South Carolina Will Be Establishment's Last Chance to Stop Trump

Matt Towery
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Posted: Jan 28, 2016 12:01 AM
South Carolina Will Be Establishment's Last Chance to Stop Trump

Because of Donald Trump's decision to skip the last GOP debate before the Iowa Caucus, logic clearly leads to the inevitable conclusion that neither Iowa nor New Hampshire can possibly give us a true read on the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

Think about it. If Trump wins Iowa after skipping the debate, there will remain a lingering doubt of whether he could have pulled off the win had he been forced to answer tough questions. If he loses, there will be the issue of whether his decision to ditch the debate killed off the obvious momentum he was building there.

As for New Hampshire, Trump appears to be a prohibitive favorite to win. That likely victory still won't tell us much about the inevitability of a Trump nomination.

For all of the pundits and consultants and GOP "royalty" out there who want Trump out and by any possible means, South Carolina will be their one chance to possibly upend him. But it will be a very difficult task.

I've helped poll South Carolina for news organizations many times over the past few months, and Trump has consistently enjoyed a double digit lead over the other candidates in the state. And some polls -- such as the recent CBS/YouGov survey -- have Trump leading by nearly 20 points there.

Understand that while some of the recent attacks on Trump by pundits and self-declared "defenders of true conservativism" are sincere, others are motivated by money and power. This same circle of people who promote one another and earn their way in life by being "in the know" will be cut totally out of the loop should Trump be the nominee. The same goes for most of the GOP "guns for hire" that produce ads, emails, or raise money. They too will be out.

South Carolina, with its more multifaceted GOP primary voter base, will be the last stand for the establishment. But can they do it? Can they stop Donald Trump before he follows a potential South Carolina win with what appears to be a string of southern states where his lead is growing by the day?

Perhaps.

Those who don't really know the state will assume that the South Carolina GOP is dominated by evangelical voters. That's not really true. The upper crescent of the state tends to vote for so-called "Christian right" candidates, but their numbers do not dominate. Others will assume that the GOP's old guard can control the primary vote there. Not really. The party is no longer a powerful force unto itself in the state,

What about Governor Nikki Haley, won't she hurt Trump by endorsing an establishment candidate? Again, Haley's popularity, like that of Senator Lindsey Graham, who until recently was a candidate for president himself, does not transfer to others. In fact, Graham was pulling a lowly 4 percent in the polls in his own state, despite being well liked there. Remember, it was Newt Gingrich, not the establishment darling Romney that carried South Carolina four years ago.

In order for the multitude of candidates and others who want to stop Trump to succeed, several things must happen.

First, there must emerge one and only one establishment candidate. That will likely be either Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. Rubio will likely place better than Bush in Iowa, but Bush is out polling Rubio in the latest New Hampshire poll and led Rubio in our most recent South Carolina survey.

But something will have to give because a race that still has Ted Cruz, Rubio, and Bush all vying to knock out Trump will end up with a Trump win.

Secondly, one of the anti-Trump gang needs to find a way to fire up the huge military and retired military vote in the state. Right now it appears that many of those voters are going for Trump. And while Trump's skipping a debate might hurt him in Iowa, his raising funds that same night for wounded veterans has South Carolina strategy written all over it.

Trump's decision to skip the Des Moines debate might or might not be a smart move. But it guarantees us that he won't "seal the deal" until he can prove himself in South Carolina. But if he does, the nomination will be his.