A CBSNews/YouGov poll taken before Donald Trump’s debate meltdown on February 13 gave him 42 percent of the vote. He won last night’s South Carolina primary with 32.5 percent. A win is a win, but percentages matter. Trump still has a ceiling among primary voters the tops out between 30-35 percent. The Donald can demagogue all he wants, but the professionals know it still matters. Hence today’s news of Mitt Romney endorsement of Marco Rubio.
Rubio said so much on Face the Nation today writes Rebecca Kaplan:
He hasn’t placed first in any of the three states that have cast their votes, but Florida Sen. Marco Rubio still believes that he can win the GOP nomination – in part because he sees a limit to how much support there is for Donald Trump.
“Part of the dynamic up to this point is Donald has been, you know, in the mid 30s to low 30s, high 20s in most polls and then you have 70 percent of the Republican electorate that says, ‘We’re not voting for him,'” Rubio said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation. “But they’re divided up among five or seven people. So as that five or seven people continues to narrow down, I think it’s going make the race clearer and clearer.”
He’s aiming higher than just picking up the anti-Trump vote, though. Rubio said, “There are people supporting Donald Trump that we believe we can win over as well.”
One of the nation’s best analyst of polling data is Nate Silver. He writes this today in FiveThirtyEight on this point of view:
What did the Trump skeptics find to like about South Carolina? Quite a lot, actually. They’d point out that Trump faded down the stretch run, getting 32 percent of the vote after initially polling at about 36 percent after New Hampshire, because of his continuing struggles with late-deciding voters. They’d note that Trump’s numbers worsened from New Hampshire to South Carolina despite several candidates having dropped out. They’d say that Rubio, who went from 11 percent in South Carolina polls before Iowa2 to 22 percent of the vote on Saturday night, had a pretty good night. They’d also say that Rubio will be helped by Jeb Bush dropping out, even if it hadalready become clear that Rubio was the preferred choice of Republican Party “elites.”
Silver does the other point of view as well, but said this earlier last week:
There’s a fair bit of evidence that Trump is likely to encounter some upward resistance. Which is not quite the same thing as a hard ceiling. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, his favorability ratings were only around 50 percent. In fact, in New Hampshire, about half of Republican caucus-goers said they’d be unhappy with him as their nominee.
Trump tried to bluster through the reality last night that as under-card candidates leave the race, Cruz and Rubio will be the beneficiaries. Polling data support this assumption. Trump must realize it, too, as he signaled today that Rubio, like Cruz, may not be eligible for president either.