Simon Carswell: Five things we learned from South Carolina and Nevada

Not even George W Bush could save wonkish Jeb Bush from his mind-numbing campaign

Republican Donald Trump is victorious in South Carolina in the third nominating contest of the US presidential race, as Jeb Bush drops out.

 

Eight candidates entered Saturday’s third qualifying heat of the US presidential race – six Republicans in the South Carolina primary and two Democrats in the Nevada caucuses.

Seven emerged last night.

Donald Trump, the billionaire insurgent Republican, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic establishment contender, scored important victories. The night will be remembered too for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, son of one former president and brother of another, dropping out of the White House race.

Below are five things we learned about the US presidential election from the latest contests in South Carolina and Nevada.

Clinton v Trump in November?

Any candidate who wins two of the first three nominating contests would be measuring the curtains in the Oval Office. Clinton’s wins in Iowa and Nevada, and Trump’s triumphs in New Hampshire and South Carolina raise, for the first time, the real prospect that they will face off against each other in the November 8th election.

Sure, the still large field of five candidates in the Republican primary splintered the moderate or so-called establishment vote and more than two thirds of voters in South Carolina chose someone other than the brash businessman, but Trump’s back-to-back primary victories put him in pole position to take the Republican nomination.

History is on Trump’s side: the three previous Republicans who won both the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries all went on to win the party’s nomination. (Two of those won the White House.)

In the absence of more moderate Republican coalescing around a single centre-right alternative, Trump’s bullying campaign of lies, xenophobia and anger will show no signs of slowing down.

He leads the polls in almost every remaining state, has the most delegates who will ultimately pick the party’s nominee and has been consistently leading the national polls at about 35 per cent for months now, despite the pundits saying that he will eventually run out of steam.

An exit poll in South Carolina found 73 per cent of voters supported Trump’s ban on Muslims temporarily entering the United States so, to a majority of Republican voters, his ideas are not so outrageous.

Clinton will breathe deeply after her desperately-needed win in the Nevada caucuses and take solace that her so-called “firewall” of loyal support among minority voters and her well-organised withstood the surging Bernie Sanders and that she did not “feel the Bern. ”

The victory gives the second-time presidential candidate momentum going into South Carolina where she is expected to win given her strong support among African Americans who will make up more than half of Democratic primary voters in next Saturday’s primary.

Clinton and Trump look more and more like the nominees of the two parties in the November elections. She has to prove she can keep winning and the Republican Party has to prove that Trump can be beaten. Their respective races are hers to win and his to lose.

The end of the Bush political dynasty

Not even George W Bush, a popular figure in South Carolina (if not nationally) or his much-admired former first lady mother Barbara – or even tens of millions of dollar in attacks – could save the wonkish Jeb Bush from his own mind-numbing policy-driven campaign.

The man who initially distanced himself from the Bush name later embraced it when his “I’m my own man” strategy failed abysmally.

It took him several ham-fisted attempts to answer the most obvious question that was coming at him during the campaign: how to defend his brother’s unpopular war record. It was the first and most damaging sign of just how weak a candidate he was when he couldn’t answer it.

Bush made much of the fact that he was the only Republican candidate to stand up to Trump. It did him little good. While Bush was right in much of his criticism of Trump the Bully, the noisier man won, and the billionaire entertainer made mince meat of his rival. The success of Trump and Cruz in 2016 also shows that nasty works in this election.

South Carolina, home to important Bush wins in the past, dealt Jeb the most ignominious blow: it ended his presidential bid and handed victory to his biggest antagonist, days after Trump insulted his family members and said his brother should have been impeached over Iraq.

Asked in 2013 about the possibility of Jeb being the third president, Barbara said: “We’ve had enough Bushes.” Voters in three states eventually agreed with her, rejecting a third Bush presidency and ending the dynasty’s White House hopes, at least for his generation.

‘The Bern’ lost heat in Nevada

Bernie Sanders’s ground-up revolution against the “most powerful political organisation in the United States,” as he has described the Clinton campaign, appeared to run into the Clinton firewall in Nevada.

The former secretary of state showed off her impressive campaign ground organisation and her appeal among Hispanic voters. She overwhelmingly won the “casino caucuses” in Las Vegas where most from the large Latino workforce on the Strip participate in voting.

Clinton’s last-minute campaign push at events focused on immigration and labour issues paid off, despite the fact that the main trade union, the Culinary Workers Union, remained neutral.

She pumped large sums of money in a final-week push of advertising in Nevada as Sanders drew level with her in the polls. She capitalised on a network her campaign laid down six months before her rival.

The fact that Sanders didn’t even mention the upcoming contest in South Carolina, where Clinton has locked in big endorsements with African-American politicians and strong support among black voters, shows that even he implicitly acknowledges the strength of her firewall.

He will need to reinvigorate grassroots liberals again and arguing that he has the better chance of beating Trump in November may be one way to go about it.

Marco-mentum is back

New Hampshire may soon seem like a blip for Marco Rubio as the Florida senator’s second-place finish ahead of conservative Ted Cruz in strongly evangelical South Carolina reinvigorates his campaign.

The 44 year old will head to Nevada’s caucuses on Tuesday with a wind at his back and potentially a lot of money and new supporters too, now that fellow Floridian, the well-funded Bush is gone.

Rubio declared that South Carolina had turned this into a three-horse race. This ignored the fact that Ohio governor John Kasich, buoyed by his second place in New Hampshire, is staying in for the more moderate northern states where he has a shot.

He has been campaigning hard in Michigan where he hopes a win in the largely blue-collar state will give him a strong finish into the winner-take-all delegate-heavy primary in his home state on March 15th.

Kasich, the last of the governors, blocks Rubio from a clear run in the party’s so-called establishment lane. Even with all of Bush’s votes in South Carolina, Rubio would still be three points short of Trump’s total so he needs Kasich’s voters.

A smart move for Rubio would be to promise him the vice-presidential nomination, drawing the establishment votes to him. It would also help Rubio and the Republicans win an important swing state, Ohio, in November’s election.

First and most importantly, it would give young senator the voting firepower to challenge the biggest horse in the race: Trump, and prevent the businessman cornering the primary with a strong delegate count.

Cruz’s broken Reagan coalition

Conservative rabble-rouser Ted Cruz’s grand plan to take the White House was to unite American conservatives by rebuilding the old Ronald Reagan coalition that swept him to power in 1980. His third-place finish behind Trump and Rubio undermines his designs.

A whopping 72 per cent of Republican voters in South Carolina said they were either evangelical or born-again Christian, so Cruz’s bible-thumping, god-fearing campaign should have sent him soaring here.

But among evangelical Republican voters, Trump won 33 per cent, Cruz 27 per cent and Rubio 22 per cent. Cruz received the most voters who describe themselves as “very conservative” but it was not enough.

The Texan has organised strongly and is better funded in many of the southern states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 1st but his inability to carry a state with the same ideological and demographic make-up as some of the upcoming contests does not leave him in good shape. This should sound alarm bells amongst diehard conservatives.