Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina is the kind of politician the Republican Party needs. Although conservative, her handling of a racially charged shooting at a church in Charleston last year and the removal of the Confederate traitors’ flag from the state capitol showed a sensitivity and willingness to yield on tactics to protect principles that are in short supply on her side of the aisle. She is wildly popular in South Carolina with an 81% approval rating, the kind of number Vladimir Putin gets in Russia. As a child of South Asian immigrants, she also helps break down the GOP’s color wall. So her decision yesterday to back Marco Rubio just three days before the South Carolina primary may be the move the Republicans have needed to winnow their field down enough that Donald Trump can be stopped.
The party apparatchiks, the media and the other candidates have already accepted the fact that Mr. Trump is going to win Saturday’s primary by a wide plurality. Anti-establishment candidate Senator Rafael Eduardo “Ted” Cruz is probably going to finish a distant second. Of the remaining 4 candidates, 3 are considered to be establishment Republicans: Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, ex-Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, and Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Dr. Ben Carson is an afterthought here
So, the question is who among the establishment trio will be next to bow out? Whichever candidate finishes third behind Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz ought to feel serious embarrassment and shame but will take up the mantle of faction leader. If the fourth place finisher is close behind, that candidate will also live to fight another day. It is hard to see a fifth place candidate having a ticket out of South Carolina, as the saying goes. And any candidate who loses to Dr. Carson is doomed.
The latest polls show that Senator Rubio is clearly the third place candidate, while the polls are divided over who is next: Mr. Bush or Mr. Kasich. By throwing her weight behind Senator Rubio, Governor Haley has made the fight for a respectable fourth-place finish (a ludicrous idea, but this GOP campaign has been ludicrous from the beginning) more difficult for both Governors Bush and Kasich.
It is vital for the GOP establishment to get this down to a three-man race because of the way the rules work. Up until March 15, primaries and caucuses must award delegates using some form of proportional representation. Thereafter, winner-take-all contests are allowed and Ohio, Florida and New Jersey are some of the states that use that system. Other states are winner-take-all at the Congressional District level, and others that operate on a proportional basis have a provision that a candidate who gets a majority (not merely a plurality) of the vote gets all the delegates. Mr. Trump winning Ohio, Florida and New Jersey with 40% of the vote is the establishment’s nightmare scenario.
Even in a three-man race that includes Senator Cruz, the establishment is at a disadvantage. Both the senator and Mr. Trump are running against the party, and that appears to be where the majority of GOP voters are at the moment. Even if they winnow it down to one candidate protecting the party’s interests, it might not be enough. However, with three splitting the establishment vote, they are handing the nomination to Mr. Trump.
If Governor Haley’s move can take enough votes away from Governors Bush and Kasich to move Senator Rubio above 20%, the governors have no reason to continue. The party faithful will owe her a debt of gratitude, and likely, she will be considered for the vice presidential nomination if Mr. Rubio were nominated. Had she opted for one of the governors, she would merely have muddied the waters more.
For far too long, the pundits, politicians and the media have been waiting for Mr. Trump to self-destruct. However, he isn’t going that route. The rule in politics is that one cannot beat a somebody with nobody. This journal noted that there is a corollary; one cannot beat a somebody with everybody either. The GOP apparatchiks needed this to be a two-man race a long time ago. A three-man race is barely acceptable. However, Governor Haley’s endorsement has likely moved them from an intolerable position to one that is acceptable (barely). That is the mark of a shrewd politician.