John L. Micek, 3/2/2016 [Archive]

Christie's Face Spoke Volumes

By John L. Micek

The look on Chris Christie's face said it all.

Standing just a little behind and to the right of Donald Trump in Palm Beach on Tuesday night, all of the stages of grief seemed to pass across the Garden State Guv's face all at once.

Christie's worried and clouded brow raced from denial to anger to bargaining to depression, skipping right past acceptance, seemingly to finally ask of himself "My God, what have I done?"

Christie's shock endorsement last week conferred the mantle of Republican establishment acceptance on Trump, the GOP's prohibitive favorite to win the 2016 nomination.

And with that in hand, The Donald cleaned up, winning seven of 11 Republican states holding caucuses or primaries on Super Tuesday.

In several states, including Alabama and Massachusetts, Trump doubled up on his GOP rivals. He now holds 292 delegates, with 1,237 needed to win the nomination.

And thus was Trump's hostile takeover of the Republican Party complete. And it's hard to imagine how his competition dislodges him now.

Yes, Sen. Ted Cruz won three states, including, critically, his home state of Texas, leaving the night with 188 delegates. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida limped to victory in Minnesota's Republican caucus, going home with a total of 98 delegates.

Rubio's and Cruz's wins were enough to keep their presidential hopes alive. With winner-take-all states beckoning, the last, two viable members of the Republican undercard are hoping to take their fight all the way to the GOP convention in Cleveland in July.

Ever the sore winner, Trump congratulated Cruz on his hard-fought win in Texas. And he took yet another pop at Rubio, who now occupies the whipping-boy post formerly held by Jeb Bush.

"I know it was a very tough night for Marco Rubio...." Trump said, according to The Miami Herald and other outlets. "He is a lightweight, as I've said many times before."

Republican leaders, who fatally ignored Trump in hopes that he would simply go away, and who instead now find the monster they created turning on them, face a Faustian bargain.

Here's why.

Republican turnout shattered records on Tuesday night.

In Virginia, for instance,1.02 million voters showing up, an increase of 109 percent. In Texas, turnout shot up by 102 percent, to 2.76 million. In Alabama, there was a 54 percent increase, with 856,123 voters showing up to cast ballots.

That's the kind of turnout that wins elections, strongly suggesting that Trump has made good on his promises to expand the GOP base by wooing both Democrats and independents to his cause.

But Republican leaders now must ask themselves whether they want to buy into Trump's hateful and divisive rhetoric in exchange for a shot at beating Hillary Clinton in the fall.

Moreover, they must ask themselves whether, by doing so, they want to jeopardize the down ballot chances of key members of the Senate.

"We can't have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races. That's a concern of mine," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said, according to The Hill.

Democrats, meanwhile, face challenges of their own. Clinton solidified her hold on the race, also winning seven of 11 states, and increasing her delegate count to 544.

Sen. Bernie Sanders won four states, including his home state of Vermont, keeping his own campaign alive.

But Democrats face a serious enthusiasm gap compared to Republicans. Some 5.6 million Democrats cast their ballots on Tuesday, compared to a total of 8.3 million Republicans.

The tallies, as NBC News reported, were an exact reversal of the results of the 2008 race that catapulted Barack Obama in the White House.

In Florida, Clinton said she wanted to make America "whole" again, because it was already great. Trump, countering, pronounced the slogan weak, and said more people would be interested in making America great than whole.

The increased rhetoric between the two signaled a continued shift in the spring campaign's tone. The two frontrunners are now looking past the primary to the fall general election fight, where they are almost certain to face each other.

But until that happens, voters seem to be in for more of Trump's bombastic rhetoric.

On Tuesday, seemingly unprovoked, Trump tweeted that voters in South Carolina were "embarrassed" by Gov. Nicki Haley, who had endorsed Rubio in last month's Palmetto State's primary.

Haley's riposte was "Bless Your Heart," which is the way well-brought up Southern women tell rude people to perform an anatomically impossible act on themselves.

After Tuesday, however, the sentiments of Haley seem to be in the minority. Many more Republicans appear to be willing to embrace Trump and the ugliness of what he stands for, than those who'd offer him a gracious "Bless your heart."

Still, Donald Trump, bless your heart.

——

©Copyright 2016 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at jmicek@pennlive.com.

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