SPARTANBURG, S.C.—Donald Trump pulled off a big win in South Carolina Saturday night, pulling in about a third of the vote and far outpacing any of his rivals. But by the time he took the stage—less than two hours after the polls closed—Trump was already looking past the Palmetto State, talking about it like an old but distant friend.
“We will never, ever forget South Carolina,” Trump promised. “I just wanted to say, an amazing place is South Carolina,” said his wife Melania, who seldom speaks on the stump. “Congratulations to my husband, he was working very hard. And he loves you, we love you, and we’re going ahead to Nevada and we’ll see what happens.”
Trump ticked off the key elements of his platform—the border wall, a stronger military, winning at trade, and defeating ISIS. He added in a few extra goodies for the local audience. Trump promised to keep the federal government out of local schooling decisions. And while he said he’d get the military the equipment it needed, he also promised to kill costly pork projects whose only constituency was in Congress. (While he didn’t use the phrase, it was an unusually direct hit on the military-industrial complex.)
Then Trump got to the meat of the matter, vowing to win in Nevada on Tuesday, and on Super Tuesday, March 1: “Let’s put this thing away!”
Is Trump, in fact, unstoppable now? Especially after a resounding victory like the one he notched in South Carolina—the polls hadn’t even been closed for 45 minutes when the race was called for him—the scenario that seemed like fantasy just a few months ago comes closer to reality.
Trump’s success has become so familiar that it’s hard to remember just how improbable it is. He won South Carolina after a bizarre few weeks, in which he accused former President George W. Bush of lying about the war in Iraq and failing to prevent September 11, feuded with Pope Francis, and told an offensive, apocryphal story about U.S. soldiers desecrating Muslim corpses in the Philippines. Those were only the most recent incidents.
But just like every other supposedly career-ending gaffe, they did nothing to knock him out of the lead. And with each passing week, the Republican establishment has less and less time to consolidate around a candidate who can best both Trump and Ted Cruz. Will Trump’s huge South Carolina win drive more Republicans to just give up and get in line behind him, or will it inspire a fevered, redoubled effort to knock him out?
The GOP field got a little smaller Saturday night when Jeb Bush announced he would end his campaign, following a fourth-place finish. There’s speculation that Ben Carson, who ended up a distant sixth, might drop out too, but he and John Kasich both vowed to go on—for now at least. (Trump made no mention of Bush’s departure, which deprives him of his favorite punching bag, but he did congratulate his rivals—including Cruz, with whom he carried out an especially bitter war of words this week. “It's tough, it's mean, it's vicious, it's beautiful,” he said. “When you win it's beautiful.”)
Marco Rubio is the clear favorite for that establishment slot, and he appeared to have eked out a very tight second-place finish over Cruz Saturday night. "This has become a three-person race, and we will win the nomination," he said. “If it is God's will that we should win this election, then history will say that on this night in South Carolina, we took the first step forward in the beginning of a new American century.” Cruz, for his part, insisted his campaign had “defied expectations” and was “effectively tied for second place," a claim Rubio would no doubt dispute.
Given that he was polling third, Rubio presented this as a moral victory, but it comes with asterisks. Despite the support of many of the most popular Republican officeholders in the state—Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott, and Representative Trey Gowdy—he finished more than 10 percent behind Trump, trailing by tens of thousands of votes. Rubio still hasn’t managed to finish closer than a distant second in any contest, though he’s expected to do well in Nevada. So much for his plan to finish third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and win in South Carolina.
In his speech, Trump mocked the idea that the shrinking field would help out the beleaguered establishment. “They’re geniuses!” he mocked. “They don't understand that as people drop out I'm going to get a lot of those votes also.”
