South Carolina wants to make America great again. Donald Trump won the state’s primary Saturday night, as his party’s presidential contest became a three-man race. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Trump leads with 32.5 percent of the vote, while Marco Rubio has the slighest edge over Ted Cruz for second place, besting the Texas senator by a margin of 22.5 to 22.3 percent.
Although some polls showed former Florida governor Jeb Bush within striking distance of third place earlier this week, he and Ohio governor John Kasich finished in single-digit irrelevancy. Bush suspended his campaign Saturday night. Kasich will apparently keep on just for kicks. But Rubio is the last contender standing in the Establishment lane.
Trump’s margin of victory in Saturday’s popular vote appears substantial. But his share of the delegate count will be even greater.
South Carolina’s exit polls tell a tale of two parties. Forty-eight percent of Republicans told pollsters they were looking for a candidate with experience, while 46 percent said it was more important that the GOP standard-bearer be an outsider. And while Donald Trump and Ted Cruz look like the top two vote-getters in the Palmetto State, they were also the candidates who South Carolina voters saw as most “unfair” in their campaigning.
One thing the party can agree on is religious discrimination. Nearly three quarters of Saturday’s voters said that they would support a ban on Muslims entering the country.
While the night is certainly a success for Trump, the exit polls do contain one ominous sign for the Donald — his terrible performance with late-deciding voters. Trump won just 16 percent of those who decided last-minute. Rubio took 30 percent of that crowd, while Cruz took 28. That could indicate that the billionaire’s inexplicable decision to re-litigate George W. Bush’s handling of 9/11 in the campaign’s final week drove Trump-curious voters away. Or it could speak to a broader problem: Trump may have an unshakable base of devotees, but have little appeal among fence-sitting types. The mogul won 35 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, but just 24 percent of the state’s late-deciders.
Cruz also has cause to worry. The Texas senator’s path to the nomination is paved with evangelical voters. He has made opposition to abortion and gay marriage — and his expertise in picking judges who share that opposition — a central pitch of his campaign. On Saturday night, Bible enthusiasts turned out in record numbers, with evangelicals making up a whopping 75 percent of the electorate. And yet, it appears that Cruz may still finish behind Rubio.