Saturday night, Feb. 20, 2016, proved to be defining for the 2016 presidential race for the White House, as the parties cemented their frontrunners for the presidential nomination. In the Nevada and South Carolina contests, Democratic voters chose to vote for the past while Republicans looked to the future. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses late in the afternoon with a slim lead over opponent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, in the evening, Donald Trump easily won the Republican South Carolina primary, as Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush saw the light and decided to end his bid for the GOP nomination.
With the third nominating contests for both parties, the race is narrowing down, and the frontrunners are being established. Early on Saturday, Clinton redeemed herself just barely to win the Nevada caucuses after a disappointing finish in the New Hampshire primary. Clinton received 52.7 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 47.2 percent with 96 percent the votes counted. Clinton won precinct through a lucky card draw.
Clinton won 19 of Nevada’s 35 delegates; Sanders won 14 delegates while two remained undecided. The candidates are virtually tied for pledged delegates, but Clinton leads in superdelegates with 449 to 20 for Sanders. Clinton mostly won because of the support of minority voters including the state’s Hispanic population. Clinton needed any win in Nevada to slow Sanders momentum.
Giving her victory speech at Caesar’s Palace ballroom, Clinton acted as if she won a received victory by a large margin rather than a close race, in a state that until recently she had been leading in the poll by the double digits. Clinton expressed, “I am so thrilled and so grateful to all my supporters out there… Some may have doubted us but we never doubted each other, and this one is for you.” Clinton also took aim at her opponent saying about Sanders, “Americans are right to be angry but we are also hungry for real solutions.”
Sanders realizes how close the Democratic race still is reflected on this fact in his concession speech. Sanders “complimented” Clinton on her “aggressive, effective campaign,” he noted her victory was not so sweet. Sanders noted, “Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind in the polls. We’ve made some real progress.” Unlike Clinton Sanders did not have a well-oiled campaign operation in Nevada, Sanders started his campaign in the state six months after Clinton.
Still the favorite Democrat of millennials is looking forward to the campaign to Super Tuesday. Sanders optimistically said, “On Super Tuesday, we would very much like the support of the American people. We have received over 3.7 million in individual contributions. Taking on the establishment, the financial establishment, the political establishment, the media establishment is not easy. We have come a very long way in 9 months. It’s clear to me that the wind is at our backs, we have the momentum.” Clinton is set to win the South Carolina primary by a large margin over Sanders.
On the Republican side in make or break, South Carolina Trump won huge, with a 10-point margin over Florida Senator Marco Rubio who finished second in the close race all evening with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Trump had 32.5 percent of the vote, Rubio had 22.5 percent and closely trailing was Cruz with 22.3 percent with all precincts reporting. Trump received 29 of the state’s 50 delegates. Trump has 55 delegates; while Cruz has 11 and Rubio 10. South Carolina has yet to award the remaining 21 delegates.
With Trump’s decisive victories now in two states New Hampshire and South Carolina, the path to the Republican nomination is almost clear and his critics silenced. Republicans usually win the nomination after winning both states. This almost inevitability was evident in Trump’s victory speech where he said, “Let’s put this thing away, Let’s have a big win in Nevada, a big win in the SEC [states], let’s put this thing away!”
Trump ran a controversial campaign in South Carolina, still the state’s evangelical voters chose him over the rest of the field. Trump criticized former President George W. Bush over 9/11, and “feuded” with Pope Francis over immigration, still as CNN noted, Trump “may be even more impervious to damaging his own fortunes than the Teflon president himself, Ronald Reagan.”
Trump mentioned the conflicts of running for president, “It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s vicious, it’s beautiful. When you win, it’s beautiful.” For one evening Trump was gracious to all his opponents as he basked in his victory.
Trump’s opponents especially Cruz were not so gracious with him in their concession speeches that sounded more like victory ones. Both Rubio and Cruz are vying for the conservative vote. Cruz pointed out in his speech, “We are the only campaign that has beaten, and can beat, Donald Trump.”
Rubio saw a comeback in his second place finish after a fourth place showing New Hampshire, which breath new life in his campaign and as Rubio pointed out “After tonight this has become a three-person race, and we will win the nomination.” Rubio’s speech was optimistic, as he has been trying to be throughout his campaign. The Florida senator expressed, “If it is God’s will that I should serve as the 45th president … history will say that on this night in South Carolina, we took the first step forward in the beginning of a new American century.”
Bush finished a disappointing fourth in a state he based his entire campaign on receiving on 7.9 percent of the vote and four delegates from the past two contests. Although he had his brother former President George W. Bush and his mother former First Lady Barbara Bush campaign for him especially in South Carolina, the anti-establishment mood prevailed and the state and the country firm “We’ve had enough Bushes.”
Bush decided his concession speech would also be the speech ending his campaign and with tears in his eyes decided to end his bid. Bush expressed to his surprised crowd of supporters and campaign workers, “The people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken and I really respect their decision, so tonight I am suspending my campaign.”
Once the frontrunner, Bush barely mattered after Trump entered the race and remained in his shadow especially during the debates. Bush made it clear in his speech without naming Trump that he should not become the nominee nor president, “Despite what you might have heard, ideas matter, policy matters.” Bush said, “I firmly believe the American people must entrust this office to someone who understands that whoever holds it is a servant, not the master, someone who will commit to that service with honor and decency.” Trump made Bush his whipping board routinely attacking his lack of energy and his family legacy.
Jeb became the only Bush to fail completely in a bid for the White House. Former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, who attempted to derail Jeb’s father George H.W. Bush reelection and nomination in 1992 said it best, this is the “end of the Bush dynasty and the end of Bush Republicanism.” Buchanan called the vote for Trump and Cruz “a repudiation of everything the Beltway Republican Party has stood for.” Trump has now become the future of the Republican Party.