February 10, 2016
Time to take a look at what each of the contenders need to accomplish in the Palmetto State. At this point, we’re focusing on what’s necessary to retain (or create) a chance at the nomination. It’s not an attempt to figure out how someone avoids dropping out. That decision is up to a candidate and their investors.
We did this exercise before New Hampshire. Donald Trump got the result he wanted, Ted Cruz got the result he needed. John Kasich wound up between what he needed and what was survivable. Both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio wound up just barely at the survivable line. Chris Christie was well below it and is likely no longer with us in the campaign.
Remember, we aren’t trying to predict the result. That’s a separate (and very enjoyable) conversation. Here’s where they stand:Donald Trump
Wants: Another big win. He’s not going to dominate the way he did in New Hampshire, getting more votes than the second and third candidates combined. It’s easy to see how he could wind up somewhere in the 30s while nobody else gets past the low-mid 20s. That makes Iowa look like an outlier and blows up the idea Cruz can stop him.
Trump would become a heavy favorite in most of the March 1 states, putting an extreme amount of pressure on Cruz. The establishment folks then panic about trying to stop him and all hell breaks loose. Any result that makes everyone else sweat works really well for him.
Needs: A victory. He won by almost 20 in New Hampshire after losing by 4 in Iowa. At this point, any win helps, even if narrow. A narrow win, a narrow loss and a blowout win is still pretty good scoreboard.
We’ll hear a full 10 days of stats on how evangelical-heavy South Carolina is, so finishing ahead of Cruz and the others is perceived as a big accomplishment.
Might Survive: A semi-strong second. A loss hurts. Trump’s loyalists aren’t going to abandon him, but his case for leaners is partially based on winning. When he wins, people think if he can do that, he might get Mexico to pay for the wall.
A narrow loss to Ted isn’t crushing though. Trump has more of an edge in more secular states than Cruz does in evangelical ones. There’s no indication the party is any more likely to rally around Cruz than Trump, so Ted will actually need more delegates than The Donald to win super delegates or a convention fight.
Until Cruz does well (not just less crappy than Jeb) in a secular state, Trump can get by with close seconds on Ted’s perceived turf.
Wants: An Iowa-style win. If Cruz wins by 4 or 5 points, it indicates he’s very likely to sweep Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas on March 1. To get the nomination, he also needs places like Missouri and North Carolina, but this means Ted can handle the fire and do what he needs to organizationally to make up for the attacks.
Needs: A win. South Carolina has never picked a candidate like Cruz. A win is a legitimately big deal. Arkansas is a better fit for Ted. However, he’s not winning the nomination without several other breaks if he can’t win a state like this.
Might Survive: A very close second. Trump 31%, Cruz 29%, Jeb 12%, Rubio 11% shows a two-person race, at least until the establishment-certified candidates draw straws and decide who stays in. The problem is Cruz really needs a few victories on March 1 and this indicates Trump is able to compete with him for those.
Wants: A real top tier finish. In Iowa he was an asterisk. In New Hampshire, second-tier. Somehow, he’s still fighting after spending a ton of money for very few delegates. He got a pass because nobody believes in Kasich and Rubio is absurdly shaky at the moment.
If he can’t get himself to the 18-24% range in a state with deep family ties, plenty of organization, and Rubio back on his heels, you need to wonder when it would happen.
Needs: To beat Rubio and Kasich. Everyone thinks Jeb has the home-field edge over Kasich. Marco is at his weakest since the campaign started. Losing to either causes grave questions about whether Bush is anything but a disappointing, expensive loser.
Might Survive: Losing to Rubio very narrowly. If Kasich does badly, finishing in 6th, well behind Carson, maybe. Cruz 29%, Trump 26%, Rubio 15%, Jeb 14%, Carson 9%, Kasich 5%. Perhaps.
Wouldn’t want to test it.
Wants: A real top tier finish. A repeat of Iowa and it’s like a reset button was hit. Prior to the debate, Rubio polled well in North Carolina, Arkansas, and nationally. He was running third, but much closer to first than fourth.
Marco will never be able to put humpty-dumpty back together again and return to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 6th. This result would make him a top-tier contender again.
Needs: To beat Rubio and Kasich. That shows Marco has bottomed out and buys him time to finish in the top tier in Nevada and to steal at least one state on March 1. It’s not ideal, but good enough for now.
Might Survive: Barely losing to Jeb if Cruz struggles. Trump 31%, Cruz 21%, Jeb 18%, Rubio 17%, Kasich 6%, Carson 5%, is not encouraging, but not disqualifying. That looks like a 4 person race, with pressure on Marco to deliver soon.
Wants: To beat Rubio and Jeb. They are perceived as having an advantage on him, even with post-New Hampshire momentum. As long as he’s ahead of both, and the three combine for 30% or more, the math indicates an establishment-friendly candidate can compete and the others are not the horses to run with.
Kasich 14%, Jeb 13%, Rubio 11% would count as a much better outcome than New Hampshire.
Needs: To beat Rubio or Jeb. Neither candidate can survive losing to Kasich in South Carolina. It gets him a free pass in Nevada and sets him up to contend in places like Vermont, Massachusetts, and Minnesota on March 1. It also means he could pick up a few delegates in the states he’d lose.
Might Survive: Finishing 5th or 6th as long as he’s in the same pack with the 3rd and 4th place finishers. If Cruz beats Trump and the others are clustered, perhaps stasis lasts long enough to keep Kasich alive until Michigan on March 8.
Cruz 26%, Trump 24%, Jeb 13%, Rubio 13%, Carson 10%, Kasich 10% is probably survivable if not ideal.
Ben Carson does not have a path to the nomination. He’s looking for a path to March 1. If he finishes in the 9-12% range, noticeably ahead of either Kasich, Jeb, or Rubio, he can continue to do his thing. Carson spent a good amount of time in the Super Tuesday states, raised a lot of his money there.
At 5 to 7% or worse, there’s no point in continuing. He would look like a spoiler. We’ll never know how much Chris Christie wanted to take Marco Rubio down for squishing his momentum with attack ads and how much he thought it was his best path to viability.
If Carson stays in after South Carolina without getting near or past 10%, it’s at least partially to teach Ted a lesson.