The GOP presidential primary race has truly taken a turn. I remember folks asking me back in November of last year who I was for and what was going to happen. Many said they were concerned about having some 15 or so candidates in the race. I’d simply confide to them that by the time we finished the first three contests, the field would be heavily whittled down. This past Saturday I submitted to y’all my prognosis of what I felt would happen in South Carolina. I admit, I was wrong in that there was not a fight for first. I’d surmised it would be a contest between Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. To my surprise, Mr. Trump easily carried the Evangelical Christian vote, enabling his double-digit win.
We all pretty much knew Senator Marco Rubio would rebound in South Carolina since he had the endorsements of Governor Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Rep. Trey Gowdy. My Saturday assessment stated that there would be two individuals who would “suspend” their campaign…we got one right. Apparently Dr. Ben Carson will press on and continue to run, which is perplexing to me. And as I wrote, Ohio Governor John Kasich is hanging in there looking towards contests in the Midwest where he feels he can perform well — especially the Ohio primary.
And so now we enter that very special phase of “Political Survivor.” There are five left on the island and what will be the machinations to produce the desired result — a GOP presidential nominee?
First, we all know the hunt for the anti-Trump has truly begun. With the exit of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the question is where does that support go? In South Carolina it was just short of 8 percent — that can make a difference.
I can imagine some bridge-rebuilding exercises going on between Team Rubio and Team Bush. Without a doubt there was some damage to that relationship and both call Miami-Dade County, namely Coral Gables, home. I’d expect some outreach there being brokered by GOP establishment operatives.
However, don’t count out Gov. Kasich seeking Gov. Bush’s support. He’ll use the battle cry of doing it for the governors. It will be vital for Kasich to show some increase in support until he can get to the key Ohio primary contest, and remember the RNC convention is in Cleveland. Kasich needs some good ol’ fashioned home cooking, but can he last that long? That’s the question.
My guess is the GOP establishment folks will look John Kasich in the eye and tell him that they’re consolidating behind Sen. Rubio. They will try to convince him becoming the nominee is not attainable and certainly not feasible.
So here is what Kasich will be offered: the vice president position. There’s no doubt that a young, first term unaccomplished senator like Marco Rubio will need someone with executive experience, someone from a key electoral state.
Sorry Governor Haley, it’s just how the game is played — ask Charlie Crist about missing out on a VP selection. The way forward for the GOP establishment is a Rubio-Kasich ticket, that covers Florida and Ohio — two key presidential electoral states.
But here’s a problem with that ticket — Sen. Rubio has to win the Florida primary. Right now, Sen. Rubio isn’t doing very well against Donald Trump in the Sunshine State…but an endorsement from Jeb Bush could give him a little boost. This will be interesting to see. As well, there is something that will continue to dog Sen. Marco Rubio: his voting attendance as Senator.
But there’s another fella who lives in Florida who’s hanging in the race: Dr. Ben Carson, who finished with just shy of 7 percent in South Carolina. Eventually Carson will drop out but to whom does his support go? Well, we heard about the closet peace summit with Sen. Ted Cruz so you can imagine the senator wants to smoke the peace pipe with Dr. Carson to have his support flow his way. However, be on the lookout for Carson to lend his endorsement to Donald Trump — stranger things have happened. But I do know the two of them met recently down in South Florida.
Now, Senator Ted Cruz took quite a hit in South Carolina and especially in not winning the evangelical Christian vote. Also, there is the continuing story about Sen. Cruz’s nasty tactics…and perception can lead to reality. Sen. Cruz has to push hard now and restore himself in the coming “SEC” primaries.
The problem is that Mr. Trump and Sen. Cruz are coming from the same camp: the outsider, political insurgent. They’re competing against each other for that share of the pie. But when you consider the percentage vote the “outsiders” achieved in South Carolina — Trump, Cruz, and Carson — it totals approximately 62 percent. When you combine the GOP establishment vote total from South Carolina — Rubio, Bush, Kasich – it’s 38 percent.
I know everyone is referring to the GOP presidential primary as a three-person race and that is an inaccurate analysis. This race is between two camps: an outsider, constitutional conservative grassroots one and the political establishment. The underlying issue is which side will consolidate and find strength? So begins the game of political survivor and we will now get a chance to see which camp is about egos and which one is about winning.
For Donald Trump to be able to run the table and win he must get north of 40 percent in order to have a secure position. As well, he has to clearly win in Florida and at least come in second in Ohio.
There are two variables in this equation. First, will Mr. Trump begin to realize he may just be the dog who’s caught the proverbial car? Can he pivot to being a statesman and articulate policy solutions — the “how” — and still maintain his very loyal following? Are his followers just about anger and emotion or are they looking for more — will they demand more?
As for the GOP establishment, do they realize the anger is against their business as usual stances? Can a Rubio-Kasich ticket inspire a conservative base to come out in record turnout? Or will this be the case of another weak ticket such as Romney-Ryan where millions stayed home, resulting in an Obama victory?
The one consistent thing about this presidential election cycle is that nothing is normal, certainly not status quo. Who am I for? I am for you, the American citizen.