Thursday, March 3, 2016

Trump not yet the inevitable man -- March 3, 2016 column


With Super Tuesday behind us, it’s hard to argue that Donald J. Trump won’t be the Republican presidential nominee -- but let’s give it a try.

Yes, Trump swept seven of 11 states on Super Tuesday and won 10 of the first 15 presidential contests. Yes, he’s ahead in the delegate count and, yes, his news conference Super Tuesday night struck some observers as presidential. That was because he wasn’t as crude and bombastic as he is in rallies.

Some prominent Republicans, like Chris Christie, have joined his campaign.

But Trump is not the inevitable GOP nominee.

In a bizarre, perhaps unprecedented, display of angst, a movement is building among Republican lawmakers, party leaders and donors to derail a Trump nomination.

Desperation is in the air. After endorsements of other candidates by Republican members of Congress and party leaders failed to sway angry voters, the GOP establishment is repudiating the party frontrunner. 

Even Mitt Romney, the party’s defeated 2012 presidential nominee, got into the act, calling Trump a phony and a fraud.

If Trump is the nominee, some Republicans say they won’t vote for him in November. 
One of the first to come forward was Rep. Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican.

“I reject Trump as our nominee based on his judgment, temperament and character, all of which point to a reckless, embarrassing and ultimately dangerous presidency,” Rigell wrote in an open letter Tuesday.

Rigell, who is not running for reelection after three terms in the House, is supporting Marco Rubio. If Rubio doesn’t make it, Rigell said he’ll write in someone else’s name.

I get it that the Republican Party is in a tizzy over Trump. He’s a boor and a bigot who plays to our worst instincts. But Trump waltzed through the door Republicans opened for him with years of carping about the dreadful direction of the country, Washington and the federal government.

With millions of new voters rising up to change the status quo, the party establishment now says no, that’s not what we meant at all.  Really.

On the other hand, for all his success, Trump is not a majority candidate. In the contests through Super Tuesday, he won just 34 percent of Republican votes cast. In other words, nearly two-thirds of Republicans wanted another GOP candidate.

In Virginia, Trump won with 35 percent of the Republican primary vote. In Alabama, he scored 43 percent and in Tennessee 39 percent. His strongest showing was in Massachusetts with 49 percent. It was a five-man race, so the votes naturally were split.

We haven’t even reached the halfway point of the primary process. After Super Tuesday, 71 percent of delegates to this summer’s Republican National Convention remained to be chosen.

Super Tuesday kept alive the hopes of other Republican candidates (except for Ben Carson) at least until the next major contests on March 15 -- winner-take-all primaries in Florida and Ohio and other states. Florida and Ohio are must-wins for Marco Rubio and John Kasich, who hope, along with Ted Cruz, to be the Trump alternative.

Dozens of Republican donors who backed GOP candidates no longer in the race now are trying to dump Trump. Our Principles PAC, a Super PAC, is running ads against him in key states.

Trump’s divisive presence has enlivened the primary system even more than Barack Obama did in 2008. All the Super Tuesday states reported record turnout this year, except Vermont.

In Virginia, a record 1 million people voted in the Republican primary on Tuesday – more than the Democrats in the hot 2008 primary race between Obama and Hillary Clinton.

More people have voted in Republican than in Democratic contests this year, and that should worry Democrats, who are indulging in more than a little schadenfreude over the Republican meltdown.

Most voters in this country consider themselves neither Democrat nor Republican but independent. The party that cobbles together an alliance with the most independents likely will win in November.

Trump claims he’s a “unifier.” We’ll see March 15 whether he unifies voters for – or against – him. Republican primary voters will decide that question.

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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