Despite Bernie Sanders dominating in his home state of Vermont and Ted Cruz winning handily in his native Texas — and both triumphant in Oklahoma — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have so far proved to be irresistible forces in most electorates during the 'Super Tuesday' primaries. While there are still some very large and important states yet to hold primary votes, these two candidates now look to be the unassailable contenders for the Democrat and Republican nominations respectively.
Some notable trends include Clinton absolutely dominating in the South, with Alabama and Georgia providing her with close to three-quarters of the vote, and Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia edging past two-thirds. The exception to that is Oklahoma, where Sanders’ points of difference from Clinton — including his opposition to fracking, is hardly a hot button election issue — appear to have resonated with many working class communities.
Trump, meanwhile, has once again proved adept at attracting somewhere between 40% and 50% of the vote in a number of states, leaving an ever-decreasing pool of candidates — how is Ben Carson still one of them? — to divide the remainder. It will be fascinating to see how the GOP establishment responds to this latest show of power. Will others join New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions in endorsing Trump, for example?
On the other side of the political fence, Clinton’s campaign is clearly regaining confidence after being stung by a close-run thing in Iowa and a heavy defeat in New Hampshire at the start of the the nomination process. Indeed, many Clinton campaign strategists are reportedly turning their attention to how to defeat the likely opponent Trump in the general election campaign later this year.
It seems Clinton and her coterie are far more willing to acknowledge that Trump has quite astutely captured a large part of the mood of the electorate than his fellow Republicans, most of whom still can't accept their established dogma isn’t nearly as resonant as they imagine.
Still, suggestions that Clinton might look increasingly to highlight Trump as dangerous and bigoted might also be flawed. To date, ad hominem attacks from the right have proven spectacularly unsuccessful in stopping the insurgent candidate’s momentum. And the lack of impact Trump's evasive stance on the Klu Klux Klan and other white nationalist support had on his voter appeal this week is the latest example of his Teflon-like construction.
A better approach might be to make the case that Trump’s policies — as far as they exist in any coherent form — aren’t remotely workable within the US political tradition, the current or likely future makeup of Congress, or in light of global realities. How, for example, can a ban on Muslims be enacted in keeping with the first amendment to the US Constitution? How can someone who has alienated the majority of his intended future colleagues hope to attract their support to enact his future platform? How can a poster boy for the economic benefits of globalisation reconcile his own path to fame and fortune with efforts to attract jobs back to the US? (Though, in this last case, Clinton might need to work overtime to convince disaffected working class voters that the vision of America forever still holds true, given she and her husband have been among the biggest boosters of a liberal economic order).
Regardless of their antipathy toward him, most Republican moderates, political representatives and strategists will still no doubt hope that, if Trump is indeed the GOP nominee, he can triumph in the general election after which the realities outlined above would bring him into line with party doctrine.
However at this stage, the odds have Clinton well ahead. Indeed, there is a strong chance the Republicans may also lose significant power in Congress as a result of Trump’s candidacy. Nonetheless, any attempt to gently coerce him into the establishment fold are likely to backfire in the longer term.
Even more than the Tea Party before him, Trump has uncoupled traditional Republican supporters from its leaders, and voters are unlikely to take kindly to any attempt to take their new leader away from them. Indeed, it might pave the way for an even more radical Republican nominee to arise in the future.
Given either a Clinton or — a nightmare scenario as far as the rest of the world is concerned — a Trump presidency, the GOP will be desperately in need of some quite profound soul-searching. It needs to find a way to reconnect to its support base in a manner that might be more acceptable to its elites, potential recruits from other political persuasions, and global opinion at large.
There is simply too little time to achieve this before the next round of primaries, the party’s national convention in July, or even November’s general election. Assuming Clinton takes the presidency, or Trump surely — surely! — makes such a mess of a first term that he hands the Democrats a relatively quick return to power, 2020 should become the target.
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