We the people are going to have to save ourselves from Donald Trump, because politicians don’t seem up to the task.
For the big-haired billionaire it was another week, another romp. In winning three of the four states up for grabs Tuesday, Trump demonstrated once again the weaknesses of his rivals.
Ted Cruz, whose core support is among staunch conservatives and evangelical Christians, should have won Mississippi. John Kasich, the sitting governor of Ohio, should have won next-door Michigan. And Marco Rubio … well, he should have competed somewhere.
Cruz did manage to win Idaho, somewhat bolstering his claim to be the only plausible anti-Trump candidate left in the field. But Trump has now won primaries in the Northeast, the South, the West and the Midwest. Exit polling showed he had strength among both conservative and moderate voters. If he were not so dangerously unsuitable for the presidency, at this point he’d be called the presumptive Republican nominee.
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Fumbling efforts by what’s left of the GOP establishment to halt Trump’s march to power seem too little, too late. Mitt Romney’s never-Trump salvo may have been intended to influence voters in Michigan, where Romney grew up and his father was a popular governor. If so, it was a humiliating failure.
One problem was that after forcefully stating why Republicans should not vote for Trump, Romney refused to say whom they should choose instead. There’s an old saying in politics: “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.” There is no way the establishment will derail Trump without settling on, and backing to the hilt, a viable alternative.
This will likely be remembered as the week when the establishment finally gave up on Rubio. He was always the fair-haired boy of party insiders, but not, alas, of the voters; he has managed to win only two contests, in Minnesota and Puerto Rico, and routinely finishes third or even fourth.
Rubio acknowledged this week that he rues his decision to go after Trump with playground insults. He is right to be remorseful, because that ploy probably cost him any chance at the nomination. His grand display of juvenile behavior reinforced the notion that he is too young and unformed to be president.
Trump, who knows how to find the jugular, started calling him “Little Marco.” It stuck.
Rubio is trying desperately to win his home state of Florida next Tuesday, and a new Washington Post-Univision News poll shows him perhaps within striking distance; Trump leads with 38 percent, but Rubio is fairly close at 31 percent. Kasich, meanwhile, is gaining on Trump in Ohio; a recent Fox News poll even showed the governor with a small lead.
If Trump wins those states, the Rubio and Kasich candidacies are effectively over. More important, the winner-take-all haul of delegates – and Trump is also leading in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, the other three states that vote Tuesday – would increase the possibility that Trump could win the nomination outright, rather than have to fight for it at a contested party convention.
Put me down as extremely skeptical that the party will try to deny Trump the nomination if he comes to the convention with anywhere near the required majority of delegates. To do so would require a fortitude and a willingness to stand up to Trump’s bullying that the establishment has not shown thus far.
The low point came at last week’s debate when Trump’s opponents all described him as unfit for the presidency – then meekly pledged to support him if he is the nominee.
Stopping Trump, either before or during the convention, would require party leaders to swallow hard and support Cruz, who is right to portray himself as the only realistic alternative. Cruz has, after all, won seven states.
He is widely disliked by party leaders, many of whom believe he would almost surely lose in the general election – and potentially bring down some GOP Senate and House candidates with him. But if the establishment does not agree on someone else, Donald J. Trump will be the standard-bearer of a political organization that calls itself the “Party of Lincoln.”
Can Republicans really stomach such a thing? Do they watch those Trump rallies, with protesters being roughed up by angry mobs, and feel proud? Do they agree with his call to reinstitute torture? Do they really believe that Mexico will pay for the wall?
The GOP allowed Trump to get this far and seems powerless to stop him. In November, it appears, voters will have to do the job.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.