstream conservatives disgusted by Trump yet by no means enamored with the RINO hunt) so we at least make him our back-up. That could be would puts him over the top when this race eventually comes down to 4 or even 3 candidates. What you’re more likely to see? More broadsides aimed at Marco Rubio.
I’m still a leaner for Rubio but jeez, he needs to be a LOT better than he was in New Hampshire. Everyone deserves the allowance of one bad night but not when they’re running for president in a crowded primary. The bottom line: it’s not going to be good enough for Marco Rubio to “do well” tonight. He’s gotta knock a couple people on their asses to blow up the ‘robot’ narrative. Bush in particular. It should be an easier debate in that sense without Chris Christie gnawing on his leg. What else can be said? It’s that simple or it might be game over.
Can Jeb! leverage his bank book and his famous brother into a third (or better?) South Carolina finish? It’s possible. He’s going to need to make the case to Kasich and Rubio supporters that he’s the only candidate who can run a serious, well-funded campaign beyond Super Tuesday and into the general election. At the same time, he spent $1,150 per vote in New Hampshire to finish fourth – 30-times more per vote than the ultimate winner, Donald Trump. It might be too hard of a sell to make in this environment unless he can hold on and force a brokered convention as the sole remaining “establishment lane” candidate.
Kasich is quietly picking up support from certain sectors of the GOP establishment post-New Hampshire, particularly among former Christie donors, but he’s so far back in the money and organizational race that he might not be able to get himself caught up quick enough to compensate for the natural disadvantages associated with a mainstream Ohio governor running in the evangelical deep-red South. Like Bush, the most he could accomplish at tonight’s debate is emerge as the mainstream candidate best-suited to challenge Trump. Kasich, however, may try to do it by coming across as a “voice of reason” rather than as critic-in-chief. Could it work? I’m betting he’s got an eye on serving as Trump’s veep nominee (which makes a TON of sense since they share a populist approach to politics). For now, he need to finish close to Bush (preferably beat him) and hang on until Michigan and other Midwestern states vote.
I’m frankly not sure there is anything for Ben Carson to do at this point. Iowa was his test case to appeal to evangelicals; South Carolina’s electorate more close resembles Iowa than New Hampshire. Carson badly under-performed there and performed even worse in New Hampshire. Timing is everything in politics, and this cycle’s electorate isn’t in the market for a quiet, soft-spoken intellectual-type. He forms the strongest stylistic (and class) contrast with the Donald but has been very reluctant to run a confrontation campaign.