Just as Jeb Bush once asked town hall audience members to please clap, the Republican establishment is ready for John Kasich and Ben Carson to please quit -- because otherwise, the thinking is, they'll have to deal with a Donald Trump nomination.
The South Carolina primary left many in the GOP dazed and confused after producing results that, just months ago, seemed unthinkable: Trump finished 10 points ahead of his closest rival, and Bush garnered so few votes in a state that should have been a stronghold that he decided to drop out of the reace. The billionaire real estate magnate now has two primary victories under his belt and, according to RealClearPolitics, heads to Nevada, where the next caucus will be held, with even more support than he had in South Carolina.
Surveying the scenario, many GOP leaders are dismayed -- and in denial.
Conservative magazine National Review, which in January dedicated an entire issue to taking down Trump, acknowledged that the frontrunner's South Carolina victory is a big deal but appears to hope there are still other options. "I don't consider Trump inevitable, but there is no getting around how big this win was for him," wrote editor Rich Lowry Sunday. On Friday, the publication put out a piece pondering whether a third-party conservative might beat Trump in November.
RedState was quick to point out that Trump has less than 5% of the delegates he needs to win the party's presidential nomination, with managing editor Leon H. Wolf reminding readers it ain't over 'til it's over. "Trump currently has 61 delegates, and he needs 1,237," he wrote. "I plan to fight him every day until the day he crosses that threshold, and maybe beyond. I know I'm not nearly the only one who feels that way."
The title of a separate RedStatepiece published Saturday evening reads: "Dear Bush, Kasich and Carson: For The Sake Of The Country, Get Out Of The Race." In the wake of news that Bush had suspended his campaign, contributing editor Jay Caruso wrote, "You're up Kasich and Carson. Your country is counting on you. Jeb Bush showed leadership by getting out. Do the same thing."
Conservative leaders and pundits took to Twitter in the wake of the South Carolina primary results and subsequent fallout. The message from many is largely the same; disappointment, dismay and denial. And calls for the party to rally behind perceived last-hope, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are growing even louder.
Here are some of the most telling tweets:
Stuart Stevens, political consultant and strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid, has been a vocal Trump critic and offered up his assessment of what should be done next.
Liz Mair, conservative communications expert who has been involved in campaigns run by Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Carly Fiorina and who is behind anti-Trump super PAC Make America Awesome, lamented Bush's withdrawal but called for unity
Erick Erickson, former editor-in-chief at RedState and conservative blogger and radio host, had much of the same message.
Joe Carter, senior editor of right-leaning think tank Action Institute, was among many pointing fingers for an explanation.
The messages from others were largely similar.