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The “Wall” wins, Amnesty loses big in South Carolina

“Tonight, the Wall just got ten feet higher,” declared Donald Trump, beaming widely at his victory party in South Carolina while his rabid supporters looked on, shouting approval at every syllable and eating up every word.

The “Wall” in this case is Trump’s proposed barrier on the border with Mexico. The Donald’s roughly one-third of the vote in The Palmetto State made him the winner of the Republican primary, but it was his unapologetic Trump wins South Carolinaget-tough views on immigration that was the real victor there.

South Carolina’s losers included the Republican Party establishment generally and Jeb Bush specifically, who gracefully suspended his campaign at around 8:30 p.m. EST, just before Trump spoke. The one-time frontrunner appeared soundly defeated and emotional as he claimed “policy and ideas matter” in conceding defeat.

I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. Donald Trump doesn’t espouse many ideas other than claiming he’ll trash the Washington establishment on the way to “Making America Great Again” -- and he certainly doesn’t delve deeply into policy minutiae either.

No, Jeb, you’re wrong again, though you did generate more attention in capitulation than you did in nearly a year on the campaign trail. Tens of millions were spent in trying to convince people that you were the one – and it didn’t work. All the Jeb-handlers had to do was take a look at the opinion polls over the course of months and some of that money could have been saved.

Hardly anybody wanted Jeb. Was that so hard to understand?

We now know the Bush family won’t have a third presidency. I doubt even his few supporters are too disappointed now.

The pundits seemed a lot more interested on Saturday night in promoting Marco Rubio’s finish (just like they were in Iowa), which wasn’t definitively determined at press time. He was still ahead by two-tenths of a point to finish ahead of Ted Cruz for second place with 99% of precincts reporting.

Big deal. Yawn.

Like Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin “win” in Iowa, does it really matter who finished second or third in this case?

Rubio can take satisfaction from finishing in a dead-heat with Cruz for the “not Trump” candidate while eliminating his old pal Jeb Bush at the same time. Otherwise, it really doesn’t do much for him. Three states voting and a third, fifth and second place finish to show for it. Not great. Only the pundits are excited about that.

With this as the background to the evening, here are some themes coming out of South Carolina:

This is a change election

I almost cringe in saying it, because “change” is what everyone says every election is about – but people are going for something different this year. After a highly unqualified principle-free candidate won on a “Hope and Change” platform eight years ago, you would think people would know better.

But with Trump winning convincingly in New Hampshire and South Carolina -- and leading in nearly every national poll -- it’s pretty clear that folks just want someone from outside the system...anyone. Heck, even Bernie Sanders is staying afloat in the Democrat race because he claims to offer something different.

Consider the fact that Trump’s, Cruz’s and Ben Carson’s vote added together equaled about 63% of the total in South Carolina. That’s very consistent with the percentage of people who have favored “outsider” candidates from the beginning of the race.

I’ve argued over and over that Trump doesn’t represent the “change” people are really seeking, but apparently voters aren’t seeing it the same way. The Donald makes sure to talk about self-funding at every speech and that’s good enough for most people in thinking he’s beyond the influence of the powerful in Washington.

Trump was gracious in victory, congratulating Cruz and Rubio for doing well in South Carolina. When his “supporters” started to protest his kind words, however, he promised he’d be back to his old self starting tomorrow.

I personally believe the “real” Donald Trump is the one we saw making the victory speech. From everything I’ve heard about him, he’s very courteous in person apart from the TV cameras and microphones. The “phony” Trump is The Donald character calling Cruz a liar and everyone else unbalanced.

It’s all an act – why doesn’t everyone see it?

Cruz’s strategy moving forward

Ted Cruz won in Iowa and many, including myself, thought the Trump balloon had finally been irreparably punctured.

I was wrong – at least in the irreparable part.

Cruz’s second/third-place tie in South Carolina is still a significant accomplishment. It’s almost like losing a golf tournament in a playoff. Your name still shares the top of the leaderboard, but the other guy gets the trophy and the bigger check.

