The six remaining Republican candidates for president will face off at 8 p.m. tonight in a debate in Greenville, South Carolina, broadcast by CBS.
The first post-New Hampshire poll from South Carolina is out and Donald Trump is trouncing everyone. Trump leads Ted Cruz 36-20. Marco Rubio is trailing in third at 15 percent, followed by Jeb Bush (11), John Kasich (9), and Ben Carson (5).
The South Carolina primary will take place in a week, on Feb. 20. Let’s go ahead and take bets on whether Bronze Medal Marco will give another victory speech if he finishes third.
Establishment spins its wheels
Brent Budowsky, a columnist for the Hill, claims that after South Carolina, the establishment is finally going to rally around a center-right alternative to the apostate Trump and the loathed Cruz:
Get ready for major Republican officials and large donors to begin a campaign to unite behind an alternative to presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and put intense pressure on two of the leading center-right candidates to drop out of the race before the Super Tuesday GOP voting.
Today, the GOP establishment is in total disarray. There is a fair chance that the two top candidates in the South Carolina primary will turn out to be Cruz and Trump battling for first and second place with the center-right alternatives coming in distant third, fourth and fifth places because they are dividing the anti-Cruz and anti-Trump vote.
Sorry, but we’ve been hearing this for months. I’ll believe it when I see it. The odds of South Carolina results doing anything to clarify the Rubio-Kasich-Bush also-ran jumble are quite low. Because all three of them have significant weaknesses, the donor-and-endorsement train hasn’t coalesced around any one of the trio. The collective action problem isn’t going away — each candidate would benefit from a winnowing of the field, but none of them has any particular reason to decide that he is the one who should drop out. So they will continue to hang around and beat up on each other. The longer that dynamic goes on, the more likely that Trump or Cruz will prevail. Meanwhile, it’s worth nothing that it’s not even clear that the so-called establishment lane has enough juice to topple Trump even if the “anybody-but-Cruz-or-Trump move is coming soon” fantasy that Budowsky peddles comes true. National polling suggests that even if you combined Rubio, Kasich, and Bush backers together, Trump would still have twice as much support. (And of course Trump’s support is broad enough that he might be the second choice for some of those voters in any case.)
Trump in full birther mode
If @TedCruz doesn’t clean up his act, stop cheating, & doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2016
Donald Trump has previously said that Democrats were going to sue over the fact that Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother. Surprise! Now Trump himself is threatening to take the matter to court. A lawsuit has been filed by Trump supporters in Alabama challenging Cruz’s eligibility to run for president; another has been filed in Texas seeking a judgment on whether he is a natural born citizen.
Many predict sparks to fly between Trump and Cruz at tonight’s debate.
The Insatiable Desires of Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz removed the above campaign ad after it was revealed that one of the actresses featured in the ad, Amy Lindsay, has also been featured in softcore porn movies, such as Carnal Wishes, Secrets of a Chambermaid, Animal Lust, Co-Ed Confidential, and Insatiable Desires. As a voter, Lindsay said that she is undecided between Cruz and Donald Trump.
I’m not exactly the target Cruz voter, but my take is that Amy Lindsay is an American making a legal living and there’s nothing wrong with her appearing in an ad. As Alex Shephard of the New Republic notes: “The Cruz campaign is okay with lots of stuff that would fill a more conventional campaign with shame, from a pastor who said that God sent Hitler to kill the Jews to a different pastor who said that gay people should be put to death. In both instances, the Cruz campaign stood by their guys.” On the topic of sex, they’re a bit more squeamish. Cruz’s insatiable desire is clear enough: power.
Lindsay initially said she was “extremely disappointed” that the Cruz campaign had pulled the ad and distanced themselves from her, but in a television interview yesterday, she said she wasn’t mad at Cruz for dropping her: “I have no ill will towards Ted Cruz right now. He had a job to do, and I’m a middle-class working girl and I had a job to do.”
Small price toupee
Total ad spending in S.C., via CMAG:
Team Jeb: $12 million
Team Rubio: $7.8 mill
Team Cruz: $3.7 mill
Team Trump: $750k
Team Carson: $620k
— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) February 13, 2016
One of the most astounding features of Trump’s rise is that he’s doing it on a (relative) shoestring budget. That may partly be a measure of the fact that he is unwilling (or maybe even unable if he has limited liquid assets) to spend mammoth chunks of his own money. But it also brings up a couple questions. Does Trump have hidden upside? What happens if he starts spending like his rivals? The more obvious question — just how overrated is spending on political advertising? Jeb Bush’s donors might as well have just burned a hundred million dollars in a ritual ceremony.
Cruz dirty tricks help keep Carson afloat
Politico reports that the dirty tricks from Ted Cruz — spreading false rumors that Carson was dropping out of the race when he was actually just going home to change clothes — has provided a fundraising windfall for Carson and has kept his struggling campaign afloat. Carson and his sleepy nice-guy persona are well liked among GOP voters, so it looks particularly nasty that the Cruz camp flagrantly lied about him to try to poach votes. From today’s Politico story:
The retired neurosurgeon’s campaign says it has raised about $2 million since the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, a startling windfall for a campaign that finished a distant-fourth in Iowa and dead last among eight active contenders in New Hampshire.
The haul is all the more startling because the campaign has been floundering for months. Since he briefly led polls in early November, Carson has careened from one campaign crisis to another, nursing self-inflicted wounds and slashing a bloated staff while his standing in GOP primary polls has cratered.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Iowa caucus: Just as the vote was beginning, operatives and surrogates for Ted Cruz rapidly spread a false rumor that Carson would be leaving the Republican contest. They urged Carson’s backers to align with Cruz instead. Though the Texas senator has consistently blamed an ambiguous CNN report about the issue, as well as tweets from a CNN correspondent, those reports never suggested Carson would be quitting the contest.
The backlash from Carson loyalists was fierce, and the doctor’s campaign says it’s at the core of its sudden fundraising resurgence.
The story is an ugly one for Cruz because it plays into a potential weakness — the perception that Cruz lies about everything. I expect both Carson and Trump to go after him on it tonight.