So says Bill Kristol, citing “a political operative whom I’ve known a long time and whose integrity I trust” and who’s currently working with an organization — presumably a Super PAC — in SC. Is this data credible? Well, when we’re bearing down on a key vote and we’re starving for numbers in a state that hasn’t been surveyed by a major pollster in three weeks, let’s just say it’s credible enough for a post:
Here’s what the pollster found:
Rich Lowry is hearing of similar numbers in another private poll:
There's this, fwiw, plus a campaign I talked to yesterday says they have a 5-10 point lead for Trump over Cruz in SC https://t.co/ZpMNcRW59j
— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) February 11, 2016
The last poll of South Carolina to place Cruz within single digits of Trump was in mid-December. His smallest lead in January was 14 points. If you’re looking for a reason to believe this data, though, that’s easy: Pre-Iowa polls of SC didn’t reflect that Cruz is now, more or less, the choice of evangelical Republicans. It stands to reason that he’d creep upward towards Trump in a state like South Carolina where the GOP electorate has many born-again Christians. If you’re looking for a reason to disbelieve, that’s easy too: Trump was polling at an average of 36 percent in SC in January and now, coming off his blowout in New Hampshire, he’s … four points lower? If that’s borne out by other polls of SC this week, it’ll be strong evidence that Trump really does have a ceiling of around a third of the party even when he’s got “momentum” from a big win.
The pop-out result, obviously, is Rubio in third with a bullet at 20 percent. That’s some mighty resilient strength for a guy who just wet himself in New Hampshire. If true, it’s also a godsend for Trump: I’d guess that most of Rubio’s supporters would split between Cruz and Jeb Bush as a second choice, meaning that Rubio’s surprising showing here may be denying Cruz the votes he’d need to edge past Trump. Then again, with Rubio just six points behind Cruz, you could turn that logic on its head. If Rubio can siphon away just two or three percent each from Cruz, Bush, and Carson, he’d suddenly be in second and within striking distance of Trump. It’d be Cruz who’s holding him down. That’d be an astounding comeback, and it’d put him back in the role he occupied before NH as the main long-term threat to Trump. Rubio’s been eyeing SC as a stronghold for months and he’s already landed two big endorsements in Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy. I think this poll is probably overstating where he’s actually at in the race right now, but a showing in the mid or high teens wouldn’t be shocking even after the debate malfunction.
Incidentally, I agree with streiff that the sooner Rubio stops talking about a brokered convention, the better. That sort of thing is fun for observers like me to chatter about, especially as an excuse to troll people about the return of Mitt Romney, but coming from a candidate it’s weird:
[E]mbracing a convention fight… and assuming that the winner of that fight would not be the top vote-getter… seems, to me, to be an incredible and unnecessary admission of weakness.
The fact is that unless Rubio does well in South Carolina, he may not be able to sustain a campaign beyond the end of March. Right now there is no evidence that Rubio is going to fight his way into one of the top two positions in the field if the contest is drawn out to the convention. And a so-called brokered convention that dipped to the third or fourth place candidate for the nomination would raise cries of a fix and set off a civil war in the GOP that would carry Hillary Clinton into the White House easily.
“I don’t think it necessarily is negative,” Rubio said today about a brokered convention. Really? The fact that he’s already anticipating not winning a majority of delegates after just two states have voted doesn’t say something negative about the state of his campaign? I’ll bet Cruz and Trump think a brokered convention sounds pretty negative.
Here’s Cruz’s new ad in South Carolina, which is … different.