That’s almost certainly true. Once pigeonholed as the candidate of white grievance politics, Trump has expanded his coalition as the election goes on. The crowd at the Marriott here couldn’t be easily characterized: There were guys in blue jeans and NRA hats, and carefully made up, bejeweled middle-aged women. There were guys in carefully tailored suits and kids in cowboy hats. The only consistent thread running through the supporters was that most (though not all) were white. Exit polls show the breadth of his coalition in the Palmetto State, too. Trump won men and women, veterans and non-veterans. He won across the state, in all five regions. He even won a plurality of evangelicals, though Cruz edged him among strong conservatives.
Some analysts had questioned whether Trump could win in South Carolina—a state with southern gentility and a sense of decorum. There’s no question that Trump’s behavior gave some voters pause, but in the end many of them found their admiration for Trump’s bluntness overcame their hesitations. Time and again, journalists have asked where Trump’s appeal lies, but the answer seems simple: Republicans feel that he’s willing to articulate exactly what they see wrong with the country, without any of the hesitations or hangups of other candidates.
“It’s his honesty. His bluntness. His non-political correctness,” Mike van Houten, who’d come from nearby Greenville, told me. Van Houten liked Cruz, too, and spoke highly of him; he’d hated to watch his two favorite candidates feuding. Across South Carolina, people offered variations on that sentiment. Several people told me the reason they back Trump is simple: “He tells it the way it is.” They praised his eagerness to reject any signs of political correctness. Even if they didn’t agree with everything he said, they felt he was genuine, and hadn’t been bought by donors.
Of course, such sentiments infuriate many other Republicans—the ones who don’t support him. They point out his long record of changing positions. They note that despite what Trump says about self-funding, he’s put almost no money into his campaign while taking in millions in donations. (He’s also run a lean campaign.) They say that while political correctness is a plague, there are some things that really are unacceptable—and which, by the way, will hurt the GOP’s chances in a general election.
But that willingness to push things over the line and piss off the right people is an asset for people supporting Trump or considering him—even the ones who wish he’d tone it down a little. “Trump has brought up everything we feel,” Helen Mahoney said in Charleston, even as she added, “I don’t like the way he says it.” Standing right behind her, Mary Prentice concurred: “I don’t think he shows enough respect, but I love how he pushes back on this PC stuff.” At Trump’s victory party on Saturday, there was more of the same. “As a Southerner, I like a little more charm,” one woman said. But: “He is his own man. He isn’t bought.” That was enough to convince her to back him.
The Republican campaign heads to Nevada next, where polling is sparse and unreliable, but Trump has large leads in the few polls that have been taken. Next up after that is March 1, when a slew of Southern states, and a few others, hold their primaries. Trump carries solid momentum, and the South Carolina win shows he can romp, even in states that are highly evangelical or prize a politesse far removed from his New York bluster. Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican Party still hasn’t figured out any strategy to stop him.
The reasons why many of them still want to stop him are apparent, though. Trump continues to do and say outrageous things—the sorts of comments that would likely make him toxic in a general-election campaign. It’s hard to imagine him winning many black or Hispanic votes, as the very Caucasian crowd in Spartanburg attested.
“I love them, they love me,” Trump insisted about Hispanics. But in the back of the room, a few Hispanic workers at the hotel watched, bemused, as he spoke. What did they think of the speech? “Trump,” one shrugged. “No sabe nada.” He doesn’t know anything.
Ted Cruz opened by saying that Jeb Bush “brought honor and dignity” to the campaign. That’s an odd standard for this particular candidate to advance. He was accused by an irate Ben Carson of dirty tricks in Iowa. And although he says Jeb never went down “to the gutter,” that’s precisely where some of his supporters were discovered yesterday.
A pro-Cruz PAC got caught making automated phone calls slamming Donald Trump for supporting the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds in Columbia. “Trump talks about our flag like it’s a social disease,” the calls said. Cruz himself has equivocated on the issue. But he failed to distance himself from the group—Courageous Conservatives PAC—or its message before voters headed to the polls.
Donald Trump just finished a jubilant speech here in Spartanburg, South Carolina. "I want to thank everybody. I love you all. We will never, ever forget South Carolina.” Flanked by his family and former Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, Trump celebrated his victory in the primary. As for the substance of the speech, it was mostly just the Trump stump speech: Make America Great Again, build the wall, strengthen the military—the usual.
