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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Many questions linger ahead of South Carolina primary

I think we all can agree it’s fruitless to declare a winner before citizens of a state even vote in a primary, but most signs lead to a Donald Trump victory in South Carolina tomorrow.

Polls are often off – as they were in Iowa – yet the overwhelming weight of evidence seems to point to a second consecutive win for the bombastic New York billionaire in the Palmetto State.

The usually reliable Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner reports, “Since Trump won the New TrustTedHampshire primary, seven pollsters have surveyed South Carolina Republicans (Gravis, ARG, PPP, the state's Republican state legislative caucus, CBS, CNN and the Augusta Chronicle). All seven have showed Trump leading, by 14-22 points.

“This lead is way outside any margin of error and well beyond the reach of any ground-game advantage. Trump will win South Carolina unless he somehow collapses in the final days. Given his campaign thus far, it's hard to imagine what could cause him to collapse.”

Of course the newly released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing Cruz slightly ahead nationally could have some influence and may indicate a late-breaking swell towards the Texas senator that earlier polls missed.

For his part, Trump dismissed the NBC/WSJ poll as “a total joke” and continued to tout his advantages in all the other recent surveys.

But Trump’s awful debate tirades from last Saturday night and his ongoing threats to sue Cruz over hard-hitting but true negative ads have made The Donald look even more childish and petulant than usual this week. That’s no easy task.

Carney adds that it looks like a tight race between Cruz and Marco Rubio for second in South Carolina, with no consistent polling showing Jeb Bush or John Kasich competing with the two senators for the runner-up to Trump.

Ben Carson looks almost certain to finish last.

Cruz’s full-court-press ground game and possible new momentum from the national poll should help him secure second, but if the South Carolina establishment voters decide late to ditch Jeb in favor of Rubio, that might be enough to give Marco the first runner-up prize.

Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Rubio on Wednesday may be an indication that that’s already happening.

As I’ve argued before, it wouldn’t be out of character for South Carolina to go heavily for Trump, since the party establishment is starting to get used to, if not warm up to, the idea he could be the Republican nominee. “Mainstream” Republicans certainly wouldn’t supply The Donald with his base of support, but the state party didn’t actively try to stop him either.

It almost looks like the establishment is seeing the race as a choice between Trump and Rubio as the “A-B-C” candidates, “Anyone-but-Cruz.” It would make for an odd sort of coalition – Trump’s moderate and angry anti-establishment bloc plus the party blue bloods. If at some point they think Rubio’s too inexperienced to take on Hillary Clinton, look for them to say a lot of nice things about Trump.

In this very odd election cycle, stranger things have happened.

In the face of unfair attacks from Rubio and Trump, conservatives defend Cruz

One of the more curious aspects of the Republican race the past couple weeks has been Donald Trump’s and Marco Rubio’s seemingly coordinated branding of Ted Cruz as a “liar.” Trump said Cruz is lying about his position on defunding Planned Parenthood and the types of judges he would appoint and Rubio says Ted’s not telling the truth about his own record on immigration and protecting the military.

Trump also frequently claims Cruz is a “nasty person” and “no one likes him.”

In response to these false and unfair attacks, Cruz has found some very prominent defenders.

First, principled conservative Congressman and Cruz-supporter Jim Bridenstine writes in National Review, “Under Cruz, we can be assured that we have the strongest military in the world. To suggest otherwise doesn’t match the record or the character of my friend and colleague Ted Cruz.

“Americans’ real concern should be with Rubio’s candidacy. He’s made deals with Democrats at great cost to our national security. As a member of the Gang of Eight, not only did he support massive amnesty while failing to secure the border, but he also supported giving the president unilateral authority to admit more refugees who have not been properly vetted.”

Meanwhile, former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint also came to Cruz’s aid this week, dismissing Trump’s assertion that because Cruz doesn’t have a lot of “friends” among the Washington Republican establishment that no one likes him.

Erick Erickson shares what DeMint told him during a radio interview, writing, “Senator DeMint told me he knows Ted Cruz, knows he is honest, and knows that the attacks are coming because Cruz fights Washington. Washington politicians, in turn, have decided they have to take out Ted Cruz.”

It’s ironic, perhaps, that some of the very same “he doesn’t get along” accusations that are circulating about Cruz were directed at Jim DeMint not too long ago (DeMint resigned his Senate seat to lead the Heritage Foundation in 2012). Remember when former Majority Leader Trent Lott said before the Tea Party wave election in 2010, “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples.”

DeMint knows precisely what it’s like to be a principled conservative surrounded by a collection of hostile big government establishment Republicans. One can only hope enough South Carolinians heard the message ahead of tomorrow’s vote. DeMint remains very popular in his home state and his word could very well carry more weight than Governor Nikki Haley’s.

