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 RedState piece 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.
No one is running a campaign against Trump. Until they do, he'll win. https://t.co/YTQFycLzc5— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) February 21, 2016
Trump has won 8 fewer primaries than Santorum. When he gets closer to Santo, holler. But buy those hats. https://t.co/NYN5d6rDS3— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) February 21, 2016
Don't explain to me how the ads that didn't run don't work. https://t.co/lhDltH4oY1— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) February 21, 2016
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
GOP had better collectively start dealing with the Trump situation seriously. We've tried, and will keep trying, but we can't do it alone.— Liz Mair (@LizMair) February 21, 2016
Sorry to see Jeb drop out, but it's the right call. Best thing for the party.— Liz Mair (@LizMair) February 21, 2016
Erick Erickson, former editor-in-chief at RedState and conservative blogger and radio host, had much of the same message.
Good luck and God speed @JebBush— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) February 21, 2016
A vote for Kasich and a vote for Carson are both now a vote for Trump— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) February 21, 2016
Joe Carter, senior editor of right-leaning think tank Action Institute, was among many pointing fingers for an explanation.
Trump is the monster created by 20yrs of talk radio conditioning listeners to be angry and spiteful rather than conservative and principled.— Joe Carter (@joecarter) February 21, 2016
A vote for Trump in the primary is a vote for Hillary in the general election. Trump knows that and doesn't care. Do his supporters?— Joe Carter (@joecarter) February 21, 2016
The messages from others were largely similar.
Too bad. All prominent Republicans need to get behind Rubio right now or else might be too late to stop Trump. https://t.co/H4BycBSPMC— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) February 21, 2016
I can't say it any plainer: there's no scenario in which I ratify Trump as representing me or my conservatism. https://t.co/K3HZkq3q22— Will Antonin (@Will_Antonin) February 21, 2016
The Bush and Rubio teams all come from Florida's kickass political and grassroots community. Time to unify and take out the Main Enemy.— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 21, 2016
I get why Kasich is staying in. But the risk/reward is so huge. If he stays in .1% chance he's nominee and 85% Trump is.— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) February 21, 2016
Does John Kasich have the ability to win outright? No. Does he have the ability to play spoiler? Absolutely. https://t.co/MRznmp8FW2— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) February 21, 2016