Super Tuesday – the biggest single day of primaries in the US election campaign – has come and gone, and Donald Trump has taken an even more commanding lead. Despite their optimism, his closest rivals look unable to beat him, and unless something in the campaign dynamic changes dramatically, Trump will be the Republican nominee for President this November. So how has Trump managed to do this? Is there really no hope for his opponents? And what happened on the Democratic side?
Firstly, it is now clear that Trump has successfully managed to mobilise and gain the votes of disaffected, working class white Americans who see their future fading in a globalised world. Trying to appeal to this group isn’t a bad thing, but Trump does it in the worst possible way. He not only tells them what they want to hear – I will make you great again – but he gives them the freedom to voice their darkest thoughts and fears. Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans are criminals and rapists, America’s elite are selling us out. Just like in 1930’s Germany, a worried section of the population is being seduced into blaming and hating of others instead of looking for a true way forward.
While this may be Trump’s core demographic though, he is also managing to appeal to other groups, even some Hispanics. These are the people who don’t embrace the rougher parts of his message, but who are drawn to the fact that he stands outside the usual politics and political messages. Faced with the same set of politicians who have got nothing done over the last 4 years, they’re willing to try anything different.
And it is this that is terrifying the Republican elite. It is slowly sinking in that Trump has built up support that others cannot match. His two semi-rivals, Senators Cruz and Rubio, are putting a brave face on last night, but Super Tuesday left them hurting. Cruz is now portraying himself as the only rival to Trump, but he lost most of the Southern states he was relying on, and performing badly in the northern states. Rubio on the other hand still thinks of himself as the ‘establishment choice’, and the only real alternative, but he’s won exactly one state so far. He’s even far behind in his home state of Florida, and Trump knows that if he can sink Rubio there, the Senator is done for.
In essence, all the scenarios in which Trump is defeated seem like wishful thinking, relying on the whole race turning around in a way it never has before. There is one way that the Republican elite could take over from Trump, and that is if his rivals manage to ensure that he doesn’t get a clear majority. In this case we could see a ‘brokered convention‘, where (to put it simply) the delegates of each state at the Republican convention can vote for which ever candidate they want. The problem is though that if Trump sees his victory stolen in this way, he’s very likely to run as an independent, giving the election straight to the Democrats.
For their part, the Democratic race was fairly simple – Hilary Clinton extended her lead. Sanders seems unable to broaden his appeal, and it would be very difficult for him to win now. He’s run an excellent race, and helped set the tone for the campaign, but he can’t really win it. It looks like the election this autumn will be between the ultimate establishment candidate – First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State – and the ultimate outsider, a xenophobic, arrogant, bullying, “short-fingered vulgarian” who’s a cunning manipulator, but utterly incompetent at everything else. I still think it’ll be a landslide for Clinton – but in this election cycle, it’s becoming hard to say.