The most raucous and otherwise remarkable debate in modern presidential history took place Feb. 13 in South Carolina and seems likely to lead to a stunning victory for front-runner Donald Trump in the state’s primary Feb. 20.
Trump — by insulting several of his rivals and GOP eminences as well as most of the audience — managed to surpass even his own unmatched record among major contenders for contrarian positions that have amazed and confounded his establishment opponents.
Yet nearly all instant polls showed him as winning the debate, with a Drudge poll (albeit unscientific) showing him winning 53 percent of the 650,000+ votes cast by 11 p.m. Sunday. Eleven other polls assembled by the Conservative TreeHouse site showed Trump winning, at least initially. Details: Who do you think won the Republican Debate tonight?
Even a more scientific poll by CBS, the moderator of the debate at the Peace Center auditorium in Greenville, SC, showed Trump finishing second with 24 percent to Marco Rubio, who polled 32 percent in a sample of 601 persons in the overnight poll.
Out of all the polling since the presidential race began last spring, these results carry special significance as a predictor of how the South Carolina and national GOP contests will play out.
Even though the polls drew from national and not state samples, they seem to indicate that Trump did not seriously hurt himself and none of his five remaining opponents (with the possible exception of Rubio) helped himself significantly.
That’s great news for Trump, who currently leads polling in South Carolina by 42 to 20 for Ted Cruz and 15 percent for Rubio in a CBS poll released Feb. 14. Nationally, Trump also leads by large margins over his GOP rivals, although the margin is single digits over Cruz for the most part.
Even better for Trump than the margins, the specifics of the next stage of the race and of his rivals’ vulnerabilities enhance his strengths further.
In essence, all of Trump’s rivals have major weaknesses at least in the short term. Several are being accused of scandalous behavior, as examined below. Yet none are likely to drop out before the South Carolina primary, which will be regarded as a predictor for the 11-state March 1 votes, most of them in the South.
This is likely to split the anti-Trump vote and deny his rivals a chance for victory in this crucial next phase of the campaign. In the modern era of primaries, no GOP presidential candidate has ever won the party nomination without winning a contest in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina.