Republicans, the ones that actually see Trump as an unelectable albatross anyway, are deep into the "oh God we're screwed" stage of the race after Trump's SC win, and indications that there's no good way out.
Mainstream Republicans arose on Sunday reeling from Donald J. Trump’s sweeping victory in South Carolina, with some refusing to accept that he could be the eventual nominee and others acknowledging that his insurgent candidacy might soon be unstoppable.
With their sights set on upcoming caucuses in Nevada on Tuesday and “Super Tuesday” a week later, the Republican candidates scattered across the country to regroup and prepare to take their messages to a wider audience.
The magnitude of the implications of the results in South Carolina for Republicans had only just begun to set in on Sunday morning, as the party firmly closed the door on 25 years of Bush family primacy and turned toward a New York real estate mogul as its plurality victor.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton appeared relieved that she had won in Nevada, fending off Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and dealing a blow to his momentum with their own South Carolina showdown coming on Saturday.
But the biggest questions remain in a reshuffled Republican race that saw Jeb Bush suddenly drop out and left Mr. Trump’s remaining rivals struggling to gain momentum.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who finished nearly tied behind Mr. Trump in South Carolina, urged the rest of the party to coalesce around their campaigns on Sunday and tried to make the case that the nominating fight was still at an early stage.
“Last night was truly the beginning of the real Republican primary,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN. “I think the race last night was reset.”
Last night the GOP party was reset, forever set on the course of racist bigots and hate-filled rhetoric. That's always good enough for 45% of the vote and they know it, but they're unable to hide it anymore. The beast is truly loose, and there's no way to contain it any longer. Unless you think Rubio is going to save the party.
In the coming week, the campaign plans to start rolling out a parade of new endorsements as Republican leaders make a show of coalescing around the fresh-faced Florida senator.
The backstage maneuvering to boost Rubio was described to BuzzFeed News by half a dozen GOP sources — some with official ties to the candidate, others without — who requested anonymity to discuss internal strategy.
A Rubio spokesman declined to comment Saturday night on these efforts, and the sources interviewed stressed that no one expects Rubio to become the frontrunner overnight. Last week, Rubio’s campaign manager began openly discussing the possibility that they would have to fight all the way to a brokered convention in Cleveland.
But already, Rubio’s path to the mantle of establishment savior is remarkable for its lack of modern precedent. This is a candidate who placed third in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire; who lags a mile behind the the leading candidate, and has yet to win a single primary. In fact, the closest Rubio has come so far to winning a contest was here in South Carolina, where he beat out Ted Cruz for second place by a microscopic margin — and proceed to celebrate this triumph with perhaps the loftiest victory speech ever given by a non-victor.
“If it is God’s will that we should win this election, then history will say that on this night in South Carolina,” Rubio told supporters on Saturday night.
But while he has been mocked lately for his habit of unearned end-zone dancing, Rubio had a real accomplishment to celebrate Saturday night. In an historically crowded and competitive field of contenders, he has outlasted every other viable candidate deemed acceptable by the Republican establishment. He may have gotten this far by process of elimination — but when the process is as brutal as it’s been in this race, Rubio’s team counts survival as a win.
They also know, however, that Washington Republicans’ rush to crown an establishment champion now is a direct response to Donald Trump, whose double-digit domination of the primary field in South Carolina inflamed the growing sense of panic among party elders. After two blowout victories in a row, the billionaire has revealed frighteningly few electoral vulnerabilities — winning moderates in New Hampshire, and evangelicals in South Carolina — and unless something dramatically changes soon, Trump appears poised to coast to the nomination. Impatient party leaders have determined they can’t wait for Rubio to fully prove himself, or for John Kasich and Ben Carson to drop out — they need an anti-Trump gladiator now.
Terror is setting in with Jeb out. Absolute terror. And their only hope is a guy who literally can't win.