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GOP overpromised and didn’t deliver — and now it’s stuck with Trump

You could almost feel sorry for the Republican Party establishment if they hadn’t done this to themselves.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday night.
REUTERS/Joe Skipper

You could almost feel sorry for the Republican Party establishment if they hadn’t done this to themselves.

They have over-promised and undelivered to the increasingly enraged non-wealthy portion of the Republican coalition who have coalesced around Donald Trump.

Then, the last time they rejiggered the party nominating rules, they were worried about nominating contests that dragged on too long, hurting the party’s chances in the general election. So they set up a bunch of winner-take-all primaries that kick in about halfway through the primary process, in hopes of bringing things to a decisive conclusion well ahead of their convention. That way, they could spend the late spring and early summer unifying the factions of the party and smoothing over hurt feelings among supporters of the losing candidates.

Now comes The Donald, dumping the whole plan on its head, or should one say, on the heads of the geniuses who made this plan. Donald Trump is the GOP establishment’s nightmare. They don’t like him, can’t control him and can’t stop him, and right now their big plan is working for him and against them.

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Trump had a great night Tuesday. He won — by a mile — the biggest prize of the night, Florida, a winner-take-all state worth 99 delegates, all of whom will go to the convention pledged to Trump. In Florida, Trump crushed — by 46 to 27 percent — the former establishment favorite, Sen. Marco Rubio, even though Florida is Rubio’s home state. Rubio suspended his campaign.

True, the establishment’s new favorite, Gov. John Kasich, did carry the second biggest prize of the evening, Ohio, worth a winner-take-all 66 delegates. Note that 66 is a lower number than 99 (although the two numbers do bear an eerie physical similarity). Note also that Kasich is actually the governor of Ohio, which might give him a slight advantage. Note that Kasich’s solid but unspectacular winning margin (47-36 percent) was less than Trump’s margin in the more-valuable Florida contest. Note that this was Kasich’s first win, and he does not appear to be leading at the moment in any state of which he is not the current governor.

Trump, by contrast, has won, by my count, 15 of  the 24 state contests that have occurred so far.

To repeat, the establishment’s former favorites — Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Rubio — are now out of the race, having won a total of one state (which happens to be the best state, Minnesota, carried by Rubio in our caucuses). Their new favorite, Kasich, has won one state, his own. Trump has won 15.

The other states thus far have been won by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom the establishment also detests and who has made his name trashing the members of said establishment as sellouts and not real conservatives. Cruz has won seven states. But other than his own home state of Texas (which happens to be enormous, the second most populous in the nation), he has specialized in winning dinky states. (We’re talking Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Maine, Oklahoma, Kansas.)

If Texas wasn’t so big, Cruz’s delegate total would be way less than half of Trump’s. Instead, he trails Trump by about 621 to 395, pending late results from the contest Tuesday night in Missouri, where Trump held a slight lead with 99 percent of votes counted.

Studying the party rules

If the leader in the nomination was anyone other than Trump (or maybe also Cruz), the establishment would at this point be pounding on everyone else to drop out for the sake of party unity. Instead, they are studying the rules (and thinking about changing them if they have to) to find a way to deny the nomination to Trump, who will have an enormous lead in delegates on the first ballot. And the guy they are now looking to pull off this stop-Trump mission is Kasich, who (I know, I already mentioned it) has carried exactly one state, his own.

I seldom agree with Fox News personality Sean Hannity, but I did write down his very solid description of where things stand in the race for the Repub nomination and how it came about and what will happen if the establishment figures out a way to bamboozle the nomination for anyone other than Trump. Said Hannity (with apologies in advance for any errors in my shorthand transcription):

“The big story that has come out of the campaign so far is that the establishment has lost, and they have been beaten badly. Rather than being introspective, instead of realizing they caused a lot of what’s happened here tonight and throughout all these nights, they’re thinking of ways to anger people even more [by rigging the convention to nominate anyone but Trump]. If the person who has won the most delegates and the most states has the nomination taken away from him, I would predict that the supporters of that person are probably gonna walk away pretty quick.”

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Cruz won no states out of five Tuesday night (and that doesn’t count too-close-to-call Missouri, where he trailed, and doesn’t count the Mariana Islands, where Trump stomped him by 73-24 percent to capture all nine delegates at stake). So naturally Cruz started his televised no-victories speech with “tonight is a good night. Tonight, we continue to gain delegates.” (That’s technically true, but he gained fewer than Trump in every contest on this “good night” and none in the two big winner-take-all races.)

He presented the results as yet one more overpowering bit of evidence that the party must unite behind him. He made gracious remarks about Rubio, whom he despises (and the feeling is mutual as both have amply displayed during the campaign to date), and even more graciously didn’t mention Kasich at all, who represents an inconvenient fact in his argument that the party has no one other than himself around whom to rally in the effort to stop Trump.

He disparaged Hillary Clinton as a candidate so flawed that she could not beat any of the Republican candidates — except Trump, whom Cruz described as “the one person on the face of the earth who can lose to Hillary.”

Clinton lead grows

Speaking of former Secretary of State and Sen. Clinton, she may have had the best night of anyone. She won solid victories over Bernie Sanders in Florida (65-33 percent), North Carolina (55-41) and Ohio (57-43) and a narrow victory in Illinois (51-49). As on the Repub side, the race in Missouri was too close to call as of this writing but she clung to a microscopic lead with 99 percent reporting.

There are no winner-take-all states on the Dem side (banned by party rules). But her lead in delegates is large and, of course, grew Tuesday night. These included big important highly industrialized states where Sanders has strength and getting shut out Tuesday was a blow to his effort, all-but-erasing the benefits to Sanders of his recent surprise win in Michigan.

Over on CNN, political analyst Gloria Borger said the results gave Clinton an “almost insurmountable lead” in delegates and regular commentator Van Jones described the results as “a massive backbreaking blow” that converts Sanders from a fairly serious contender to a “serious message candidate” whose campaign will be remembered for raising to prominence several issue positions, like a preference of single-payer health care and a great desire to crack down on the excesses and greed of Wall Street.

In her victory statement, Clinton spoke graciously of Sanders, but switched into general-election mode, characterizing Trump as a bigot and a sexist and adding: “That doesn’t make him strong, it makes him wrong.”

The conventional wisdom in Democratic circles is that Clinton would be favored in a general election against Trump. (Trump constantly claims that he leads her in various matchup polls, but this is utter rubbish. Clinton beats Trump in all five such polls taken since mid-February, aggregated by Real Clear Politics. Sanders, by the way, also beats Trump, and by wider margins.)

So it was a little surprising late Tuesday night to hear David Plouffe, campaign manager for Barack Obama in 2008, expressing uncertainty about how Clinton might fare against Trump. Said Plouffe:

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“[Trump] says a lot of things that a lot of swing voters, particularly blue-collar voters, would be agreeable to. He’s really much more of a populist than a traditional ideological conservative. That’s what would make it hard for Hillary. You just don’t know what you’re going to get with this guy.”