Five thoughts on yesterday's results in South Carolina and Nevada:
(1) A vulnerable Hillary wins. As has always been the case, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. She narrowly edged Bernie Sanders in Nevada's caucuses, a state in which she once held a yawning lead. She'll likely carry South Carolina next week, cementing her position in the driver's seat in that race. Sanders has the money and support to contest this fight for months to come, and he may do just that. But in the absence of a political earthquake (like an indictment), and in light of the depth of establishment support she enjoys, Clinton will eventually prevail. That said, the Nevada caucus results once again highlight several her weaknesses. Even though she dominated among black voters, she lost Hispanics to Sanders, which shows that her support among Democrats of color is not monolithic. She got pummeled among voters under 45 for the third time, and again got crushed on the metrics of caring and trustworthiness. These are genuine vulnerabilities that will cast a shadow over her campaign heading into the general election.
(2) The end of the line for Jeb. Bush is a good man who served as a strong and popular governor in one of the largest and most diverse swing states in America. He was also uniquely ill-suited to succeed in the current political climate, and it showed. Despite burning through tens of millions of dollars, he and his allies failed to even crack the top three in any of the first-in-the-nation contests. He launched his campaign promising a joyful race in which he'd be his own man, vis-a-vis his famous family. He ended his campaign leaning heavily on his dynastic pedigree, and often seemed frustrated and devoid of joy. There was no path ahead for Bush, a fact with which he finally made his peace. His exit is well-timed, and his farewell speech was gracious. His never-competitive demise also punctures arguments about the evils of money in politics. He trounced everyone in the spending game -- Trump especially -- and it did nothing for him. Political scientists will be examining the Jeb! case study for generations to come. Brutal:
$25 million per delegate https://t.co/W074JaxkjM— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 21, 2016
(3) Trump on top, again. South Carolinians handed Donald Trump another resounding victory. He carried every congressional district in the state, thus securing every delegate that was up for grabs. He won nearly every county in the state, losing only a small handful to Marco Rubio (though two of those were among the South Carolina's most populous). He defeated Ted Cruz among evangelicals across the board, which is extraordinary. He's building a delegate lead that is far from insurmountable, but even as the field winnows, he's going to be a formidable force down the stretch -- and could very well end up being the Republican nominee. Trump has shown that he commands strong support within a surprisingly diverse subset of GOP voters, but he appears to be hitting a hard ceiling in the mid-30's. That could change if a bandwagon effect begins to build steam over the next few weeks, or it could ultimately prove sufficient if the rest of the anti-Trump vote (currently a supermajority of Republican voters) remains fractured. Extraordinary:
Trump won this week despite coming out for health care mandate, defending planned parenthood, blaming Bush for 9/11, standing by impeachment— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 21, 2016
(4) Rubio and Cruz's tie and upcoming dilemma. The good news for Marco Rubio is that he over-performed his final public polling average by several points, surged significantly down the stretch (he was averaging just 14 percent support roughly a week ago), and barely edged out Ted Cruz for second place in a state whose demographics seemed to be Cruz-friendly. The better news for Rubio is that Jeb is gone, which could prompt a windfall of donors and support from the "establishment lane" of the primary race, and shuts off the spigot of Bush SuperPAC attacks. It's clear that key endorsements from major South Carolina figures like Rep. Trey Gowdy, Sen. Tim Scott, and especially Gov. Nikki Haley had an impact. "Marcomentum," which slipped away in New Hampshire after a show of strength in Iowa, is back, Then again, even though all of that firepower and momentum was enough to capture a silver medal, Rubio still lost to Trump by double-digits. Despite his impressive showing, Rubio walks away from South Carolina with zero delegates -- as does everyone not named Donald Trump. Ted Cruz had a rougher night, despite also beating his polling average. South Carolina should have been very friendly terrain for him, especially with the very high percentage of evangelicals (72 percent) in yesterday's electorate. But he pulled in a bronze, having been defeated by Trump among evangelicals and really struggling among non-evangelicals. It's very premature to write Cruz off (think of delegate-rich Texas) -- Erick Erickson is jumping the gun with this analysis, I think -- but last night's results raise several red flags for the Cruz camp. With Ben Carson and John Kasich sticking around for now, time is beginning to run short in the quest for a 'not-Trump' unifying alternative candidate to emerge. Rubio and Cruz are both working hard to claim that mantle, but if they both continue to battle each other in that pursuit, they could end up guaranteeing a Trump victory. Something's got to give, and soon. If Trump beats Cruz in Texas and Rubio in Florida (both are very real possibilities), it very well could be curtains for both of of the young conservative Senators.
(5) The enthusiasm and turnout gap. Two tweets tell the story:
Nevada Democratic Party confirms turnout for Saturday's caucuses was about 80,000, down from 117,600 in 2008.— John Wagner (@WPJohnWagner) February 21, 2016
Record turnout in SC: 730,000 per SC RNC— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) February 21, 2016
That GOP figure is up from just over 600,000 votes in 2012. As we've witnessed in voter turnout throughout February and via debate ratings, one party is riding a wave of interest and excitement, and it's not the Democrats. Add that to the list of concerns inside Clintonworld today. By the way, don't take a breath: The Nevada Republican caucuses will be held on Tuesday, with another high-stakes debate slated for Thursday evening on CNN and the Salem Radio network. In case you missed it, I'll leave you with remarks from the top two finishers in South Carolina: