After his solid, broadly based victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Donald Trump now holds a commanding position in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
But Trump still faces two “known unknowns,” to borrow the memorable phrase from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq War that Trump now excoriates. One is whether Trump has a ceiling of support. The second is whether, even if he does, any of his remaining rivals can unify enough of the voters resistant to him to beat him.
So far the evidence suggests the answers are: maybe, and not yet. Indeed over the first three contests, Trump’s two principal remaining opponents have shown mirror-image weaknesses. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has assembled a coalition of support that is too narrow; Florida Senator Marco Rubio is building a coalition that is too shallow.
As in his New Hampshire win earlier this month, Trump’s support in South Carolina transcended many of the usual fissures in Republican politics, according to exit poll results posted by CNN. The one big exception remained education: In each of the first three contests, including the Iowa caucus, Trump has not run as well among voters with a college degree as with those lacking advanced education. But because those white-collar voters have fragmented among many choices, none of Trump’s rivals is consolidating enough of them to overcome the New Yorker’s dominant position among voters without a college degree. The simple equation that Trump has consolidated blue-collar Republicans while the party’s white collar wing remains divided remains the most powerful dynamic in the race, even as Trump has failed to exceed 35 percent of the vote in any of the initial contests.