For Republicans, the distance is collapsing between the unthinkable and the inevitable.
The runway lights are lit for Donald Trump to land the Republican presidential nomination after his commanding victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. That trifecta has provided the front-runner a big tailwind heading into the crucial stretch when 28 more states will vote through March 15. As important, Trump’s winning streak has shown that none of his rivals yet has a plausible plan for stopping him. That means the GOP is poised for a leap into the electoral unknown behind a fundamental redefinition of the party from Trump that could shape its fortunes for years.
The Nevada caucus was modestly attended (even with record turnout) and chaotically administered. But those clouds could not obscure Trump’s success. In Nevada, as in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he demonstrated that his support transcends the fissures that have previously defined Republican nomination contests. In all three states, he carried men and women; Republicans and independents; and both those who identified as evangelical Christians and those who did not. Spanning ideological boundaries, Trump carried voters who identified as very conservative, somewhat conservative, and moderate in all three states as well, except in South Carolina where Ted Cruz edged him among the most conservative.
The one divide that has consistently characterized Trump’s candidacy is education. Trump has posted dominant numbers among white Republicans without a college degree in his three victories; he attracted an identical 42 percent of those blue-collar whites in his first two wins and 52 percent in Nevada. In those three states, as well as Iowa, Trump has notched less support among Republican voters with at least a four-year college degree. That pattern held in Nevada, but Trump’s strong 40 percent showing with college-educated whites there not only comfortably led the field but also significantly topped his previous high (30 percent in New Hampshire). Nevada is a small, quirky state, but the evidence suggests that, as Trump advances, his coalition is growing, not shrinking.
His rivals can’t say the same, particularly Cruz. Building on a base among evangelical Christians, the Texan sold himself as the candidate who could unite cultural and economic conservatives—succeeding where Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, the last two evangelical favorites, had failed. But Cruz has not carried more than 18 percent of voters who are not evangelicals in any of the first four states. That’s no better than Huckabee or Santorum.
And after winning evangelical Christians in Iowa, Cruz has now lost them to Trump in three consecutive contests. Cruz has been squeezed between Marco Rubio’s appeal to evangelicals with a four-year college degree and Trump’s much larger inroads among those without. If Cruz can’t reverse that pattern, he will fail in such heavily evangelical March 1 states as Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. That would effectively undermine his candidacy, even if he holds Texas.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the mirror image of Cruz. He’s run well among moderates, but shown too little appeal beyond them to truly compete.
The Rubio paradox is that he wants to sell Republicans on a profound change in image without meaningfully rethinking many of the party’s core positions—or even directly resisting Trump’s radical redefinition of them. In South Carolina, Rubio assembled a Republican rainbow coalition of supporters led by Asian-American Gov. Nikki Haley, African-American Sen. Tim Scott, and white male Rep. Trey Gowdy, all 51 or younger.
But Rubio has wrapped a dynamic message around an agenda that, with only a few innovative exceptions, mostly embraces conventional conservative positions. These include big tax cuts; skepticism about climate change; and some of the field’s most unbending social views, including opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest and clear suggestions he wants to reverse the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide. And rather than confront Trump’s nativist and protectionist agenda, Rubio has mostly bent to it, tacking right on both immigration and trade.
While Rubio offers the GOP a different face, it’s Trump who actually presents a different direction. He would steer the party toward a confrontational European-style racial nationalism revolving around hostility to foreign influences (from Mexican immigrants to Chinese manufacturers) and domestic elites. That represents not only a fundamental assault on the party’s existing leadership, but a huge gamble with its electoral future. Even if Trump, as the nominee, could squeeze out a narrow victory in November by mobilizing more working-class whites, he might still disastrously stamp the GOP as a party of racial backlash to the minorities and millennials irreversibly growing in the electorate. As Trump steamrolls toward the nomination, it’s difficult to overstate how much the GOP has at stake—or how poorly positioned his rivals are to stop him.
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"The Senate was expected to be back in session at noon, while House lawmakers were told to return to work for a 9 a.m. session. Mr. Trump on Friday had canceled plans to travel to his private resort on Palm Beach, Fla., where a celebration had been planned for Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office."
"A stopgap spending bill stalled in the Senate Friday night, leading to a government shutdown for the first time since 2013. The continuing resolution funding agencies expired at midnight, and lawmakers were unable to spell out any path forward to keep government open. The Senate on Friday night failed to reach cloture on a four-week spending bill the House had already approved."
"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.
"Hundreds of new and supplemental FARA filings by U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms" have been submitted "since Special Counsel Mueller charged two Trump aides with failing to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreign countries. The number of first-time filings ... rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump's associates and their business partners."