But Trump also mocked the pundits he said he was watching on television before he spoke. They think that with candidates like Jeb Bush dropping out, other establishment candidates will gain strength. (Trump did not mention Bush, who had just dropped out, despite using Jeb as a punching-bag throughout the campaign.) Don’t count on it, he said: He’ll win those votes. He promised strong showings in Nevada and on Super Tuesday. "Let’s put this thing away!"
Ben Carson is making reassurances in the midst of what's shaping up to be a poor showing in the South Carolina GOP primary. Taking the stage to address a crowd of supporters, Carson declared: “I'm not going anywhere.” Right now, vote results show Carson in last place, but to hear Carson tell it, hey, that means he's still in the race!
“There's only six now, and I'm still one of them,” he told supporters to cheers. Carson went on to warn, though, that he'll need help from his fans if they want him to pull ahead. “There is a political class that consists of the Washington establishment, and the news media, and the pundits, and they believe that they have complete control of our country,” Carson said ominously, before pivoting to a more empowering message. “They only have complete control if we give them complete control,” he said. “It is we the people who really have the power. The problem is, if we don't exercise the power, then they continue to have the control.”
Unfortunately for Carson, wags were quick to note that his declaration of “I'm not going anywhere” could also be interpreted to mean that his campaign is doomed.
Donald Trump didn’t just win big tonight. He won across the board.
CNN’s exit poll shows that Trump did best with men, but also finished first among women. He won among Republicans and independents; voters who were somewhat conservative and moderate; veterans and non-veterans; suburbs and rural areas; and in all five regions of the state tallied in the poll. He even won a plurality of evangelicals.
There were some weak spots in his coalition. The 69-year-old mogul was edged out by the 45-year-old Cruz among voters 44 or younger, and among strong conservatives. Rubio beat him among those with postgraduate degrees, and among those earning more than $100,000, and in urban areas. But they won these groups narrowly, for the most part; and neither the groups nor the margins will be enough to beat back Trump unless they can deepen their support.
Above all, South Carolina demonstrates the breadth of Trump’s appeal within the GOP’s primary electorate. There is no other candidate who can cut across the different segments of the Republican Party so effectively. And that makes him a formidable frontrunner.
Jeb Bush just dropped out of the presidential race. My colleague David Graham has this elegy for his campaign:
Almost all presidential campaigns end in failure. But few complete an arc as dramatic as Jeb Bush’s bid: Once considered a highly unlikely candidate, Bush surged almost immediately upon his entry into the pole position, then almost as quickly fell out contention and became a punch line.
We’re tracking the vote totals tonight, but the real prize up for grabs in South Carolina is a big bundle of delegates—50, to be exact. It takes 1,237 delegates to secure the Republican nomination. Despite the hype, Iowa and New Hampshire award comparatively few, and split them up among contenders.
Coming into tonight, Donald Trump led the field, with a total of 17 delegates. By winning the state, he just picked up another 29. And if he’s also the top finisher in each of South Carolina’s seven congressional district, he’ll pick up the remaining 21, for a clean sweep.
That’d put Trump at 67—far ahead of Cruz’s 11, or Rubio’s 10. Trump has won roughly a third of primary votes cast in the first three states. But he could easily end the night with two-thirds of the delegates. It’s a system that was intended to consolidate support around a frontrunner, squeezing out more marginal rivals. Only this year, it’s the establishment candidates who find themselves squeezed aside, as the peculiar math of the primary process works to Trump’s advantage.
That's in line with the polling leading up to the race, and in that sense, confirms expectations. But from a broader perspective, it’s nothing short of astonishing. In the debate just before this primary election, Trump rehearsed his long list of heretical dissents from Republican orthodoxies, blaming the Bush administration for failing to heed CIA warnings before 9/11, denouncing the Iraq War for destabilizing the Middle East, defending the use of eminent domain, promising to save Social Security without trimming benefits, and crediting Planned Parenthood for “wonderful things having to do with women's health.” More recently, he attacked the pope and Apple. And he found himself attacked by a Cruz-supporting PAC for backing the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds.
