Trump rolls to dominating victory in SC

Trump rolls to dominating victory in SC
© Greg Nash

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE is the red-hot favorite to become the Republican presidential nominee after an emphatic victory here in the South Carolina GOP primary Saturday.

With 99 percent of returns in, Trump appears to have vanquished his closest rivals, Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it Anti-gay marriage county clerk Kim Davis to seek reelection in Kentucky MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Cornyn: Senate GOP tax plan to be released Thursday This week: GOP seeks to advance tax overhaul MORE (Florida) by about 10 points in the Palmetto State, which has a near-perfect record of backing the eventual winner of the Republican nomination for almost four decades.

“Let’s put this thing away,” the business mogul told a jubilant crowd in a hotel ballroom here in the most conservative part of the state. The audience held aloft signs bearing Trump’s name and interrupted his speech with chants of “USA! USA!” 

Trump now heads for Nevada, where GOP caucuses will be held on Tuesday, and toward March 1, Super Tuesday, when Republicans in 11 states vote.

If Trump’s candidacy does not come apart at the seams within the next 10 days — and there is no reason to expect that it will do so, given the number of storms it has weathered to date — it is increasingly difficult to see how any of his rivals will stop him from becoming the party’s standard-bearer.

It is an extraordinary situation for a candidate who was derided when he first entered the race eight months ago and whose demise has been predicted every step of the way. But he has led national polls for months, and has two victories and one second-place finish in three contests to date.

The mirror image to Trump’s success was provided by Jeb Bush, who withdrew from the race in an emotional speech after a dismal finish here. The former Florida governor, who was the prohibitive favorite when the race began, never got traction with a restive Republican electorate that was in no mood to back the sober-minded scion of a family that has already had two presidents. 

As of 10 p.m. Saturday, Bush was still not assured of beating Ohio Gov. John Kasich for fourth place here — a state that he had in the past guaranteed he would win, and where his brother, former President George W. Bush, had joined him on the campaign trial.

The picture is a good deal more complicated for Cruz and Rubio. The latter will be happier with his result here, as he came closer to surpassing expectations. He also has the opportunity to present himself as the candidate whom establishment-friendly voters need to rally behind if they have any chance of stopping Trump.

Cruz’s finish will come as a significant disappointment in a state where he was once seen as a likely winner.

The high proportion of evangelicals in South Carolina stayed true to their reputation for being a more politically diverse bunch than their counterparts in Iowa. And Cruz’s vaunted campaign machiney did not prove as effective in this primary state as it had done in the earlier caucuses.

He asserted in his election night speech that he had exceeded expectations and that he was the only person capable of beating Trump. But the first assertion stretched credulity and the second one would be met with major pushback from Rubio backers.

The two other remaining candidates in the field, Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonMore speech is better than less Leaked documents reveal offshore dealings of top Trump officials John Kelly's unfortunate Civil War words shed light on White House MORE can take some measure of satisfaction that they were broadly competitive with Bush. Still, they were not factors here, and it is hard to see how that will change in any state still to come.

It was Trump’s night. The wave of anti-establishment anger and economic insecurity that he rode to victory in New Hampshire, and which has sustained him atop national polls, washed through South Carolina, delivering him victories in almost every county across the state.

The only exceptions appear to be a handful of counties in and around the cities of Columbia and Charleston. 

The comprehensiveness of his victory is important for reasons far beyond morale-boosting and bragging rights. 

If Trump ultimately carries all of South Carolina’s seven congressional districts — he would win all of the 50 delegates on offer. He appears certain of at least 41.

To put that in perspective, the first two contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, have yielded Trump 17 delegates, Cruz 11 and Rubio 10. A clean sweep here would therefore leave Trump with more than six times as many delegates as Cruz.

“There’s nothing easy about running for president,” Trump said. “It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, vicious, and it’s beautiful. When you win it’s beautiful.”