- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 21, 2016

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Attacking the Bush family? Didn’t matter. Slipping into foul language? Whatever. Calling his opponents liars? They had it coming. Battling Pope Francis? Ho-hum.

Brushing aside what pundits said should have been a rough couple of weeks, where he broke many of the big Republican presidential primary taboos, Donald Trump’s supporters powered him to a strong victory in South Carolina on Saturday, notching his second straight win and keeping him on track to make his goal of running the rest of the table of contests.

With Nevada, the next contest, appearing to be friendly territory as well, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of entering the big March contests with momentum and a massive lead over his opponents in delegates to the nominating convention.

Analysts who just a few months ago doubted a Trump victory now say it is his nomination to lose, and he himself talks of running the table on the rest of the contests. Along the way, he has chased off a host of major contenders: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who withdrew from the race Saturday night after another poor showing.

“There’s nothing easy about running for president, I can tell you. It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s vicious, it’s beautiful,” Mr. Trump said after winning about a third of the vote, topping Sen. Marco Rubio in second place and Sen. Ted Cruz in third place.

It has become cliche to say Mr. Trump is breaking the mold of traditional campaigning, but it also is one of the main reasons he has done so well, according to voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire — states with widely divergent Republican electorates that he won easily.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump blasts RNC, GOP debates: ‘It’s like death’

“People are tired of the regular old politicians running, and they don’t want any more of that crap. That is basically it,” said David Parenteau, 78, a former Army Green Beret voting this month in Concord, New Hampshire. “My whole family — both sides, my kids and grandkids — are voting Trump.”

Exit polling shows Mr. Trump does better as the voters get older, as their level of education declines and as their income shrinks. He also wins among veterans and draws from those who are satisfied with Republican politicians and those who feel betrayed by the party.

“I voted for Trump. I want somebody to kick butt, and I think he’ll do that,” said Adam Pesaresi, a 90-year-old retired electrician who voted this month in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “He’s a pretty smart man. You don’t get where he’s gotten without being smart.”

Among voters who say immigration is their biggest concern, he dominates. In South Carolina, he was rated the best at handling an international crisis and tied with Mr. Cruz as the best able to handle Supreme Court nominations.

Most of all, Mr. Trump has dominated the race, absorbed most of the oxygen and convinced Republican voters that he is the strong leader they have been seeking.

Austin Hennessy, voting in North Charleston, said he had been leaning toward Mr. Rubio at the beginning of the race, but when Mr. Trump entered last summer, his mind was made up.

“I’m tired of politicians. Politicians have never run a business, they’ve never supervised anybody, they’ve never been in leadership positions,” the military veteran said.

He has even tapped into the same sense of change that powered President Obama to victory in 2008, according to a black voter who gave his name only as Michael, who voted in Walterboro on Saturday.

“Trump all the way,” said the man, who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012. He praised Mr. Trump’s decision to fund his own campaign, saying it was a welcome challenge to the special interests that voters have come to believe dominate politics.

Analysts say Mr. Trump’s biggest hurdle is crossing the 40 percent threshold, which he has not done in the first three contests, suggesting he still has to prove he can consolidate his position as the field of candidates narrows.

Mr. Trump, though, waved off speculation that ousted candidates’ supporters will go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Mr. Rubio or Mr. Cruz.

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

His numbers this weekend might have been even higher had he not had such a troubled week.

He got into a nasty spat with Mr. Bush over whether his brother, former President George W. Bush, should be held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mr. Trump also called Mr. Cruz “unstable” and threatened to sue the Texan over a Cruz campaign ad showing video of Mr. Trump in 1999 saying in an interview that he was pro-choice.

The billionaire businessman also got into a spat with Pope Francis. When asked about Mr. Trump’s plans to build a border wall, the pontiff said that would be un-Christian. Mr. Trump fired back that it was “disgraceful” for the pope to question someone’s religion like that and later said he felt Francis was ill-informed about the situation.

The week probably took a toll, with a number of voters saying they switched from Mr. Trump at the last minute. According to exit polling, about 40 percent of voters decided in the final few days of the election, and Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz won among those.

“I was a Trump supporter for the longest time, until the end here, with all the negative campaigning,” said Gary Adelhardt, voting in North Charleston with his wife and kindergarten-age daughter. He voted for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Still, Mr. Trump’s victory in South Carolina was complete. Because he won every district in the state, he is projected to claim all 50 of the state’s delegates to this summer’s nominating convention.

Seth McLaughlin reported from New Hampshire.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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