WASHINGTON — By late tonight, Donald Trump could have more than one-third of the delegates he’ll need to win the U.S. Republican nomination, leaving his rivals precious little time to elbow him off-course before he reaches the finish line.
The celebrity billionaire leads polls in almost all the dozen states voting on Super Tuesday, which puts him in a position to finish the evening with around 400 of the 1,237 delegates he’d need to secure the nomination.
His rivals have to carry their own states to remain alive, says a prominent pollster — he says Sen. Ted Cruz needs to win Texas tonight, and Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich must perform well enough to stay alive for two more weeks, then win their home states of Florida and Ohio on March 15.
“The nomination will not be decided (tonight),” pollster John Zogby told a gathering of foreign journalists Monday evening.
“But (this) will create a sense of momentum, one way or another. Certainly if Donald Trump wins 11 out of 12 states and does well in Texas, where Cruz might possibly win, then let’s say Donald Trump is further along on his way towards the nomination.
“(He) could potentially be stopped — but it becomes less likely.”
The Republican establishment has shown increasing signs of panic. There’s been talk in recent days of mounting a third-party campaign if Trump is the nominee; Senate Republicans are reportedly considering running ads against Trump to dissociate themselves from their own candidate.
Zogby said many Republicans are disturbed by his rhetoric about Muslims and Latino migrants and unless he softens his tone soon there could be a historic rift within the party, with a significant boycott of his candidacy: “(Then) I think you will see — definitely — a schism within the Republican party.”
He said analysts have been blindsided by Trump’s durability. He said they’d known the public was angry; frustrated at a modern economy that has hurt lower-skilled workers; disdainful of the political class; and were aware of grievances among working-class whites over the demographic shifts in the country.
But he said they were caught off-guard by how one famous person managed to turn himself into the rallying point for all those economic and cultural frustrations.
“I guess what we didn’t know was that would all be married with the celebrity culture that we live within. (With) someone who has the same appeal as the World Wrestling Federation. As the Kardashians,” he said.
“He’s shown not only sustainability — but growth.”
He said Trump remains a long-shot in a general election, given the rhetoric that has antagonized significant groups in the country — but he’s no longer possible to discount: “It is within the realm of possibility, I believe not likely but within the realm of possibility, that he could be elected president of the United States.”
Most Republicans tell pollsters they’d rally to his cause in a general election, if he’s the nominee. Democrats are also reportedly concerned that his anti-establishment message could attract some non-traditional Republican voters.
But some prominent members of his own party sound determined to resist him. One staunch conservative senator, Ben Sasse, said he would never support Trump and would look for a third-party alternative should he be the nominee.
Another lawmaker won’t say what he’d do if Trump were the nominee. But New York congressman Peter King excoriated him over how he responded to receiving the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
Trump disavowed his supporter — then three times in a CNN interview avoided doing so, before later pointing out that he’d already said he disavowed his support.
“Trump told (CNN) he doesn’t know who David Duke is or what white supremacist organizations stand for. If Trump’s statement is true, then he is genuinely dumb,” King said.
“If he is lying, that is shameful. In either case, he should not be running to lead the United States.”
Trump currently has just over 80 delegates. He’s likely to get a few hundred tonight, given that the Super Tuesday states award them proportionally based on percentages. States start voting in winner-take-all races on March 15.
If Trump gets to the summer convention with less than 1,237 delegates, there could be a historic multi-ballot scrap on the convention floor.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton appears to have re-established her position as frontrunner.
She’s expected to win most of the states voting tonight — though she’s likely to lose by a wide margin in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont, while Minnesota and Massachusetts will be closely watched.
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