As Hillary Clinton basks in the glow of solid wins in Tuesday’s primaries – she trounced Bernie Sanders in New Jersey and here in California and they split the other four – a curious thing has happened on the Republican side. Donald Trump, who apparently dislikes anything that he can’t see in a mirror, won only two-thirds to three-quarters of the vote in four of his five primaries Tuesday. And that’s after everybody else quit.
It’s not quite like losing an election to a dead candidate (looking at you, John Ashcroft), but it’s pretty remarkable nonetheless. In four states with Republican primaries on Tuesday, a quarter to a third of Republican voters favored people who are no longer running over the guy who has already clinched the party nomination. That doesn’t bode well for the GOP in the fall.
In California, John Kasich picked up 11% of the vote, and Ted Cruz got 9%, with Trump – running against suspended campaigns of those former rivals – winning 75% of the vote. It was similar in Montana, but Trump fared even worse in New Mexico (71%) and South Dakota (67%). In Manhattan-adjacent New Jersey, where Trump has the support of governor, and former rival, Chris Christie, Trump managed 80% of the vote. Montana and South Dakota are solid Republican states, and New Mexico has gone Democratic in recent presidential elections, though three of the last five governors were Republicans – including the current one, Susana Martinez, with whom Trump has been feuding. And while New Jersey Republicans may be more embracing of Trump, no Republican presidential candidate has won the state since the first Bush election in 1988.
Republicans – both elected officials and rank-and-file voters – haven’t lined up behind Trump yet, and they may not.
At the same time, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who earlier had endorsed Trump, announced he no longer does.
“After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world,” Kirk said, citing Trump’s ethnically offensive comments about a federal judge’s impartiality and his earlier mockery of a journalist’s physical disability.
Kirk himself uses a wheelchair after suffering a stroke in 2012, though that didn’t stop him from endorsing Trump in March, five months after Trump mocked the physical disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a joint condition that limits use of his arms. The difference now is that Kirk is facing a stiff challenge from U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost her legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down. And Illinois, Clinton’s home state, is expected to go strongly for her in the presidential race. In other words, in a tight down-ticket race, a fellow Republican views Trump as toxic.
So what does Trump’s less-than-stellar showing in his uncontested primaries mean? It’s further evidence that Republicans – both elected officials and rank-and-file voters – haven’t lined up behind Trump yet, and they may not, given Trump’s inability to muzzle his bizarre and offensive attitudes.
And it’s worth noting that much of the criticism of Trump by leading Republican figures is focused on the damage he is doing to his November chances rather than disavowing him for his vile beliefs he espouses.
Although we remain an ethnically, racially and economically divided nation, this election cycle has been remarkable for its demographic diversity. Two serious contenders for the Republican nomination were the sons of Cuban immigrants, and on the Democratic side, a woman is poised to win the nomination – a first – over a credible challenge by a Jewish democratic socialist who enjoyed the most electoral success by someone from that slice of the political spectrum since Eugene V. Debs a century ago.
Looking ahead to November, the national electorate will have a choice between cracking the ultimate glass ceiling, or voting for a rich Archie Bunker. This is where the Sanders supporters come in. To oppose or not vote for Clinton because, in essence, she’s not Sanders would leave open a door open for the election of a demagogue who stands against everything progressives are for, and whose success could destroy the very things the left holds dear.
And that’s a fight that needs to be waged.
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