NBC News call: Trump in SC.— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 21, 2016
Had any of his rivals done even one of these things, it might have adversely impacted their fortunes, causing some of their supporters to have second thoughts. But Trump’s support appears remarkably solid; one Republican consultant told my colleague Molly Ball that if the primary electorate is a pie, Trump’s slice is made of titanium.
The focus now shifts to Cruz and Rubio, who appear locked in a tight battle for second. But although whoever grabs the silver will surely trumpet their victory, make no mistake: Tonight is Trump’s night. Again.
Voting just ended in South Carolina, and the exit polls show a race that’s still too close to call. Exit polls are most useful for giving a portrait of an electorate and its views; they’re imperfect as predictive tools. They suggest a race split in two. There’s a tightly clustered pack at the front, with Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. Far behind are Bush, Carson, and Kasich. That mirrors the polling in recent days.
It’s tempting to look at the exit polls, which do show Trump in the lead, and Cruz ahead of Rubio, or at the first thousand votes to be counted, which show the same results, and extrapolate out from that. But the better way to read these early indicators is that the race is tight, and it may be a long night before its outcome is clear.
Sanders delivered his concession speech in Nevada. The defeated candidate energized supporters and drew cheers by promising to take on Wall Street, “a corrupt campaign-finance system,” the political establishment, and criminal-justice reform. Sanders downplayed expectations for South Carolina, a state where Clinton looks likely to ride a wave of support from black voters to a win, by looking ahead to the Super Tuesday states and projecting victory. “I believe that on Super Tuesday, we have got an excellent chance to win many of those states,” Sanders said. He warned the crowd it won’t be easy to take on the establishment, and he made a plea for support. But Sanders ended on a note of optimism. “We have come a very long way in nine months,” he said, adding: “It is clear to me, and I think most observers that the wind is at our backs. We have the momentum.”
The Nevada caucuses stand as the first significant test of the primary season of how the Democratic candidates would fare with minority voters. Bernie Sanders has struggled to attract support from nonwhite voters, and Nevada was viewed as a proving ground to see whether he could expand his appeal. Exit polls from Nevada currently indicate that Sanders won white and Hispanic voters, while Clinton won black voters by a wide margin. That margin was wide enough for Clinton to win the nonwhite vote overall.
Thanks, Harry? The most powerful Democrat in Nevada, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, was publicly neutral in the race and even caucused along with his wife as “uncommitted” on Saturday. But Amy Chozick of The New York Times and Jon Ralston, the dean of Nevada political reporters, reported that Reid made a key phone call to D. Taylor, the head of the culinary-workers union, which declined to endorse either Clinton or Sanders. Reid wanted to ensure that the tens of thousands of casino workers could have paid time off to caucus, and Taylor reportedly agreed to help. Clinton is winning Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, by nearly 10 points.
Hillary Clinton, with Bill by her side, delivered her second victory speech of the 2016 contest in Nevada on Saturday—a significant win moving forward after a tight race with Bernie Sanders. “Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other. This one’s for you,” Clinton said. It’s déjà vu for Clinton, who also won the state’s caucus in 2008. Despite a strong footing in Nevada, Sanders had achieved considerable momentum following a win in New Hampshire, threatening the Clinton campaign. In a statement, Sanders said that he called and congratulated Clinton. A loss would have been a setback for the Clinton campaign as she continued through the presidential primary, but now she goes into the South Carolina Democratic primary with a leg up. There, the minority vote will be equally important. In Nevada, 76 percent of black caucusgoers backed Clinton, according to entrance polls, which also showed considerable support from union workers and self-identified Democrats. In a sense, this was also a win for the establishment in light of Sanders’s call for a political revolution. “Americans are right to be angry but we’re also hungry for real solutions,” she said, later using a regular talking point and jab against Sanders. “The thing is, we’re more than a single-issue country.” But Clinton did appear to take a bit from Sanders’s playbook. “We’re all in this together. We all have to do our part,” she said. During her speech, Clinton repeatedly started her phrases with “we,” a shift in strategy. Sanders had struck a chord with New Hampshire voters in his use of the word, and it appears that Clinton may be adopting the pronoun, too.
