There will no doubt be more twists and turns in the Republican primary to come and of course no pundit/journalist/blogger has any idea what may happen. What we can say with certainty is that at this writing Donald Trump is leading a fast winnowing pack.
When the campaign commenced there were, incredibly, seventeen candidates today there are six and it would be expected that after South Carolina and Nevada there will be a maximum of five and after Florida possibly three stalwarts.
Getting to this point has seen nine candidates drop out. Some like Scott Walker and Rick Perry left very early on when poor debates and polls showed they had no real strength and their money dried up quickly. Others like Santorum and Huckabee carried on with name recognition and shoe string campaigns till reality, in the shape of terrible performances in Iowa and New Hampshire marked their end.
The rest Christie, Jindal, Fiorina, Pataki, Paul, Graham, Gilmore stuck it out as long as they could in the hope that lightning might strike-which it didn't. But apart from their lack of funds and a solid base of support events, five key factors outside their control were the reason why their campaigns failed and why Trump is now so far in front.
1. Donald Trump's statement on Muslim immigration instantly electrified voters and transformed his campaign from what had been, right up to that moment a derisory media pile-on into a major force, although it has taken most, but still not all, of the media six months to finally acknowledge that fact.
In the New Hampshire exit polls 66% of GOP N.H. primary voters supported a ban on Muslims entering the US.
Trump's stand on immigration was the lightning bolt that not only lit up his campaign but cast doubt on the campaign of Rubio especially, and all other candidates whose record showed some ambivalence to the immigration hard line Trump espoused.
2. The Trump/Megyn Kelly debate collision. This clearly set up situation by Fox which was intended to bring Trump down had the entirely opposite effect. Trump reinforced his persona as a man who could not be bullied and would stand up for himself even if that stance was judged, by the media, as being a mistake that would end his campaign.
Not only did that not happen but, as has happened time and again,Trump sucked all the air out out the other candidates who were ignored whilst the media went berserk over Trump. This again assisted Trump as the pile on simply reinforced in the minds of the Republican rank and file that the media is simply a hateful arm of the Establishment. Trump then built on his reinforced image to contrast himself with, especially, Jeb Bush who he mercilessly lampooned as weak in contrast.
3 Governor Palin's endorsement. Trump had taken a large lead in the national polls, but as the Iowa election drew near and Senator Cruz began his assault on the Evangelical vote Trump began a noticeable slide in the polls. At the same time the media began their pumping up of Senator Rubio as "The Sane Establishment Choice."
At this crucial time Trump produced his trump card which, possibly irreversibly, changed the race back in his favor. Governor Palin's endorsement legitimized Trump in the eyes of her millions of supporters, Evangelical conservatives and elements of the Tea Party. Although there were ridiculous claims that Trump has "bought Palin for money or office" her incorruptible Christian ethics made such assertions ludicrous.
Two things happened. Firstly there were, without exaggeration, over 10,000 articles across all media attacking Palin. That such a frenzy should take place proved beyond doubt the fear the Establishment and their media lackey's have of her and her power. Secondly, not only did Trump's
campaign right itself but he (like McCain in 2008) had an immediate rise in the polls from exactly the point of her endorsement.
4. Trump's second place finish in Iowa. The media. or at least the honest elements, now admit that Trump pulled off a near miracle by finishing second In Iowa. He represented the same East Coast New York element (that Cruz decried) as Giuliani who fared disastrously amongst the Evangelicals in the cornfields. Cruz had played the Evangelical card to its utmost whilst his team engaged in numerous dirty tricks at Carson's expense.
in Iowa, without Palin's endorsment I have little doubt his campaign would have been in serious trouble-if not damaged beyond repair. Not only would Cruz have won by a substantial margin but Rubio, with the media driving him on and into second place, would have been a major force going into New Hampshire. At that point it might have become a Cruz/Rubio battle with Trump's campaign in danger of collapsing. As it was Palin's endorsement was a game changer.
5. Marco Rubio's meltdown. If anyone was wounded coming out of Iowa it was, oddly, Senator Cruz who had one day to enjoy his win before an avalanche of charges of "dirty tricks" fell on his head. A media that has no love for trump has an even bigger antipathy to Cruz so they were happy to pile on along with Trump, Carson , and various Iowa officials and even the Governor.
That left Rubio, the Establishment/media darling as the threat to Trump in New Hampshire. And here the fickle finger of fate entered the scene. Rubio was polling in the mid twenties and his plan of 3/2/1 (third Iowa,second New Hampshire, first South Carolina) seemed feasible. Fate determined otherwise.
At the debate just prior to the voting Rubio was asked a question which he turned into an attack on President Obama " he knows exactly what he is doing." Then, by pure chance and disastrously for Rubio the next person to have a question was Governor Christie who tore Rubio to shreds. In what has rightly been described as the worst collapse of a candidate in any presidential campaign Rubio's robotic performance under attack was pitiable.
Exit polls showed many last minute deciders were influenced by the debate and Trump had a victory so large, winning every demographic, that the media could not find anyway of decrying it. Yes, Trump, after Palin's endorsement and his excellent Iowa showing was going to win New Hampshire, but not by such a landslide and with the added benefit of seeing off a possibly permanently damaged major rival, and having his weakest opponent Kasich come in second heading to South Carolina.
Which of the five key moments was the most important? They were all vital but, in my view, it was Palin's endorsement. I believe the massive, unprecedented ensuing media attack on her supports that view. See; "Palin's Endorsement Saved Trump's Campaign For New Hampshire"
Today's polls, both nationwide and in South Carolina show Trump with huge leads against a fractured opposition who are battling among themselves for second place. But that's where we are now and the above story is how we got here. Where we are in a few months nobody knows, but when the history of the campaign is written those will be the five key factors to just prior to the next debate and the South Carolina election.