The new PPP South Carolina poll was conducted entirely after Saturday’s debate, and it appears that Trump suffered no damage from his criticisms of George W. Bush. Trump continues to lead with 35% to 18% for Cruz and 18% for Rubio. Iraq war dead-enders thought that Trump had finally gone too far, but that’s because they were judging his statements by their own very ideological and self-serving standards. As we should all know by now, Trump’s supporters don’t seem to care that much about ideological litmus tests, and many of them are not ideological voters at all, so why would he be penalized for contradicting the party line on the Iraq war? I thought he might be, but it hasn’t happened.
There are a few other details from the poll that are worth mentioning. As usual, Trump leads across all ideological groups, but he is especially strong with the “somewhat” conservatives: 41% of them back Trump compared to 20% for Rubio and 14% for Cruz. Kasich and Bush get 10% and 7% respectively for the first choice, and if all of that support went to Rubio he would have 35% overall. But here’s the interesting thing: almost half of the Bush/Kasich vote doesn’t go to Rubio when the field is reduced to three candidates.
In a hypothetical three-way race, the 35-18-18% contest becomes a 40-28-22% race with Rubio now in second. While it is often taken for granted that all the supporters of the other “establishment” candidates would go to Rubio in a smaller field, it appears that he and Trump split up Bush and Kasich’s support. Almost a third of Bush supporters and nearly half of Kasich supporters have an unfavorable view of Rubio. That suggests that Trump’s ceiling of support is not as low or hard as many anti-Trump Republicans believe it to be, and it tells us that Cruz may be the one with the lower ceiling. It also means that whoever wins the so-called “establishment lane” can’t count on consolidating all of the support from the other “establishment” candidates. Rubio wouldn’t win the primary even if the other “establishment” candidates were out of the race.