When the polls closed in South Carolina and the various television networks said it was too close to call, it looked like we were in for a long night. A tweet from the man who has led in every poll, Donald Trump himself, seemed to only back up that notion. Then, suddenly, starting with NBC News just 25 or so minutes later, it was all over. Trump was declared the winner of South Carolina.
As I write this, with 21% of the votes counted, Trump leads 34% to second place Ted Cruz, who is at 22%. Marco Rubio is in a tight 3rd place with 21%. Everyone else is in single digits.
If the early exit polls stand up, Trump’s win in a state with 75% evangelicals is nothing short of remarkable, a sign after his blowout victory in New Hampshire, that he can win anywhere.
Rubio is also a story here, earning a big comeback after a disastrous debate and an even more disastrous 5th place showing in New Hampshire. A second or third place showing in South Carolina, and the almost certain elimination of fellow-Establishment laners Jeb Bush and John Kasich, gives Rubio a future. Nevertheless, he has won nothing, including a South Carolina where all the money, endorsements, and conservative media like Fox News, along with the Establishment had his back.
Trump, of course, still managed to win after making a handful of what looked like mistakes. He called George W. Bush a liar in the South Carolina debate last week, he said he was in favor of the ObamaCare mandate (and had to take it back), got into a battle with no less than the Pope (that the Pope started), and had to deal with some blowback regarding his oft-stated position that he was always against the Iraq War.
Then there are the basic logistics of the ground game, a convention The Donald once again thumbed his nose at.
Nevertheless, Trump walks out of South Carolina a winner, and walks into Tuesday night’s Nevada caucus with 42% support and a +22 point lead.
Rubio is at 19%.
Naturally, Fox News continues to harp on Trump’s supposed 35% “ceiling,” without wondering if Rubio might have a ceiling at somewhere around, oh, 22%.
In fact, just last week, YouGov polled a national three-man race with Trump, Rubio and Cruz. Trump earned 46%, Rubio hit 28%, and Cruz slid into third with 26%.
Tell us again about The Ceiling, Fox News.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC