The central question in the Republican universe today seems to be, “Is Donald Trump now inevitable?” Following Trump’s decisive win in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, Jeb Bush suspended his campaign, leaving only three-and-a-half viable Republican candidates in the race. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the half, and Ben Carson should be discounted. Remember, “to thine own self be true.” Trump’s healthy wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina are the kind of victories that make for a winning nominee. But as a practical matter, there may be hope. Can Trump reach 50 percent? Is he the second choice for any Republican voters? As candidates continue to fold, who will their supporters turn to?
My predictor is thoroughly broken these days, but I suspect very few Republican voters whose candidate has dropped out or may drop out soon are particularly open to considering Trump as an alternative at this point. After all, if your first choice was Bush, it seems highly unlikely your second choice would be Trump. Perhaps I’m biased by my own wishes, but maybe Trump has peaked, and as we get down to a two-person race, another candidate will be able to consolidate enough votes to overcome Trump.
Anyway, the best indicator I have seen that Trump losing the nomination is still a possibility is from the organization FairVote, which analyzed what could have happened if “ranked choice voting” had been applied in South Carolina. In their polling analysis, Ted Cruz collapsed by round three, leaving voters with a choice between Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. In that scenario, 45 percent chose Rubio, 46 percent chose Trump and 9 percent remained undecided. As The Post’s Aaron Blake points out, that shows there “is still an argument to be made that the thinning of the field could help the GOP rally around a Trump alternative and defeat him.”
Obviously, Rubio and Cruz both think they can beat Trump in a one-on-one race. They might be right but they need to get there pretty quick. The National Review’s John Fund writes that, “Reports of Trump’s inevitability are greatly exaggerated,” noting that “the kind of campaign he’s running is making it harder for him to crack a ceiling of about a third of the vote.” That is true, but if Kasich and Carson stay in and bleed off 10 percent or so while Rubio and Cruz split the remainder, let’s face it: one-third wins. If Republicans want to keep Trump from winning the Republican nomination, they are going to have to start rallying around an alternative candidate.
In true Bush fashion, as many commentators have already pointed out, Jeb Bush did the honorable thing in dropping out of the race this weekend. He still had enough money to keep trying to break through, but he did the right thing by putting the party and the country ahead of himself and bowing out. It was very Bushesque. Jeb Bush knows the stakes of this election are too high to be selfish. At the very least, his decision should leave us with some hope that grace, modesty, self-sacrifice and dignity haven’t been completely expunged from American politics by the revolting Donald Trump.
Oh by the way, there are increasing reports that GOP establishment figures are reaching out to Trump. Some earlier attempts that I know of by Republican leaders to make overtures to Trump were destroyed after his surreal claims that President George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In particular, several substantial foreign policy/national security figures who were standing by to lend advice backed off. However, Rudy Giuliani and others of a similar stature are keeping a line of communication to Trump open. Let’s hope their delusional rationalization isn’t necessary to form a bridge to the Trump campaign.