By ALEX ALEXIEV
The republican Feb. 13 debate in South Carolina was nearly completely overshadowed by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the acknowledged conservative intellectual heavy weight on the Supreme Court, of a heart attack just hours before that. His death came as a huge shock to conservatives whose champion he had been since President Reagan appointed him in 1986. The possibility that President Obama would appoint another hard-left liberal and change the current ideological balance of the Supreme Court became a major subject of the debate with all the republican contenders pledging to do everything possible to prevent that. Whether they would be able to do that remains to be seen.
The Republican Party – Apart from Scalia, the debate provided considerable fireworks of its own. There were numerous sharp clashes between Trump and Cruz, Trump and Bush, as well as between Rubio and Cruz and Trump. After the debate, observers judge that Rubio won the debate, which he had to do to make up for his poor performance in the New Hampshire debate. The most interesting part of the debate was Trump’s provocative statements in response to Jeb Bush, that his brother George W. Bush had lied about the reason for going to war in Iraq, i.e. the presence of weapons of mass destruction there and even accusing him of being responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. There are very serious accusations, heretofore the provenance of the extreme left, and many observers considered that a very risky strategy by Trump in a state like South Carolina where President Bush is highly respected. Some pundits speculated that this is deliberate move by Trump to appeal to the Left, which can cross over to the republican side in the primaries. We will find out on Feb. 20th.
The South Carolina primary may be decisive in yet another way. Many veteran GOP observers believe that neither Trump nor Cruz are electable in the general election and expect that the establishment and the big GOP money will throw their weight behind anybody that can challenge those two. This will probably mean Rubio or perhaps Bush if he does well next Saturday. The stakes are high and it has been announced that President Bush will campaign on behalf of his brother Jeb this week.
The Democratic Party – Following the huge but expected victory by Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, it was widely believed that Hillary will have little trouble in Nevada and South Carolina, both of which have a large minority vote that is widely assumed to be pro-Clinton. This is still the conventional wisdom, but a couple of late developments may change this. First, it has become clear that Sanders is now outspending Clinton since New Hampshire, which is a considerable surprise. Perhaps even more telling is late evidence that the significant lead by Clinton in Nevada is rapidly evaporating.
Latest Polls - the most recent polls by realclearpolitics.com are as follows:
GOP national: Trump – 29%, Cruz – 21%, Rubio - 20.3%, Carson – 7.3%, Kasich – 4.7%
GOP South Carolina: Trump – 36.3%, Cruz – 17.8%, Rubio – 15.8%,. Kasich – 9.8%, Bush – 9.3%
GOP Michigan: Trump – 38%, Rubio – 20.5%, Cruz – 18.5%, Carson – 7.0%, Kasich – 6%
Democrat National: Clinton – 49%, Sanders – 35.3%
Democrat South Carolina: Clinton- 59.5%, Sanders – 35.5%
Democrat Michigan: Clinton – 59.5%, Sanders – 29%