“The fight goes on,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s win in Nevada is both a needed victory for her and another triumph for her campaign’s expectations-setting game. Both Nevada and South Carolina were long seen as “firewall” states for the former secretary of state due to their large proportion of minority voters. But immediately after the Sanders blowout in New Hampshire, Clinton’s camp began warning that Nevada was not such a sure thing. There is a scarcity of polling in the state, so it was difficult to verify whether this was true. (Although the limited surveys that did come out showed a tight race.) Clinton’s 4-point margin is much closer than people would have expected even a few weeks ago, but the fact that it’s not seen as a shocking close-call for Clinton is a testament to those lowered expectations.
Senator Bernie Sanders has issued a statement on the Nevada caucus:
I just spoke to Secretary Clinton and congratulated her on her victory here in Nevada. I am very proud of the campaign we ran. Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election. And we probably will leave Nevada with a solid share of the delegates.
I am also proud of the fact that we have brought many working people and young people into the political process and believe that we have the wind at our back as we head toward Super Tuesday. I want to thank the people of Nevada for their support that they have given us and the boost that their support will give us as we go forward.
It’s a pretty tempered statement. Sanders is right to be proud of the result in Nevada—after all, this wasn’t supposed to be a close election, and his team made it one. That won’t be the headline, though. (Sanders is right about the delegates, though he still trails Clinton by a good bit thanks to commitments she has extracted from superdelegates.) But as Gabriel Dedenedetti notes, Sanders made another point in an email to supporters: The Nevada results, a close contest in a diverse state, “sent a message that will stun the political and financial establishment of this country our campaign can win anywhere.
It’s likely a win for Clinton. More outlets are now calling the Nevada race, with NBC and CBS News along with CNN both projecting Clinton the winner. AP has also called the state for the former secretary of state. The Clinton campaign must be breathing a major sigh of relief right now, especially since the campaign has been attempting to downplay expectations for Nevada ever since Sanders won the New Hampshire primary. A win in Nevada will give Clinton momentum heading into South Carolina, a supposed firewall state for her with it’s large population of African American voters. A win will also help reassure her supporters and donors—and bolster one of Clinton’s biggest arguments against Sanders: that he is unelectable. Now that the primary race has moved past the early-voting and not-very-diverse states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders may be showing his limits.
We’re past the halfway mark in Nevada, and Hillary Clinton is maintaining a slim lead. Fox News has already projected a Clinton win, but other outlets are holding out—it’s just too close to call. A tight race was expected and Sanders’s momentum is telling. Clinton started staffing up in Nevada two months before the Vermont senator, and she won the state’s caucus in 2008. Thus far, the results show that Sanders can appeal to a diverse electorate, which would also benefit him in South Carolina. But again, several more votes are still trickling in.
As results from the Nevada Democratic caucuses trickle in, the South Carolina Republican primary is still underway—and record turnout is expected. According to a Politico report, 58,000 Republicans turned in absentee ballots—that’s double the number seen in 2012. The number suggests a continuing trend in this year’s presidential election, following record turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire.
I tried to stop by the Donald Trump campaign’s upstate South Carolina headquarters in downtown Greenville a little after 4 o’clock, but it was all closed up. Maybe the staff is out doing GOTV, or maybe they’re already prepping for Trump’s victory party in Spartanburg, about 30 miles away.