With that being said, I think Ted needs to make a few changes going forward. With only a little over a week to go until the “SEC primary” on Super Tuesday, he needs to rethink his message a bit.

First, negatively attacking Donald Trump appears to be doing absolutely no good. Trump’s supporters don’t give a hoot about the billionaire’s past record, so it only makes Cruz look bad in continuing to pound on it. It also brings about the wrath of The Donald, who has no problem with calling anyone a “liar.”

Coupled with Rubio’s “liar” charge, the two-pronged attack appears to have damaged Cruz’s campaign.

So Cruz needs to stop with the negative attacks on The Donald. He’s better off ignoring Trump as he did for months – and focusing instead on Rubio, where highlighting Marco’s poor or non-existent record can actually sway some people.

Second, Cruz should really hit the Supreme Court nominee issue hard. Some polls indicate Ted is gaining ground on the matter and it could help to consolidate the conservative vote by continuing to emphasize his connection with the Court and his understanding of how the system works.

Lastly, Cruz needs to take a more cautious tone with military intervention. He certainly doesn’t need to join into Trump’s “truther” conspiracy nonsense, but he does need to emphasize that he will do everything possible to keep American troops out of the conflicts overseas.

Trump says he’ll build up the military but won’t commit ground troops. Cruz needs to do the same, because it’s clear voters in this election are tired of neoconservative military operations that simply pile up casualties and debt while producing nothing tangible in the form of victories.

That will set Cruz apart from Rubio while also keeping him on the right side of public opinion. Republicans love a strong military but that doesn’t mean they like war. Pat Buchanan is the example in this regard – why cede this aspect of the party to Trump?

The establishment has decided – and it’s Rubio

If anyone was yet unconvinced the establishment will always favor the candidate it perceives as the most electable no matter what that candidate actually believes, Saturday night should be the last straw in persuading them.

Marco Rubio’s faux campaign message has devolved from “The next American Century” – whatever that means – to “Ted Cruz is a liar.”

Rubio has absolutely nothing to offer conservative voters in terms of policy gravitas, but he sure does look good in a suit.

Can’t you just imagine Rubio on stage in a debate with Hillary Clinton? Wouldn’t he look good? He’s so young, good looking, speaks like a well-programmed robot. You might as well order a billion Marco Rubio dolls and distribute them to every child in the western hemisphere.

Pull a string, get a 25-second speech. It was semi-nauseating watching Rubio’s establishment endorser friends standing alongside him during his “victory” speech on Saturday night. With all that weight behind him, shouldn’t he have done better than eeking out a razor-thin second place?

Politics isn’t very hard to figure out. You’ve got your Trump anti-establishment voters who just want a candidate who’s angry, grits his teeth and promises to shaft the powerful in every painful way possible (see Bernie Sanders in this category as well). Then you’ve got your plastic robot candidates who don’t have much of a record but present themselves well.

Rubio and Barack Obama fit this category.

Ted Cruz is young, like Rubio. He’s Hispanic. He’s nice looking and well-spoken, just like Rubio. He’s even got a lovely family, like Marco.

But he won’t kneel and kiss the ring of the establishment. He won’t cry “mercy” even when the establishment rips out his entrails (yes, a Braveheart reference).

The principled guy always dies in the end. But the country gets its freedom.

With Rubio, you get four years of the same. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and still expecting different results.

The Republican Party is heading down that road once again. The only question is whether Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will allow them to do it.

After South Carolina, the path forward gets foggy

Finally today, in the Democrat caucuses on Saturday, Nevada narrowly chose Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Nevada Republicans vote on Tuesday. Donald Trump enjoys a large lead in the polls and will likely add the Silver State to his victory total.

But the real campaign starts on March 1 with “Super Tuesday” and the SEC primary. The “not-Trump” candidates will vie for conservative votes.

If they’re unsuccessful in stopping the Trump train there, it will be difficult to do so down the road. As always, it will be interesting to see how they react to South Carolina.

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