With Donald Trump’s massive win in NH and his big lead in South Carolina as well as nationally, the anti-Trump faction of the GOP needs to act fast to avoid the catastrophe of a Trump nomination. But what’s their move?
It seems to me that John Kasich’s very surprising second-place finish in NH is awful news for them, because I think he’s an unlikely rallying point (as I said last night). Kasich is, in reality, a pretty right-wing guy despite his warmer-and-fuzzier, compassionate conservative rhetoric. But he has one gigantic problem which, because nobody really saw his big NH surge coming, didn’t figure much there: Obamacare. As you may recall, Kasich is one of the very few Republican Governors who adopted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, thereby committing the cardinal Republican sin of supplying health care to thousands of people living in his state. After NH, expect the Obamacare attack to become much, much louder. Indeed, it has already begun.
Furthermore, Kasich’s all-in strategy in NH worked there, but leaves him in a tough spot going forward. The next bunch of contests are concentrated in the south, where he seems unlikely to do well. He doesn’t have all that much money, and he doesn’t have much of an organization elsewhere. Is he really the guy to whom the big donors are going to flock?
What about the rest? Ted Cruz, of course, is also hated by the GOP elite, yet he finished third in NH without trying very hard. He is well-positioned to move into the more conservative states coming up next. After him, Jeb! came in fourth, Rubio a disappointing fifth, and Christie sixth. Christie is heading home to New Jersey and will almost surely drop out, correctly seeing no plausible path to the nomination after two very weak finishes. Jeb continues to astonish by setting what must be a record of dollars spent per vote garnered. But that can’t continue for long; at some point he has to actually win something, and he remains a singularly unimpressive, uninspiring candidate for president.
Rubio? I thought his “momentum” out of a third-place finish in Iowa was overrated, and the fact that it was so easily derailed by a modest mistake in a debate (it’s not like he called someone a pussy, or something outrageous like that) suggests that I was right. As a result, he came in fifth in NH, losing badly to Ted Cruz and narrowly to his arch-enemy (not counting Christie) and fellow Floridian Jeb!. Polling has him in a solid third place in South Carolina, and if that holds up, is the guy finishing 3-5-3 in the first three contests really the hero the establishment is looking for? Again, at some point, he has to win something, and it’s hard to see that happening soon.
If it were me, I might swallow hard and start trying to buy favor with Cruz; Trump is too erratic, controversial, and offensive to risk being closely associated with, and the rest just seem sad. What would you do?