Early exit polls from Nevada so far appear to be confirming some of the trends that emerged from the New Hampshire primary. In New Hampshire, Clinton beat Sanders with voters 65 and older and with voters who have an income level of $200,000 or higher—two of the only demographic categories where Clinton did beat Sanders. In Nevada, Clinton is again taking the lead among older and more affluent voters, but she’s also winning several other categories, too—a potential indication that Clinton may have a stronger showing today. Currently, Clinton is ahead of Sanders among women voters, voters 45 and older, and voters who consider themselves moderate or conservative. That’s a contrast to New Hampshire, where Sanders won nearly every demographic and ideological category. Results could still shift in Sanders’s favor, however, in any of these categories, and Sanders currently has a lead among Hispanic voters, a demographic group the Clinton campaign has worked hard to win
Preliminary entrance polls from the Nevada Democratic caucus show that 49 percent think the next president should “generally continue Barack Obama’s policies.” Between Clinton and Sanders, the former secretary of state takes the majority. This has been a point of contention between the two candidates. This week, Sanders accused Clinton of pandering to black voters by aligning herself with Obama. It’s a tricky position for Clinton who has strived to distinguish herself but also respect the policies of her former employer. Sanders, too, has struggled with this as he attempts to spark a political revolution. It should also be noted that 41 percent of caucusgoers think there should be a change to more liberal policies and, in that regard, Sanders takes the lead.
Bernie Sanders has been pressed on his history of civil-rights activism, with luminaries like Representative John Lewis questioning how involved Sanders was. But as they say, “Pictures or it didn’t happen”—and The Chicago Tribune has the pictures. The paper turned up a negative in its photo archives that shows the then-student getting arrested. The details of the arrest are sketchy, but it appears he was protesting segregation in Englewood.
It’s not the first photo to pop up that apparently shows Sanders’s 1960s activism. A man in a photo of a 1962 sit-in was identified as Sanders, but others disagreed. In this case, there seems to be no dispute. In a fantastic detail, Sanders aide Tad Devine explained how Sanders was able to confirm it was him—from a more than 50-year-old student-ID card he still carries. “Bernie identified it himself,” Devine told the Tribune. “He looked at it—he actually has his student ID from the University of Chicago in his wallet—and he said, ‘Yes, that indeed is (me).’”
Remember Marco Rubio’s “3-2-1” plan? You can be forgiven if you don’t—it’s not something you hear much about these days. That label was the name given to the hope by Rubio insiders, reported by National Review’s Tim Alberta, that he would finish third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and then first in South Carolina. (Around the same time, other Rubio advisers told the Associated Press that they didn’t expect to win the Palmetto State.)
As South Carolina Republicans go to the polls, that plan is a distant memory. Rubio nailed the “3” in Iowa, but slipped to fifth in New Hampshire. And now he’s polling third in South Carolina. Speaking on the Today show Saturday morning, Rubio was asked how damaging it would be if he didn’t finish in the top two. He professed to be unconcerned about it. “I think we need to remember a couple things,” he said. “This is still a very crowded field. There are six people running full-scale legitimate campaigns.”
The thing is, he just may be right: If Rubio finishes in the top three, ahead of Jeb Bush and John Kasich, he may once again have a chance to consolidate the so-called “establishment lane.” But is that enough to win the nomination?
Where Republican candidates are today can say a lot about their expectations for the South Carolina primary. Take John Kasich. He finished in second-place in New Hampshire, but has been trailing behind in the state. Instead, Kasich has his eyes set on states holding their primaries in March, like Michigan and Massachusetts. But his campaign is sure to look at the South Carolina primary results to see if they’ll knock out a key competitor, Jeb Bush.
Bernie Sanders is coming into the Nevada Democratic caucuses with the wind blowing behind his back after a first-place finish in New Hampshire. If he takes Nevada, it’ll prove that he can also gain momentum among minority voters. The state’s demographic makeup differs from Iowa and New Hampshire, where voters are predominantly white. In Nevada, 17 percent are Hispanic, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center.
