Trump wins in South Carolina; second place in doubt [UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE EVENING]

Donald Trump has already been declared the winner of the South Carolina primary, even though only around two percent of the vote is in. Trump has captured around one-third of the tabulated vote.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are neck-and-neck for second place in the early count with around 21 percent. Jeb Bush is in fourth place, but is below 10 percent. If that result holds, it almost surely will be the end of Bush’s campaign.

In addition to whatever suspense the race for second place generates, there is also the question of whether Trump will win all 50 South Carolina delegates. As the statewide winner, he will pick up 29 delegates. The other 21 will be awarded (three apiece) to the winner in each of the seven congressional districts.

Given how early this race was called for Trump, I’m guessing he will make a strong run at all 50 delegates. However, that the early call and his goodly margin aren’t inconsistent with Cruz or Rubio having a good night in a particular district.

UPDATE: They have now counted 15 percent of the expected vote. Trump is at 34 percent; Rubio at 21.5; and Cruz at 21. Bush and Kasich are both at 8.5 percent.

Losing to Kasich would be galling for Bush, I imagine, but he’s almost certainly going to quit regardless of how that race goes. Beating Bush would encourage Kasich, but I’m confident he’s not quitting regardless of how he does tonight.

ANOTHER UPDATE: 24 percent of the vote is now in. Trump remains at 34 percent. Rubio leads Cruz by around 250 votes; Bush leads Kasich by around 750.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bush leaves; Kasich stays. Carson, I don’t know about, but does it matter?

In a four-way race, Trump will probably continue to prosper. Someone in the “establishment” should have a long talk with Kasich. Better yet, Rubio should consider offering him a place on his ticket.

Cruz may have trouble winning anywhere other than Texas, but I don’t see him leaving the race anytime soon. A Trump-Rubio showdown, if it ever happens, may well occur too late.

Rubio is back in business. Unfortunately, it’s the business of finishing third (or maybe a distant second).

With Bush out, the “establishment” will rally around Rubio. But even if he picks up the majority of Bush’s voters, he still will be a decided underdog against Trump in a four-way race. Maybe in a three-way race, as well.

CRUZ AND RUBIO 10 VOTES APART: That’s with 47 percent of the vote in. Rubio has the 10 vote lead.

BUSH IS “SUSPENDING” HIS CAMPAIGN: That’s what CNN is reporting. It’s been coming for a few days, ever since his brother’s visit failed to give him a bounce.

Bush would have made a pretty good president, I think. But his mother spoke for the country when she said that two presidents from the same family are enough.

Jeb’s exit speech is getting excellent reviews. I missed it, but he knows a thing or two about being gracious, so I’m not surprised he left the race with class.

IN THE RACE FOR DELEGATES: Trump apparently has a good shot at sweeping the seven congressional districts. That would give him all 50 delegates. Only in the First District — Charleston and environs — does Rubio have a shot. A win there would give him three delegates. Cruz apparently will be shut out on delegates.

IN THE RACE FOR SECOND: Rubio is almost 2,000 votes ahead of Cruz with about 93 percent of the vote in.

UPDATE: Now, 97 percent of the vote is in. Rubio is less than 1,000 votes ahead of Cruz. He is 10 percentage points behind Trump (32.5 to 22.5).

ABOUT THOSE ENDORSEMENTS: They seem to have helped Rubio, especially Nikki Haley’s. Rubio closed a 5 to 7 point gap on Cruz in about a week, to move into a virtual tie with the Texas Senator. And with Rubio revived and Bush out, he should get a flock of endorsements going forward.

The “establishment” is doing a good job on Ted Cruz, but not on Donald Trump — not yet, anyway, and time is running short.

TO SUMMARIZE: A good night for Trump, obviously. He won by around 10 points and will capture either all 50 delegates or 47 of them, I gather. He was probably hoping for more than the 32.5 percent he’s getting. Most polls showed Trump doing better than that when the race began heating up earlier this month. But I think he’ll be happy with the result, as he should be.

A good night for Rubio for two reasons: (1) he got off the floor and (2) Bush is out. Even if Cruz edges Rubio for second, which doesn’t seem likely, Rubio will be pretty happy with the way things went in South Carolina.

Not a good night for Cruz, who must have been hoping for a strong second place finish. This was not an auspicious way to begin his drive to win in the South.

The entrance polls indicate that, as in Iowa, most voters in this primary are evangelicals. It looks like they did not break as strongly for Cruz as they did in Iowa.

Cruz took a battering from his opponents and I think it hurt him. His image has probably been tarnished at the margin.

Look for Trump to direct much of his fire at Rubio going forward. As the tycoon likes to point out, whomever he goes after always seems to suffer.

In South Carolina he laid off of Rubio and Kasich and focused on bringing down Cruz (because he saw him as the main threat) and Bush (because Bush went after him and because he probably gets special pleasure from picking on Jeb). Kasich is serving Trump’s purposes, so he will be immune unless the Ohio man makes the mistake of attacking Trump.

But Rubio may be in for it now that he has momentum. How well he copes with Trump’s attacks may well determine whether he retains momentum.

Finally, a good night for the RCP poll average.

With that, I will sign off.