GOP establishment stares into the abyss – The Daily Caller

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After Trump’s big win and Rubio’s collapse, Republican Party elites suddenly find themselves without a horse to ride.

MANCHESTER N.H. – For the establishment wing of the Republican Party, the picture just keeps getting bleaker.

Far from winnowing the crowded field of mainstream GOP contenders and allowing it to unify around a standard-bearer, New Hampshire thrust it further into chaos. Marco Rubio, after taking steps last week to coalesce the backing of the party’s upper echelons, saw his momentum halted in the state, which punished him for delivering an overly scripted debate performance.

The establishment lane is now more crowded than ever, with Rubio, Jeb Bush, and New Hampshire runner-up John Kasich heading for a brutal fight in South Carolina – a state known for its rough-and-tumble political culture. Chris Christie, who was also competing for establishment support, is reassessing his campaign’s future.

All of this, many in the mainstream wing of the GOP worry, is excellent news for one man: Donald Trump.

“This is the perfect storm for Trump,” said Matt Dowd, who served as chief strategist on George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. “He got his poll numbers, won by double digits, recovered from a loss, and has multiple opponents. You couldn’t design a better scenario for him.”

By the time the party gets around to unifying around a mainstream contender, Dowd added, it’s possible Trump will have gained enough momentum to be unstoppable.

It will also complicate the efforts to halt Ted Cruz, who like Trump is running in the insurgent lane. After winning the Iowa caucuses, Cruz coasted to a third-place finish in New Hampshire. But he is well positioned in evangelical-rich South Carolina and a series of southern states that vote in March.

Adding to the chaos is Kasich’s surprisingly strong showing, which empowered him to push forward. While the Ohio governor is unlikely to fare well in South Carolina, where he has little infrastructure, his advisers argue that he will be able to remain in the race for weeks on end and rack up delegates in Midwestern states like Michigan, where Kasich has begun establishing a strong organization. He is virtually certain to win Ohio, which holds its primary a week later, on March 15, and awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

While Kasich remains a longshot to win the Republican nomination, his ongoing presence in the race will complicate the party’s hopes to unify the field.

“Kasich coming in second and the bunching up in low double digits of the mainstream candidates is a dream come true for Trump,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary in the George W. Bush White House. “His opposition divides and he conquers.”

Many now envision Kasich, Bush, and Rubio spending the next week-and-a-half locked in a furious battle in South Carolina, the same state where George W. Bush and John McCain warred in a famously brutal 2000 primary. All three campaigns are guided by political operatives known for employing aggressive tactics.

“I don’t think you could write a better script for Trump,” said Curt Anderson, a former Republican National Committee political director who worked on Bobby Jindal’s presidential bid. “It will be bombs away. And who will coast? Trump.”

In an internal memo distributed to staffers late Tuesday, the Bush campaign outlined how it would go after Rubio and Kasich.

“Senator Rubio has lost momentum and has been exposed as completely unprepared to be president,” the memo said. “Rubio has demonstrated no respect for the nomination process and expects this to be a coronation.”

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