Super Tuesday on March 1 was supposed to be the day when the primary races were largely settled with a clear winner emerging, with all the other candidates acknowledging reality and dropping out of the race and throwing their weight behind the party nominee, enabling that person to focus for the next eight months on uniting the party and crafting a message that would win the general election in November.
That this did not happen on the Republican side is clear. While Trump did come out of it as the dominant favorite, he did not really crush his rivals and the results provided enough of a sliver of hope to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and John Kasich to enable them to cling to the illusion that it is worth soldiering on, waiting for the Trump implosion that always seems to be tantalizingly just over the horizon.
Only Ben Carson seems to have finally realized his time is done though his withdrawal was couched in his usual vague way. It is a little surprising that he did not wait until after the debate tonight to announce his withdrawal, especially since it takes place in Detroit, his hometown. Given his tendency to over-dramatize his life, I am surprised that he did not take the opportunity to take part in the debate and use his closing statement to make a dramatic announcement, perhaps even with a prayer to his god to look after the country now that he can no longer be his servant in the White House. That would make for great TV.
That Trump has sowed confusion within the Republican party is obvious. It has split into three camps. Then there are those who say they will vote Republican whether they like Trump or not. There are those who were earlier criticizing Trump strongly but are now saying that maybe he is not so bad and will likely embrace him once that appears truly inevitable. Finally there are those who vow they will never support him if he is the nominee. This has two subgroups, one consisting of those who will support Hillary Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee or those who say they will sit out the election. There are some in this group who may change their minds later and go back into the Republican fold.
But Trump has sown confusion elsewhere too. One is within the evangelical movement and the split there is based on whether one is a ‘true’ evangelical or not. Trump is winning among evangelicals but he seems to be winning ‘nominal’ evangelicals more than the devout ones. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and considered an influential evangelical leader, has taken to task some of his fellow evangelical leaders (whom he does not name) who he says have betrayed that word by supporting Trump (whom he also does not name) whom he clearly despises. He claims that these false prophets have proven right those critics who said that evangelicals were driven more by politics than religion.
For years, secular progressives have said that evangelical social action in America is not about religious conviction but all about power. They have implied that the goal of the Religious Right is to cynically use the “moral” to get to the “majority,” not the other way around.
This year, a group of high-profile old-guard evangelicals has proven these critics right.
This has caused him to renounce the label of evangelical in favor of “gospel Christian”.
But that is not all the division Trump has sown. Another is in the conservative media. That group is also all over the place, with a solid core of Trump supporters while the anti-Trump faction lurches from support of one candidate to another. Trump seems to have got some of the most vocal of them in his corner and this has put Fox News in a quandary as to what to do. While Trump is good for their immediate ratings, they are clearly not sure about his impact on their long-term interests. It seemed like they were backing Rubio’s effort to dethrone Trump but his lackluster showing on Tuesday has seriously dampened their enthusiasm. The withering of their Rubio hopes was almost palpable as the results came in.
As Gabriel Sherman writes:
In his role as the donor class’s darling, Marco Rubio has enjoyed support from the Republicans’ media arm, Fox News. Throughout the primary, Fox provided Rubio with friendly interviews and key bookings, including the first prime-time response to Barack Obama’s Oval Office address on ISIS. Many of the network’s top pundits, including Stephen Hayes and Charles Krauthammer, have been enthusiastic boosters. Bill Sammon, Fox’s Washington managing editor, is the father of Rubio’s communications director, Brooke Sammon.
But this alliance now seems to be over. According to three Fox sources, Fox chief Roger Ailes has told people he’s lost confidence in Rubio’s ability to win. “We’re finished with Rubio,” Ailes recently told a Fox host. “We can’t do the Rubio thing anymore.”
The article goes on to describe the infighting among Fox News personalities about whom to support. Tonight’s debate hosted by them may provide indications of either their confusion or whether they have settled on a coherent strategy. Will they try to destroy Trump? Or will they think that destroying Trump means destroying the party and decide that they have no choice but to deal with him and direct their most pointed questions to Cruz and Rubio?
As they say in the news business, stay tuned!