Last night’s results from the Republican presidential primary in Nevada have made it clear that, barring something bordering on the miraculous, the Republican Party is not going to wake up from its Donald Trump nightmare anytime soon. The billionaire’s dominant performance in the first Western state to select a Republican nominee earned him 45.9 percent of the vote in a five-way race, more than his two closest challengers combined.
He rolls into Super Tuesday having won his most convincing victory of the primary season yet, and he holds 82 of the 132 delegates pledged so far. It’s a small fraction of the total at stake nationally, and only about 7 percent of the total he will need to lock up the nomination ahead of the Republican convention in July. By comparison, though, his closest rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, hold 17 and 16 delegates, respectively.
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Voters will award 595 delegates on Tuesday across 11 different states. (Colorado will also hold a caucus, but its delegates will not be bound to a candidate until the state party convention in April.) So far, Trump has taken 62 percent of the pledged delegates in the first four states. For argument’s sake, say he wins that percentage of the delegates allocated on Tuesday. That gives him 451 delegates in total, more than one-third of what he needs for the nomination with more than two-thirds of the states still in play.
It’s looking increasingly inevitable that Trump is going to become the nominee, and you don’t need theoretical delegate math to see why. The demographic breakdown from the Nevada vote tells the story. As the results of CNN entrance polls at last night’s Republican caucuses demonstrated, Trump’s 22-point victory came from support that was neither narrow nor shallow.
Trump won last night in just about every conceivable demographic group, including evangelical Christians who were vigorously courted by Cruz and Rubio and Hispanics who were thought to be alienated by the billionaire’s harsh, anti-immigrant policies and threats of mass deportations.
Among self-described conservatives, he picked up 44 percent of the vote, to just 24 percent each for Rubio and Cruz. Among more moderate voters, Trump claimed 55 percent of the vote, to 27 percent for Rubio, who is offering himself as a more moderate, Establishment Republican candidate.
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Trump won among men with 41 percent of the vote and women with 45 percent. He claimed 47 percent of the Republican vote and 44 percent of GOP-leaning independents. Forty-seven percent of white voters went for Trump over Rubio and Cruz, while Latinos favored him with 47 percent of the vote. Rubio and Cruz are both Hispanic and children of Cuban refugees, yet each was able to garner barely a quarter of Nevada’s Hispanic Republican vote last night.
Trump was dominant as well among evangelical Christians, an influential segment of the Republican electorate that Cruz greatly appealed to in scoring his one victory against Trump in the Iowa caucuses on Feb.1. Trump last night won 40 percent of the conservative Christian vote, compared with only 26 percent for Cruz and 25 percent for Rubio.
Trump, 69, swept every age group except Millennials 17 to 29, who favored the 44-year old Rubio over him. And despite earlier snide commentary that his campaign was most appealing to poorly educated voters who never went to college, the CNN poll found that he swept all educational groups, including voters with college degrees.
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On the issues, Trump reigned supreme on questions of who would be best as president in handling immigration, combating terrorism and improving the economy. On his signature issue of immigration – and his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deport millions of illegal immigrants living in this country – Trump garnered the support of two thirds of the Republican caucus goers, to just 21 percent for Cruz and 13 percent for Rubio.
While Trump appears to be nearly unstoppable heading into next week’s Super Tuesday contests in nearly a dozen mostly Southern and Western states, some analysts caution against reading too much into last night’s returns, which reflect the views of only a large slice of the Republican and independent electorate.
“I’ll agree that Trump is the very likely nominee toward the end of March if he wins some of the big states that haven’t voted yet,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said on Wednesday in an email. “Only four small states have voted. So let’s resist the temptation to write a review of the play after Act One.”
Sabato said that there is still a “narrow pathway” for mainstream Republicans to follow in order to defeat Trump. “Only Rubio has any real chance of stopping him,” Sabato said. “Cruz would need to get out right after March 1 if he doesn’t do well on a day when he simply must win.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich is “obviously dying on the vine,” and Ben Carson is no longer a factor.
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“…The leadership of the GOP, officeholders and donors, have to stand up and do what they have utterly failed to do so far: Make coherent arguments against Trump and explain clearly why he is unlikely to win in November,” Sabato added. “If all of these things don’t happen, then Trump is probably the GOP nominee and the Republican Party will have to come up with a coherent strategy to protect Senate control, if possible.”
Sabato’s message is being echoed by some in the conservative media.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, urged his readers on Wednesday morning not to succumb to “Trump Fatalism.”
“Yes, he's defied expectations in a pretty remarkable way. Yes, he's won three of the first four GOP contests. Yes, he's ahead in the polls in the states coming up. Yes, he has an easier path to victory than any other candidate.” Kristol even concedes that Trump will dominate the Super Tuesday returns.
However, Kristol insists that even a dominant Trump performance next week won’t be the end for the rest of the GOP candidates. “Even if he wins two-thirds, the March 15 winner-take-all states of Ohio, Florida, and Illinois will be fiercely contested. And this is all before further debates, before any sustained television advertising assault on Trump, while the other candidates are still (foolishly) sniping at each other instead of taking on Trump. And in a circumstance where the frontrunner has unusual vulnerabilities.”
The problem is that all of Trump’s weaknesses have been known since the day he entered the race, and Republicans have been calling for the party to coalesce behind an alternative for months now. Kristol may have some reason to hope these things will suddenly happen, but it sounds a lot like he’s whistling past the graveyard.