Trump won South Carolina, and was actually running a little bit ahead of his position in the polling average after almost all of votes had been tallied. With 94% of the vote counted, Trump almost had 33%. Cruz and Rubio were jostling for second place, but they are so close to each other that either of them can present the result as a tie. Being passed by Rubio isn’t good for Cruz, but Cruz can take some consolation from the fact that Rubio trails him in almost every contest over the next two weeks. Kasich and Bush did worse than I thought they would, and tied each other at around 8%. Bush suspended his campaign in recognition of the obvious fact that he isn’t going anywhere. I thought Bush would hang on for a few more weeks until the Florida primary, but he apparently had experienced enough embarrassment. Kasich and Carson are going to stick around for a while, which makes things more difficult for Rubio and Cruz respectively. South Carolina hasn’t solved any of the anti-Trump Republicans’ problems, but has just made them worse.
Late-deciding voters may have broken for other candidates, but Trump’s lead going into the last week was large enough that it didn’t matter. Trump has once again outperformed his late polling, and he is on track to take all or almost all of the delegates from South Carolina. He did this after repeatedly spitting in the face of party elites and movement ideologues, confirming that a large bloc of Republican voters has no problem with this. Following the South Carolina win, Trump is also well-positioned to win Nevada and many Super Tuesday contests. Trump’s campaign so far is more successful than Romney’s in 2012, and so he has to be considered the clear favorite for the nomination. This may have been the last chance that his rivals had to stop him, and they failed.
Rubio’s boosters will try to turn tonight into a victory for him, but it is plainly anything but that. His campaign promoted the idea that he would finish second in New Hampshire and first in South Carolina, and in the first two primaries he has fallen short. Even if Rubio manages to sneak into second place, he did so only because there was overwhelmingly favorable coverage of his supposed “comeback” and because he had the support of most of the state party apparatus–including the governor’s endorsement–behind him. Despite all of that help, he still couldn’t win in the state that his “strategy” required him to win. South Carolina was a must-win state for Rubio, and he didn’t come close to winning it. Rubio is the only one of the “top three” to finish the first three contests without a win, and he probably isn’t going to win anywhere.