Donald Trump established himself as the overwhelming favourite to win the Republican presidential nomination with a string of election victories this week. On “Super Tuesday” – the biggest single day of the primary season – the billionaire topped the polls in seven of the 11 voting states, giving him a solid, though not impregnable, lead in the delegate count. Trump’s nearest rival, the conservative firebrand Ted Cruz, won his home state of Texas, along with two other contests. The establishment favourite Marco Rubio won just one, in Minnesota: he nevertheless vowed to fight on. In the lead-up to the polls, Trump had come under concerted attack from Rubio and Cruz, who condemned his initial failure to disavow an endorsement by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
On the Democrat side, Super Tuesday cemented Hillary Clinton’s front-runner status. Building on her big weekend victory in South Carolina, she beat her self-proclaimed socialist rival Bernie Sanders in all but four of 11 states.
When Trump started rising in the polls last summer, said The New York Times, the Republican leadership refused to take him seriously. They were content to let the voters decide. Well, the voters are now deciding – and “they are leaning, in unbelievable numbers”, towards a race-baiting demagogue. This has caused disarray in the GOP and led Trump’s rivals to ape his crude rhetoric: Rubio last week resorted to making double entendres about Trump’s “small” hands and joking about him wetting his pants. The GOP is a mess, agreed the Los Angeles Times. Some Republicans are already reconciling themselves to a Trump nomination: former White House hopeful Chris Christie has even endorsed him. Others have vowed to block it. A despairing Senator Lindsey Graham declared that his party had gone “batshit crazy”.
The Democrat race, by contrast, has reverted to a stately “coronation”, said The Wall Street Journal. “Only the FBI probe into [Clinton’s] emails and her mishandling of classified information can derail her now.” And that’s unlikely. It’d take “a brave government employee” to “recommend a criminal charge against a major-party nominee so close to an election”.
“This is really happening,” said Ben Judah in The Independent. One of the contenders in
November’s presidential election looks set to be a man who wants to build a “great, beautiful wall” along the border with Mexico, and deport America’s 11 million illegal immigrants – an operation that would cost “an estimated minimum $420bn”; a man who wants to launch an economic war against China by branding it a “currency manipulator”; who openly admires Russia’s Vladimir Putin and who would give Putin carte blanche in the Middle East. Trump hasn’t hijacked the Republican Party, said Robert Kagan in The Washington Post. He is “its creation, its Frankenstein’s monster”. For years the party has been fuelling these nativist prejudices for its own political benefit. Now, in “a bit of cosmic justice fit for a Greek tragedy”, it is being destroyed by the forces it unleashed, and its creation “will soon be let loose on the land”.
It’s “almost certainly too late to stop Mr Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party”,
said Edward Luce in the FT, but could he go on to win the presidency? On paper, that looks
implausible: his polarising policies should ensure he loses in “a landslide” to Clinton. But the
experts have been proved wrong many times in this strange election (just three months ago, Nate Silver, the guru of election forecasts, was still putting Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination at just 2%). Besides, Trump does have some things going for him. He is well placed, for instance, to take on Wall Street, something America is “itching to do”. When Clinton was making $225,000 speeches to Goldman Sachs, Trump was imposing haircuts on his creditors. He may be a “con artist”, as Rubio claims, but Trump “knows how to make a deal”. Clinton will need to play her cards well, said Frank Bruni in The New York Times. Her advisers are preparing a ruthless line of attacks against Trump – a strategy that has been characterised as less “hope and change” than “hate and castrate”. But such negative tactics could rebound on her. While Clinton is certainly tough enough to fight an “ugly contest”, has she “honed the character and nimbleness to prevail in a more inspiring, unifying way”?
The next key date in the primary season is 15 March, reports CNBC.com. Rubio’s home state of Florida is staging a winner-takes-all primary on that day, with 99 delegates at stake (in this week’s contests, delegates were allocated in proportion to each candidates’ share of the vote). If Rubio can’t beat Trump there (and he’s currently trailing), the race will effectively be over. In the event that neither Trump nor any of his GOP rivals secures a requisite majority of the total 2,472 delegates before July, the Republicans would hold a brokered convention, at which delegates would be free to reassign their support to other candidates.