Republican party’s Trump-hating stars start aligning behind Marco Rubio

Click to play video: 'Trump gloats about South Carolina win Saturday night'
Trump gloats about South Carolina win Saturday night
WATCH ABOVE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on CBS' Face the Nation with John Dickerson Sunday morning, the day after winning the South Carolina Republican primary – Feb 21, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C., S.C. – Donald Trump haters within the Republican party hope the seeds of his eventual demise have just been planted in the soil of his latest triumph.

The South Carolina primary gave him a big win over the weekend but might also have sprouted an alternative candidacy capable of uniting the party’s anti-Trump forces: the wealthy, the ideological conservatives, the college grads, and those voters who tell exit pollsters they’re most desperate to beat Democrats.

That explains why someone who’s supposed to remain neutral in the primaries because of her position within the Republican grassroots structure was at a Marco Rubio rally, wearing a button with his face on it.

”We are going to fight,” she said.

”We need to stop that man.”

That man is Trump. Basic historical precedent dictates he should be pretty well guaranteed to be the Republican nominee. He’s won the last two states and every time someone’s won New Hampshire and South Carolina, in both parties, they’ve become the nominee.

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READ MORE: Donald Trump wins South Carolina Primary

Click to play video: 'Donald Trump wins South Carolina Primary'
Donald Trump wins South Carolina Primary

But this local organizer said forces within her party are determined to stop Trump: either on Super Tuesday; or in the three-dozen states that follow; or on the convention floor in the first multi-ballot scrap in generations.

A common topic of discussion at Republican rallies last week was whether people would even support Trump in the general election, should he emerge as the nominee.

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Most said yes. Some said no. At Saturday’s Rubio rally, Bob Barnwell said he’d have to pray over how to deal with a Trump nomination. A friend interrupted to warn him: ”I’ll kill you (if you don’t vote).”

The mood picked up in the room — first as it became clear Rubio had zoomed into second place, breaking away from the three-way logjam involving more mainstream alternatives to Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.

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READ MORE: South Carolina GOP Primary voters caught between Trump and the establishment

A roar then erupted as Bush’s image flickered across the TV screens, and he delivered six magic words: ”Tonight I am suspending my campaign.”

It was suddenly like a victory party. First-term Florida senator, first-generation Cuban-American Marco Rubio was suddenly winning a non-existent primary: the race to become Establishment Favourite No. 1.

Evidence of his growing status within the party was right on stage.

South Carolina’s governor was there with him. So were two of the state’s three most famous lawmakers in Washington. And there’s every reason to believe the third lawmaker, Bush supporter Lindsey Graham, is closely aligned enough with Rubio as a pro-military hawk to join the parade too.

Full Coverage: 2016 US Presidential Election Coverage

A former county chairman, Jim Jerow, said that after a crazy primary season Republicans might finally be settling on the one candidate the other party fears most. Rubio consistently out-polls his rivals against the Democrats: ”We need to focus,” Jerow said.

Javier Cespedes said Rubio would save the party — from a ”disaster” of a front-runner. Cespedes predicted donations and supporters would start flying Rubio’s way.

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He offered some quick math outlining Trump’s demise.

WATCH: Donald Trump thanks supporters after winning South Carolina Primary

Click to play video: 'Donald Trump thanks supporters after winning South Carolina Primary'
Donald Trump thanks supporters after winning South Carolina Primary

Rubio finished 10 percentage points behind the billionaire in South Carolina. Add Bush’s eight per cent, and eventually Kasich’s eight per cent when he drops out — and bingo: ”It’s a no-brainer… We’d win South Carolina. And Nevada, and Ohio, and every other state…

”Those automatically are going to be Marco Rubio votes. They have no other candidate to go to.”

Trump would beg to differ.

Continuing his tradition of being the presidential candidate who discusses polling more than any other in memory, Trump delved into his own calculus during his victory speech.

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”A number of the pundits said, ‘Well, if a couple of the other candidates dropped out if you add their scores together it’s going to equal Trump,'” said Trump.

”But these geniuses — they’re geniuses — they don’t understand that as people drop out I’m going to get a lot of those votes also. You don’t just add them together. So I think we’re going to do very, very well.”

Who’s right — does a narrower field automatically hurt Trump, and elevate Rubio?

Both sides have a point.

Rubio’s fans are correct: he does best among anyone in the field at gaining new supporters, according to polls asking Republicans for their hypothetical second choice. And in a hypothetical two- or three-person poll, he rivals or even beats Trump.

READ MORE: Trump wins South Carolina primary, Clinton wins Nevada caucuses

There’s an asterisk though.

Trump is also right — polls suggest he would indeed win some of these new loose votes. Less, maybe, but he’d grow his support too. As for Rubio’s momentum — he’s already crashed and burned before, in New Hampshire, after appearing to take off in Iowa.

Cespedes observed how unpredictable politics can be.

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In an interview at Saturday’s rally, he expressed hope party officials would start pressuring other candidates to quit and send their supporters and donors Rubio’s way.

A moment later, Bush was on the giant screen announcing his exit.

Cespedes said, ”Politics is quick, man.”

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