Donald Trump

Republican presidential primary in South Carolina

Seema Mehta, Lisa Mascaro and Noah Bierman
February 20, 2016

Donald Trump rode a week of insults directed at a popular pope and a GOP president to trounce his opponents in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary Saturday, the most convincing evidence to date that his establishment-smashing campaign is on track to win him the nomination.

None of Trump’s rivals came close to knocking him off, despite — or perhaps because of — his position at the center of one of the most polarizing campaign weeks in recent history.

“There’s nothing easy about running for president,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Spartanburg, S.C. “It’s tough. It’s nasty. It’s mean. It’s vicious. It’s beautiful. When you win, it’s beautiful, and we are going to start winning for our country.”

He added, “Let’s put this thing away.”

The biggest casualty of the night was the epitome of the establishment, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the onetime front-runner who dropped out after voters in a third consecutive state rejected his brand of mainstream conservatism.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who like Trump is running as a party agitator, was jostling for second place with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, himself viewed by many party elites as the last man standing between traditional GOP values and the restive forces that have come to upend them in the 2016 campaign.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished in the single digits like Bush, will try to make the case that he can emerge as a stronger challenger when the race heads to Midwestern states near his home. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson vowed to fight on despite his similarly poor finish.

Evangelicals dominated the primary electorate, accounting for about 3 in 4 voters, according to an exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and the major television networks. Though Cruz and Rubio competed intensely for their votes, and Trump has stumbled in talking about religion, Trump nonetheless won the largest share of their support.

Trump won nearly every group of GOP voters: military, nonmilitary, moderates, conservatives, men and women. Only among more educated voters did Trump split votes with his rivals, losing to Rubio among voters with postgraduate education.

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