The race for the presidential nominations isn't over, but it’s getting there.
Super Tuesday all but cemented the leads of the front-runners in each party, making a certain kind of history in each case.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likely to emerge as the first woman to lead a major party’s ticket. On the Republican side, Donald Trump’s anti-establishment bid would represent the kind of reordering of the Republican Party that happens once in a generation, if that. Here are some key observations:
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Trump didn’t win every state, but he won most of them and fell below second place in only one Super Tuesday state, Minnesota. In some cases, he won by large margins, increasing his lead in delegates.
There is little evidence that any hurdles lie in Trump’s path. He wins nearly every demographic group on the Republican side and among a wide swath of ideologies, according to exit polls conducted for a consortium of the television networks and the Associated Press. What’s more, his voters generally made up their minds long before other candidates’ voters, and are undeterred by his numerous controversies.
Trump got into a tangle with Pope Francis and George W. Bush before the South Carolina primary last month. Didn’t matter. This week, he hesitated before distancing himself from the support of David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader. Didn’t matter.
Trump treated his news conference Tuesday night in Palm Beach, Fla., like the start of a general election campaign, showering praise on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, promising to unify the Republican Party and sharply criticizing Clinton as a custodian of the nation’s failures.
Marco Rubio – a nice young man with a bright future
How long can you live in the future tense? That’s been Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness in this campaign. From the beginning, he has based his appeal on his rhetorical promise of generational change and the political promise that he could unite the Republican Party’s multiple factions, once people forgot about this Trump fellow.
But promise and good wishes ain’t votes. And Rubio hasn’t been able to get enough of them, winning just his first nominating contest Tuesday in Minnesota's caucuses.
Will he overcome Trump's lead in the polls in his home state of Florida on March 15? That may not matter much at this point.
Rubio acted oblivious to it all as he stood in Miami’s Tropical Park on Tuesday night, flashing his grin.
“We are so excited about what lies ahead for our campaign,” he told supporters.
GOP voters got out their middle fingers again
There was faint hope this week among the GOP establishment that Rubio’s sharp attacks on Trump, coupled with Trump’s awkward handling of a KKK-linked endorsement, could reopen the race.
But voters had another idea. The establishment’s chosen candidate, Rubio, has yet to make a serious case. He won Minnesota's caucuses and came close in Virginia, but a strong showing from the Washington suburbs -- where many in the political class live -- was not enough to give Rubio a win.
Trump’s dominance is a sharp rebuke to the GOP. Now many party leaders have a seminal choice: whether to distance themselves from Trump’s impure conservatism and polarizing rhetoric or to embrace Trump and hope for the best.
Cruz has a decent night, but decent may not cut it
Cruz’s campaign was designed to capitalize on Super Tuesday’s strong Southern flavor to put him in contention by now. The flaw in that argument became apparent in last month’s South Carolina’s primary, where he came in third place despite a large proportion of the arch-conservative and evangelical voters he was depending on for support.
Cruz won both his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma on Tuesday. and was later declared the winner of the Alaska caucuses. But he failed to get the kind of sweeping victory that his campaign once banked on.
Exit polls told the story. Though nearly 4 in 5 Republican voters in Alabama identified as evangelical or born-again Christian, those same voters favored Trump by a large margin.
His Tuesday night speech sounded as though he was the victor: “We are the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump once, twice, three times!” (He made the pronouncement before Rubio was declared the winner in Minnesota and before his own Alaska victory.)
But his call to the GOP to unite around his campaign is unlikely to resonate. Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich both see themselves as the top Trump alternative. And many Republican leaders despise Cruz more than they do Trump.
Cruz has enough victories and delegates to make a case to keep going, but he needs to find a new recipe to mount a serious challenge to Trump.
Democrats’ divide is not the same as Republicans’ upheaval
There was a notion not long ago that the Democratic establishment was facing the same challenge with Bernie Sanders that Republicans were facing with Trump. But it has not held.
Democrats have plenty of problems with their front-runner, Clinton, including a lack of enthusiasm that is particularly acute among younger voters and concerns that her email controversy will linger into the general election.
But the minorities who make up the party’s backbone continue to vote for Clinton – including more than 80% of Georgia’s and Virginia’s African American Democratic voters and more than 90% in Alabama, according to exit polls.
And the size of the Sanders revolution is nowhere near the magnitude of the Trump/Cruz faction that has upended the Republican Party. Exit polls showed a stark difference between the parties on what they prioritize in a presidential candidate. Democrats value experience over outsider status almost 4 to 1. Republicans value outsider status over experience by a narrower margin, about 50% to 40%.
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