Mainstream Republicans arose today reeling from Donald Trump’s sweeping victory in South Carolina, with some refusing to accept he could be the eventual presidential nominee and others acknowledging his insurgent candidacy soon might be unstoppable.
With their sights set on upcoming caucuses in Nevada on Tuesday and “Super Tuesday” a week later, the Republican candidates scattered across the country to regroup and prepare to take their messages to a wider audience.
The enormity of the implications of the results in South Carolina for Republicans had only just begun to set in on Sunday morning, as the party firmly closed the door on 25 years of Bush family primacy and turned toward a New York real-estate mogul as its plurality victor.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, both of whom finished nearly tied behind Trump in South Carolina, urged the rest of the party to coalesce around their campaigns today and tried to make the case that the nominating fight was still at an early stage.
On Saturday, Trump garnered 32 percent of the vote, while Rubio got 22.5 and Cruz 22.3.
“Last night was truly the beginning of the real Republican primary,” Rubio said on CNN. “I think the race last night was re-set.”
Still, in a sign of how Trump’s opponents continue to tread gingerly around him, Rubio declined to attack him aggressively today. Asked about taking a more forceful approach, Rubio would only say that Trump’s lack of foreign policy knowledge was worrisome.
Cruz, whose narrow third-place finish was widely seen as a disappointment, said he was the lone candidate who had shown an ability to top Trump. Cruz finished first in Iowa earlier this month.
“If you want to beat Donald Trump, you’ve got to go with the only campaign that has demonstrated that they can beat Donald Trump,” Cruz said in an interview on ABC News.
Trump was magnanimous in a round of television interviews Sunday morning. Turning his attention to the general election, he said he was the candidate best suited to draw support from Democrats and independents in order to beat front-runner Hillary Clinton.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: