For all the intensity and sharp exchanges viewers saw last Saturday night, the ninth debate between the Republican presidential hopeful changed very little among likely voters in South Carolina, which holds its primary next Saturday (Feb. 20).
According to the latest CBS tracking poll, Donald Trump leads among likely GOP primary voters with 42 percent, followed by Ted Cruz with 20 percent, and John Kasich and Marco Rubio tied for third with 15 percent each.
In what could possibly spell disaster for Jeb Bush in the state where his father and brother won critical primary wins in 1988 and 2000 respectively, CBS found the Florida governor tied for fourth place with Ben Carson.
Neutral observers to whom I spoke after the debate, in fact, commented more on the rancorous nature of the televised encounter in Greenville, S.C., than on points scored by the six candidates.
“The debate was held at a peace center and there was nothing peaceful about it,” said veteran GOP consultant Ford O’Connell, who has no favorite in the presidential race, “In fact it got down right ornery at times.”
But, O’Connell quickly added, “When a debate descends into complete chaos like this one did at times, Trump wins simply because his supporters will stick with him through thick and thin. That doesn’t mean Trump gained any new supporters tonight, particularly with his 9/11 commentary.”
He added that “Rubio’s performance in Greenville will make voters quickly forget about his previous debate debacle and for him that is all that matters — Rubio just simply has to run faster than Bush and Kasich in the Palmetto State and I think he accomplished that tonight.”