Marco Rubio won Iowa by coming in third. John Kasich won New Hampshire by coming in second. Tonight, Marco Rubio won by coming in second and Ted Cruz won by coming in third. (Donald Trump actually won by winning.)
Rubio and Cruz are in a virtual tie, though it looks like Rubio will squeak out a narrow second-place victory in South Carolina. He gave a victory speech about how his second place finish means he’s Lil Ronald Reagan. Then Ted Cruz took the stage and gave the third victory speech of the evening. “South Carolina has given us another remarkable result!”
Cruz’s speech mostly sounded like it was out of the 2010 election cycle: he talked a lot about how he was so much more conservative than all of the other candidates, who were dealmakers. (“Booo!”) He also made a strong case that, as the only candidate that has beaten Donald Trump, he is the only candidate who can beat Donald Trump. That may sound like he’s running against Trump, but it’s actually a knock on Rubio.
South Carolina was supposed to be Cruz country—its heavily Evangelical electorate is Cruz’s bread and butter. Cruz underperformed tonight, and lost many of those voters to Rubio and Trump. Trump obviously has momentum and Rubio just got some in the form of post-Jeb! GOP establishment support. Cruz is going to have find some because third place will only be first place for so long.