After New Hampshire I wrote, “Each day that ticks by in South Carolina without Marco Rubio gaining ground is a day that Trump continues to dominate.”
I suggested that if Rubio did not regain momentum in South Carolina, those evangelicals who were leaning Rubio would need to make a tough decision on whether to stick with him or jump to Cruz in order to stop Trump.
Rubio rebounded in South Carolina. Supported by Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Trey Gowdy, Rubio has rebounded impressively, doing well in evangelical areas like Greenville County, and business and military areas like Charleston.
Now the Cruz supporters are going to have to decide about their guy. Outside of Texas, South Carolina was very favorable to Cruz. His campaign and outside groups spent about a year laying groundwork. They went door to door, targeted massive amounts of voters, played well with evangelicals and saw a massive evangelical turn out.
As I write this, in that favorable climate, he is fighting with Rubio for second place. Again, South Carolina should be very favorable to Cruz given his ground game and the demographics of turn out.
With Jeb Bush out of the race, Rubio will go up more. When Kasich drops out, Rubio will go up further. With them out, Rubio will go up more than Cruz might with Carson out of the race.
Donald Trump cannot beat either Cruz or Rubio. Judging by the results of South Carolina, Trump may not be able to Rubio even with Cruz in if we presume both Kasich and Bush’s support goes to Rubio.
Cruz, given his operation and money, is not at a time to decide if he must drop out. He still has Texas and a huge delegate take. For Cruz’s supporters who say Cruz suffered because of withering attacks from the media and outside groups, that is not going to change.
But South Carolina undermines core tenets of the Cruz strategy and talking points. Marco Rubio is now in a race wherein he has a better shot at winning than Cruz.