Houston Debate: GOP Candidates Prepare For Fisticuffs In the Oil Derricks

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Feb 25, 2016 3:05 PM
Houston Debate: GOP Candidates Prepare For Fisticuffs In the Oil Derricks

Fisticuffs In The Oil Derricks–The GOP field is descending into Houston, Texas for CNN’s debate before Super Tuesday. Again, fresh of his win in Nevada, The Donald is flush with victory–riding a wave that some are saying might be unstoppable. After two back-to-back disappointing finishes in South Carolina and Nevada, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) once again needs to do well tonight, counter a rising Rubio while also pointing out that Trump isn’t the best person to lead the GOP against the Democrats.

The problem here is that Cruz’s campaign has been saddled with reports of slimy campaign tactics, which is partially the reason why Dr. Ben Carson is sticking in the race; he was the first to bring forward such charges after Iowa. And the Rubio campaign was sucked into unnecessary controversy, when the Texas senator’s now-former communications director, Rick Tyler, peddled a lie against the Florida senator about him mocking the Bible. Tyler was fired shortly after the controversy. On top of the ethical issues, you have solid proof that Cruz’s strategy of uniting evangelical and conservative voters to win the nomination is an utter failure. He finished third behind Rubio, who’s seen as more electable, likable, and having a better chance of growing the party, in both contests. Also, let’s not factor in that the Donald will also deliver some sharp jabs at the conservative firebrand tonight. Cruz will be fighting a two-front war that even some on his campaign staff warn is a fool’s errand–and one that ultimately benefits Rubio. There’s talk of prominent Cruz backers jumping ship from the “consistent conservative” and heading to Rubio if the does poorly on March 1.

Unstoppable Trump–As for Trump, some people have been saying that a bad debate performance could hit the brakes on his momentum, but I’m not so sure about that. Off the debate stage, the billionaire magnate has been talking about punching people in the face, and never losing support from his followers–even if he murdered someone. Prior to the Palmetto State rumble, Trump said he liked the Obamacare mandate and the non-abortion services that Planned Parenthood offers, which is anathema to conservatives. We’re a pro-life party that’s diametrically opposed to the overall PP agenda–but he still won South Carolina. We shouldn’t expect his numbers to drop, unless something extraordinary catastrophic occurs. Oh, and speaking of conservatives (and evangelicals) the Donald is winning them over.

Rubio Cannot Become A Robot Again–Rubio cannot have a repeat of New Hampshire, where he came off as overly scripted, sluggish, and having an inability to pivot away from his initial remarks about Obama “knowing what he’s doing.” That phrase was pervasive, which allowed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to explicitly demonstrate how the Florida senator is pre-packaged, inexperienced, and not ready for president. Moreover, Rubio’s stumble allowed Christie to show how legislators often talk their way out of being held accountable by the voters, whereas governors are unable to do that which forces them to take decisive action on numerous issues. It was a strong line of attack, but it wasn’t enough to keep Christie alive. He dropped out after New Hampshire, though Rubio finished a disappointing fifth place.

With his strong second place finish in South Carolina, Bush bowed out, prompting a rash of endorsements and access to more campaign cash. At the same time, like Cruz, Rubio has a very limited window for him to consolidate anti-Trump support, which is continually clogged with Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Dr. Ben Carson remaining in the race.

And as for Carson and Kasich, there’s nothing much to say. They’ve finished behind Trump, Cruz, and Rubio in the last two primary contests, Kasich may be beating Hillary in hypothetical match-ups, but he’s trailing Trump in the Ohio primary. In some ways, Kasich should remain to prevent Trump from having a decisive victory, maybe even winning the state, which would increase the chance of having a contested convention in July. During last night’s town hall event with Fox News, Kasich was adamant that he’s not giving up. Dr. Carson has channeled the same sentiments, much to the chagrin of some hoping to overtake Trump since both men–at this point–have no chance of picking up the endorsements, cash, and states needed to mount a successful comeback.

Still, peril abounds with Cruz and Rubio’s candidacy. With Cruz, the number of states that have large numbers of conservative and evangelical support drops precipitously after March 1. Those states and voters that he needs to do well with in order to have a successful Super Tuesday are probably going for Trump. Moreover, a new poll shows that the Mr. Cruz no longer has a lock on Texas. At the same time, Rubio has to do well when March 15 rolls around. The contests become winner-take-all, and he has to win a couple primaries, especially Florida, to make up for the delegates Trump will scoop up on March 1. If he wins Florida, and perhaps Illinois or Ohio, he could position himself to continue to fight against the Donald, as Cruz, Kasich, and Carson could exit the race. If Trump takes Florida, it’s probably all over.

Both Cruz and Rubio are bound to nab some delegates since both will probably break 20 percent of the vote, which is the threshold for the southern states on Super Tuesday, but time is ticking.

Democratic Showdown in Palmetto–Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are heading to battle again in South Carolina, where the former first lady is expected to beat her primary rival by double-digits. Clinton’s firewall­­–black Democrats–seems to be holding strong. She clinched 76 percent of the black vote in Nevada, where it reaffirmed that she’s the favorite to win the nomination, despite being trounced in New Hampshire. As we head into South Carolina, Sanders must know the obstacles that lay before him. In 2008, 55 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate was African-American. The Real Clear Politics average has Clinton leading Sanders 57/33, so it shouldn’t be shocking if this primary is called relatively early on Saturday.

Nevertheless, Sanders is making trying to make inroads with black voters. During CNN’s town hall event on Tuesday, both Sanders and Clinton made such efforts at minority inclusion. Yet, Clinton’s support with black liberals isn’t uniform; a Black Lives Matter protest interrupted one of her events today.

Clinton is poised to sweep the South, but what happens afterwards is a question mark. Sander could mount a comeback when the race shifts up North and to the West, and his campaign is sticking out to the bitter end. They could have the energy and cash flow to carry this fight to the convention. There’s the superdelegate factor. Sen. Sanders is no Barack Obama, and these brands of delegates, which are usually party officials who can support anyone, are virtually lock step behind Clinton. This makes Sanders’ ability to remain competitive another factor. Will he be able to tread water towards the end of March?

Here are the latest RCP polls for Super Tuesday for both parties:

Democrats

Republicans

Where Is Everyone? – Via National Journal, Sanders is in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois; Clinton is in South Carolina; and the GOP prepares for war in Texas.