As for Rubio’s hefty usage of “liar” to describe Cruz, Steve Berman of The Resurgent wonders why Marco is so readily joining Trump in using that word. “Rubio needs to re-evaluate his approach and decide how he wants to win. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Rubio needs to look at who his friends are. Clearly, Trump is not his friend, and Cruz is a friend. When you’re on the playground, and the bully on the block attacks your friend, do you join in to look cool, or do you defend your friend?

“The only path for Rubio to win is for Trump to lose. Taking on Cruz while ignoring Trump is not the best advice, and whoever is advising Rubio to do it is not doing his candidate any favors.”

I would only add that to win, Rubio needs to get through Cruz in addition to Trump, though it still doesn’t justify what Marco’s been saying about Ted. Rubio knows full well what Cruz’s intentions were in regards to Cruz’s proposed changes to the Gang of Eight bill – and Senator Jeff Sessions is right there to back Ted up on it.

By dissing Ted on immigration, isn’t Rubio essentially calling Sessions a liar too?

In all of this, Cruz needs an informed public to see where the truth really lies. His ads and speeches can carry the gist of the message, but if the voters aren’t well versed in the details, such “liar” accusations can stick.

It’s only a shame that Trump and Rubio are resorting to such tactics of personal destruction in order to take an opponent down rather than advance the positive aspects of their own candidacies.

This is Trump’s modus operandi, so it’s semi-understandable coming from him. But what’s Rubio’s excuse?

It can only be seen as pure envy, one of the seven deadly sins. Rubio better pray that he won’t be judged too harshly for his own transgressions. Don’t sell your soul to win an election, Marco.

All signs indicate Jeb’s in his final hours as a Republican candidate

Another of those seven deadly sins is “wrath,” something Jeb Bush has been displaying a lot of lately in South Carolina.

Eli Stokols of Politico reports, “[M]any of the voters who attended Bush’s town hall had just laid bare their own doubts about Bush’s chances to be the GOP nominee. During the question and answer period following an unusually hot-tempered 30-minute rendition of his stump speech, Bush received unsolicited advice from three audience members in succession, each encouraging him to be tougher.

“It did not improve his mood, which was noticeably tense from the get-go.”

According to Stokols, Jeb saved the bulk of his angst for Marco Rubio, who had questioned Bush’s lack of foreign policy experience. The former Florida governor and “mentor” of the much younger Rubio didn’t take it very well, repeating his oft-used argument that Rubio’s never done anything consequential during his few years in the Senate.

Rubio doesn’t even give Jeb the dignity of talking much about him anymore, instead saving his unwarranted personal attacks for Ted Cruz, his real rival in the race. Isn’t Ted a lucky guy?

As if Jeb’s sagging poll numbers and visible frustration at rallies wasn’t bad enough, there are also indications Bush might be running out of money.

Sad. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this for Jeb Bush. As the anointed Republican favorite from the get-go, South Carolina was originally envisioned as the follow-up to a resounding victory in New Hampshire, all-but sealing his inevitable nomination as it did for his brother 16 years ago.

If things had only gone as planned, right about now his supporters would be making reservations for the Republican convention in Cleveland in July and orders would be placed for thousands of Jeb! signs to wave for the TV cameras. Think of all that confetti…another Bush family triumph. Sigh.

Instead, we’ve got a candidate who morbidly quips about quitting campaigning.

It’s a sorry end for a good guy. I personally never wanted to see Jeb as the Republican nominee, but he does seem like a good man. Politics is a rough business, ain’t it?

Bob Dole about to dump Jeb for Marco

Finally today, our old Republican elite buddy Bob Dole has cropped up again to tell us who we should vote for – and big surprise, it’s the new golden boy of the establishment.

Dole has already endorsed Jeb Bush, you may recall, but now that Jeb’s candidacy is on life support, Bob’s offered up his “second choice.”

Eliza Collins of Politico reports Dole said in an interview with National Review, “I hope Rubio finishes second. We have to have a nominee, Republicans, who can bring the party together and reach out to moderates and independents and not just the far right-wing. I don’t know whether Trump could bring the party together... I’ve never met him, but he’s probably a good person. I never meet rich people.”

Bob doesn’t meet rich people? That’s funny. World War II hero Dole has certainly profited from his years in politics, hobnobbing with tons of rich donors, lobbying on K Street after he lost the presidential election in 1996 and even doing Viagra (and Pepsi) commercials.

Dole’s not Donald Trump rich, but I’m sure he doesn’t have to rely solely on his social security checks or his sizeable congressional pension to stay out of soup kitchens.

As for Rubio, why don’t we just get a big giant “establishment” stamp and apply it to his forehead? First he gets Nikki Haley’s establishment okay and a day later Dole effectively dives off the Jeb bandwagon straight into Marco’s territory.

Dole should stop worrying about moderates and independents and start considering the “far right-wing” voters who make up the Republican Party’s base. They’re the ones who vote for Republicans and don’t want another establishment stuff-shirt as their nominee. At 92 years of age, he should know that by now.

I wonder when Mitt Romney’s going to come out for Marco too?

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