Three contests into primary season, a simple truth is self-evident: Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee.
True, the brash billionaire won the South Carolina primary on Saturday with just 32.5 percent of the vote. And it’s still early. The vast majority of convention delegates remain up for grabs. But even with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s decision to drop out Saturday night after finishing a distant fourth, Mr. Trump can still succeed – and vacuum up delegates – by dividing and conquering.
The South Carolina exit poll tells the story. In a strongly religious state, Trump won both the evangelical and nonevangelical vote. He won among both modest-income and well-off voters. He won among the non-college-educated, and barely lost to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – the surprise second-place finisher overall – among those with college degrees.
But the biggest shock to the Republican system comes in another poll number: the evident yearning for an outsider. When asked what is the best preparation for the presidency, 48 percent of South Carolina voters said being “from outside the political establishment” – and of those, 63 percent went for Trump, a first-time candidate for public office.
“What I don’t know is whether he can crack 50 percent in a two-person race” for the nomination, says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.