As Clare mentioned, the two Democratic candidates will be vying for that vote. The question is: Will they show up? In 2008, they only made up 15 percent of caucusgoers. To Sanders’s advantage, many Latino eligible voters are Millennials, but Clinton has a stronger record among minority voters.
In the lead up to the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary, the divide between Democrats and Republicans on immigration looks as sharp as ever. Hillary Clinton made news on Thursday when she committed to tackling immigration reform in her first 100 days as president. Clinton’s emphasis on the issue makes sense heading into Nevada, where Hispanic voters could play a pivotal role in determining the Democratic winner. (Still, it’s by no means certain that Clinton will prevail with Hispanic voters. Polling from NBC News and SurveyMonkey shows Clinton’s advantage with Latino voters over Sanders eroding.) The conversation on the Democratic side of the field looks starkly different, however, compared with what’s happening on the Republican side where Donald Trump is trying to prove he has taken the hardest line on keeping illegal immigrants out of the country. “Remember that Marco Rubio is very weak on illegal immigration,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “South Carolina needs strength as illegals and Syrians pour in. Don’t allow it.” The partisan gulf is pronounced heading into nominating contests expected to act as the first substantial test of what Hispanic and black voters think of the candidates.
What is there even to say about Donald Trump’s comments at a primary-eve rally in South Carolina? MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported from North Charleston:
The standout topic, however, was terrorism and national security. Trump repeated—favorably—an apparent myth about how General John Pershing summarily executed dozens of Muslim prisoners in the Philippines with tainted ammunition during a guerrilla war against the occupying United States.
“He took fifty bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood,” Trump said. “And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the fifty people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the fiftieth person he said ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, OK?”
The story appears to be a hoax spread via e-mail forwards, according to rumor tracker Snopes.com, with no evidence it occurred.
It’s hard to say what the point of the anecdote was. Sarlin reported that Trump’s moral was that “we better start getting tough, and we better start getting vigilant, and we better start using our heads, or we’re not gonna have a country, folks.” But that seems like a non sequitur—the plain reading would be a celebration of desecrating Muslim corpses for its own sake.
Disturbing? Gratuitous? Beyond the pale? Sure, though also par for the course by now. The comment drew widespread condemnation Friday evening, particularly from conservatives who dislike Trump and who are infuriated to find him elevated as the spokesman for right-wing thought, since it gives him a platform for commentary like this. But will it hurt Trump? The candidate, who is leading in the polls in South Carolina, has picked fights with the pope and Apple this week, to no apparent detriment. Given prevailing views about Islam among Americans, and particularly Republicans, which are far less beloved than the Vatican and the tech company, there’s not much reason to predict the comments will harm his political standing.
Good morning, patriots! The political winds have shifted south and, after Iowa and New Hampshire, the presidential candidates are no longer exclusively in states dominated by enthusiastic, rural, white voters. Today, the voters are far more unpredictable. The Democrats will battle in Nevada, a transient state with huge swaths of Latinos, students, and urban dwellers—about 98 percent of whom will stay home. Who will show up to caucus? Who knows! It’s a totally wild-card state. But that’s not even the strangest contest of the day. In South Carolina, the Republicans—bloodied and weary—will finally see what the Palmetto State thinks of the nasty ads, vicious debates, George W. Bush’s sway, the power of Nikki Haley, the Pope, Howard Stern, and frivolous lawsuits. It’s a delicious olio of politics and straight-up weirdness. This is your country, America. Dig in.
Today, we’ll be following all the twists right here in this space. Will Republicans double-caucus in Nevada? Where will Democrats come down on the incrementalism vs. ideologue debate? Who will Donald Trump insult today? Are polls meaningful? Throughout the day, we’ll follow the precincts as they report in. Plus, The Atlantic’s 2016 Distilled will feature all the best and most original reporting on the presidential election, like a deep dive into the great Republican stalemate or why Nevada is unique. And don’t forget to check out our Media Mentions Tracker, Candidate Cheat Sheet, and Gaffe Track.
It’s 2016—anything could happen.