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Why Aren't People Declaring The GOP Race Over — And Trump The Winner?

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Kiawah Island, S.C., on Saturday. Trump followed up a big win in New Hampshire with another in South Carolina and now has a clear shot at the GOP nomination.
Aaron P. Bernstein
Getty Images
Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Kiawah Island, S.C., on Saturday. Trump followed up a big win in New Hampshire with another in South Carolina and now has a clear shot at the GOP nomination.

In any ordinary year, Donald Trump's big win in South Carolina on Saturday night would all but anoint him the Republican presidential nominee. That's especially true after his big win in New Hampshire, where he won with support across various age and income groups in the party.

Trump should be a shoo-in. But this is no ordinary year, and Trump is no ordinary candidate. So why aren't more people talking about the race being over?

Here are four thoughts on that and the Trump juggernaut more broadly:

1. Donald Trump is the clear front-runner but not the inevitable nominee — yet.

In a normal election year we'd say someone who won the New Hampshire primaries by a yuuuuge margin and the South Carolina primary by 10 points is the clear front-runner. No Republican candidate has won both those primaries and not gone on to become the nominee. That being said, this is not a typical election year, and there are many Republicans who think either — a.) it's just not possible for Trump to be the nominee, or b.) it would be a calamity for the party's brand and down-ballot prospects if he became the nominee.

2. The GOP establishment doesn't seem to have a game plan to take on Trump.

The GOP establishment has taken Trump on in fits and starts. Jeb Bush fell on his sword trying to undermine Trump. Trump and Ted Cruz have been battling for similar slices of the vote in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with Cruz making ideological attacks — accusing Trump of not being a "real conservative." That hasn't worked. Now a variety of superPACs are trying, with one pro-Rubio superPAC airing a new attack ad that takes aim at Trump's temperament, calling him erratic. Polls show Trump's biggest weakness is his temperament, but so far nothing the other candidates have said or done has dented his lead.

3. Now that Bush is out, which candidate will fight Trump?

One of the biggest mysteries of the race is why Marco Rubio hasn't taken on Trump. So far, Rubio has avoided the kind of frontal attack on Trump that backfired on Bush. Rubio has been busy fighting with Cruz and has yet to repeat Bush's criticism that Trump is intolerant and divisive. The longer this race goes on with more than two candidates in it, the better it is for Trump. Some polls show that either Cruz or Rubio couldbeat Trump if it were a two-man race, but neither Rubio nor Cruz has an incentive to drop out anytime soon. And those head-to-heads can and will change as more people quit.

4. Trump's argument

Trump argues that as those candidates drop out, he'll inherit some of their support as well. And he suggests that the GOP establishment should quit carping about him. After all, he is bringing new voters into the party, particularly non-college-educated white men. Republicans have had record-breaking turnouts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and Trump can certainly take some credit for that.

Despite Trump's terrible approval ratings with minorities, Trump's appeal to blue-collar voters could theoretically put states in play such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, and maybe improve the GOP's chances in Ohio.

But he hasn't convinced the Republican establishment of that yet.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.