South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has endorsed Marco Rubio to be the Republican nominee for the White House. Her endorsement comes 72 hours before voting begins in the Palmetto state.
I don’t think Haley’s endorsement of Rubio is that surprising given her implicit criticism of Donald Trump in her SOTU response and a disposition which tends towards sobriety. After all, two prominent members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation – Trey Gowdy and Senator Tim Scott have both endorsed Rubio. But it’s the timing.
It’s true that Donald Trump has a double digit lead in most the recent South Carolina polls with Rubio and Cruz duking it out for second place. Yet if we take the Monmouth poll (Trump 35, Cruz 19 & Rubio 17) it reads, “Overall, 42% of likely voters say they are completely decided on their candidate choice. Another 31% have a strong preference but are willing to leave their options open. Just 11% say they only have a slight preference and 17% say they are really undecided about what they will do on Saturday.”
In an era of hating establishments, be they real or imagined, Haley’s endorsement will only carry Rubio so far. It is worth noting this poll and the ARG poll & the SC House GOP Caucus poll were both taken following last Saturday’s debate. Despite his remarks about George W. Bush, WMDs and 9/11, it looks like Trump will win the Palmetto state as convincingly as he won the Granite state.
The question is who finishes second. Given all the breath Trump has spent calling Ted Cruz a liar and threatening to sue him and insulting the Bushes, he has had scant attention for Rubio. While Governor Haley’s endorsement might not be enough for Rubio to win in South Carolina, it might be enough to overtake Cruz for second place. If Rubio does finish second in South Carolina, it would be a significant rebound a fortnight removed from his debate debacle with the departed Chris Christie in New Hampshire.
If a strong second place finish for Rubio forces Bush to exit the race then perhaps Rubio has a shot at the brass ring. It could lead a critical mass of Republicans on Super Tuesday turned off by Trump’s rhetoric and skeptical of Cruz’s electoral viability (albeit while respecting his genuine conservatism) prepared to cast a ballot for Rubio.