Trump remains the favorite in South Carolina

After a Saturday night debate in which he ridiculed not only his opponents but also a past Republican President, the polls still show that South Carolina is Donald Trump’s state to lose, as the GOP hurtles toward a Saturday showdown in the Palmetto State.

The latest GOP debate was held in Greenville, South Carolina, at a venue known as the Peace Center.

It was anything but a peaceful GOP gathering.

After discussing the stunning news of the day, the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Republicans then turned on each other, with bitter and extended verbal battles mainly involving Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz.

At one point, Cruz zeroed in on the issue of Trump’s conservative beliefs.

“For most of his life, his policies have been very, very liberal,” Cruz said.

Trump was more than aggravated.

“You are the single biggest liar,” Trump said. “This guy will say anything.”

So, how did the candidates do?

Donald Trump – It may have been the most aggressive version of Trump at any Republican debate. He repeatedly called Ted Cruz a liar. He talked over Cruz and Bush. Trump was booed and jeered repeatedly by the crowd at the debate site – again. He accused George W. Bush of lying about the Iraq War, and Trump went after that President Bush for not doing enough to prevent the 9/11 attacks. “The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that,” he said to Jeb. Trump also declared his support for Planned Parenthood’s work, except for abortion-related services. Many Republicans thought it was an ugly scene for the front runner. But will it really hurt Trump?

Ted Cruz – Cruz was much more aggressive in this debate when it came to Donald Trump. “For most of his life his policies have been very, very liberal,” Cruz said, after which Trump labeled Cruz, “the single biggest liar.” Cruz used the debate to laud the work of Justice Scalia, calling him a ‘legal giant,’ as Cruz made clear the central importance of a Republican win in November. “We’re not going to give up the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Barack Obama to make one more liberal appointee,” Cruz said. Cruz certainly set himself apart from Trump on the issue of being a conservative – but will it really matter? It may well be that Republicans – Cruz included – simply waited too long to attack Trump.

Marco Rubio – Rubio’s main goal was to avoid a repeat of last week’s debate mishap in New Hampshire, and that was achieved. For the most part, Rubio stayed out of the nasty exchanges involving Trump, Cruz and Bush, as the Florida Senator regained some of his lost luster. Maybe the most interesting little moment was when Cruz accused Rubio of saying one thing about immigration in English, and something else when interviewed on Spanish language TV. “Well, first of all, I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn’t speak Spanish,” Rubio said of Cruz. Most polls have shown Rubio in third in South Carolina, not that far behind Cruz. Rubio wants to finish no worse than third on Saturday in the Palmetto State.

Jeb Bush – Bush had another good debate, as he has come to life in the last few GOP gatherings, mainly by going on the attack against Donald Trump. As in the last debate, Bush seemed to get under Trump’s skin repeatedly, as Trump attacked his brother and father, the former Presidents. “This is the standard operating procedure, to disparage me,” Bush said. “But, if you want to talk about weakness, you want to talk about weakness? It’s weak to disparage women. It’s weak to denigrate the disabled,” Bush said of Trump, who tried to talk over Bush repeatedly on the debate stage. Despite Bush seemingly winning a few of those exchanges with Trump, his path forward in South Carolina really depends on finishing no worse than third.

John Kasich – While the mud was flying on stage, John Kasich tried again to present himself as the clear-eyed Republican alternative for voters who are not interested in a non-stop verbal slug fest. “If I were president we wouldn’t have the divisions in the country we have today,” Kasich said at one point. While the other Republicans will pretty much focus on South Carolina the rest of this week, Kasich will stump for votes in Michigan on both Monday and Tuesday – that’s a state that does not vote for three weeks, but would be crucial to a long term Kasich bid for the GOP nomination. Kasich did take flak for going ahead with expanded Medicaid under the Obama health law, which is still a touchy subject for many in the GOP.

Ben Carson – For yet another debate, Carson was not really a part of any central moments in this GOP gathering. Carson’s closing statement referenced a quote from Joseph Stalin that many on social media quickly determined what not a real quote from Stalin at all. One poll in recent days in South Carolina had Carson polling at just 2 percent.

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