Donald Trump is the presumptive frontrunner, but will his ragged debate performance and Twitter battles with President Obama and Pope Francis impact his ability to close the deal.
South Carolina has a heavy evangelical population and clearly Trump is not as devout as he would like to make it appear.
Plus a 2002 interview was uncovered that contradicts Trump’s contention that he opposed the Iraq War.
Add in Trump’s defense of Planned Parenthood and criticism of former President George W. Bush, and there is a lot of churn surrounding the Republican frontrunner.
South Carolina is famous for its dirty politicking and role in crystallizing the hierarchy of Republicans running for president. Questionable campaign hijinks, like whisper campaigns and unattributed mailers and fliers purporting falsehoods against rivals, are in full swing across the Palmetto State.
Coming into Saturday Trump leads the field at 28 percent; Gov. Ted Cruz (TX) at 23 percent; Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) 15 percent; Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) at 13 percent; Gov. John Kasich (OH) 9 percent; and Dr. Ben Carson at 9 percent.
It’s a big deal if Cruz can finish closer to Trump than expected or win somehow. There is a possible fragility to the Trump candidacy that could be exploited. It needs to be soon or his illusion of strength will galvanize and there may be no catching Trump.
Likely the real fireworks will go off among the mid-pack of candidates. The buzz among Republican operatives is only three tickets will be punched for candidates coming out of South Carolina.
That seems a stretch, as Kasich intends to stay in the race regardless of outcome until March when the Midwest states come into play.
Still, for Bush, if he doesn’t finish third or a very close fourth his campaign will have a difficult time continuing. It’s unclear why Carson remains in the race.
The big question is Rubio. After a disastrous debate performance concerning his inexperience, the Florida senator has rebounded impressively. He picked up the coveted endorsement of SC Gov. Nikki Haley, and has the entire SC Republican political establishment behind him.
This push for Rubio hasn’t entirely shown up in the polls, but it’s in the SC air. He must finish in front of Bush. A solid third place finish would allow establishment money and support to coalesce behind Rubio and remove other candidates from the race.
A second or first place finish, while unlikely in SC, would completely shake up the Republican race.