- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jeb Bush’s former supporters are still trying to figure out whom to back now that the former Florida governor has dropped out of the GOP presidential race — but there’s no clear consensus on who Plan B is.

What is clear is that Mr. Trump isn’t likely to earn many of those voters.

“I don’t hear anybody saying they would support Donald Trump in that group,” said Barry Wynn, co-chairman of Mr. Bush’s campaign in South Carolina and former state GOP chairman.

Ana Navaro, a GOP strategist and Bush backer, was more blunt, saying she thinks “most of us would require a frontal lobotomy for that.”

As the GOP field shrinks, voters are increasingly having to look to their second or even third choice when they enter the polling booth.

That could be good news for Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom have been second picks for voters throughout much of the campaign.

Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, said his latest national poll showed Mr. Cruz is the second choice for 20 percent of voters, and Mr. Rubio is the runner-up for 15 percent. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was 13 percent of voters’ choice,

Mr. Trump was second choice for just 7 percent of voters, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the runner-up for 3 percent.

Mr. Trump says he’ll do better than those numbers suggest. At his victory party following South Carolina’s primary on Saturday, after Mr. Bush dropped out of the race, Mr. Trump said the pundits are underrating his ability to make inroads with those voters.

“They don’t understand that as people drop out I’m going to get a lot of those votes also,” he said.

And on Tuesday he said the evidence is mounting in his favor.

“Great. Just reported on @FoxNews that many people who supported @JebBush are now supporting me,” he posted on Twitter. “I knew that would happen, pundits didn’t!

Pollsters, though, question the claim, pointing out Mr. Trump’s net favorability rating has been among the lowest in the field.

“I would dare them to show a body of data that shows that his vote numbers are higher than his favorability numbers,” said Quentin Kidd, a pollster at Christopher Newport University and pollster.

“Is anything possible? Certainly,” he said. “But it is very unlikely.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Jensen said by his math, as long as the race has at least three candidates, Mr. Trump will likely be the nominee. But if it’s him versus a single opponent, he’ll lose because he’s not a second choice for most of those voters.

“If you get down to a two-man race between him and Rubio or him and Cruz his support only goes up a little bit from his current 30-35 percent standing and he loses 47-41 to Cruz and 52-40 to Rubio,” Mr. Jensen said.

Mark Weaver, an Ohio-based GOP strategist, said Mr. Trump is benefiting from the size of the field, while the rest of the candidates are still splitting the vote. He said Mr. Kasich would benefit if Mr. Rubio withdrew, and Mr. Rubio would be much stronger if Mr. Kasich dropped out.

“When the other candidates drop, the lion’s share of their support will go to the non-Trump remaining candidates,” Mr. Weaver said. “The best way to beat Donald Trump is for this to be a two person race, and if that happens, even as late as late March, he can still be beaten.”

Mr. Wynn, the former Bush chairman in South Carolina, said many Bush backers are waiting to see who emerges as the strongest anti-Trump candidate, while others are split between Mr. Kasich and Mr. Rubio.

He said most of the Bush camp would settle for Mr. Cruz if it meant their last chance of defeating Mr. Trump, who they blame for devastating attacks that chased the former governor from the race.

“I think for most people it is kind of ‘anybody but Trump,’ but I think Kasich and Rubio would be much more palatable choices,” he said.

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