With his double-digit win in South Carolina, Donald Trump is without a doubt the front-runner for the GOP nomination. When Trump declared his candidacy last year, that statement would have been met with gales of laughter. Now the Republican party is facing the grim prospect of a walking comb-over becoming its standard bearer for the highest office in the land.
The departure of Jeb Bush, who began the campaign as if he were an heir apparent and not a candidate, has little immediate impact on the race. Punditry has declared that this is now a three-man race, based on the one-two-three finish in South Carolina: Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Despite giving an imitation of a mechanical wonder just two weeks ago in New Hampshire, Rubio is now the repository of the party establishment’s hopes of stopping Trump and Cruz.
The problem is that Rubio hasn’t proven that he can win an election. His strategy was to finish third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and first in South Carolina. He got Iowa right, but finished fifth in New Hampshire and second or third in South Carolina. How adding the pitiful handful of Bush supporters will give him 20 more points at the polls to vault ahead of Trump is impossible to see.
That leaves Cruz and Trump. Cruz has been running a decent campaign, but it’s a bad sign for him that Trump won the evangelical vote in South Carolina. The religious right is supposed to be the core of Cruz’s base. If Cruz’s support among them is wobbly, he doesn’t have much of a chance of winning the nomination.
On the other hand, everything is looking up for Trump. A three-man race means that Cruz and Rubio can split the non-Trump vote in upcoming primaries, which are in states where Trump is leading in polls in any case.
Believe it or not, that may be the best possible outcome for the LGBT community. Cruz and Rubio have established themselves as homophobes on principle. Trump is all about opportunism. He had pandered mightily to the antigay right in the campaign. What he believes in, besides winning at any cost, is another question. A President Rubio or a President Cruz would be reflexively homophobic. There’s enough uncertainty about Trump that you can’t be quite as sure that he would match the others.
That’s cold comfort, of course. The GOP race is still the equivalent of a choice among Dengue fever, Ziki virus and malaria. None of them is what you’d wish for. It’s all disastrous and potentially fatal to the body politic. But that’s the situation that the Republican party finds itself in. Until the fever breaks and the party comes to its senses, it’s chances of winning national elections will remain slim. Let’s hope that the rest of us don’t get sick in the meantime.