After Republican elders sifted through the wreckage of their party's 2012 presidential election debacle (which is not to be confused with the party's 2008 presidential election debacle), they did two things: Commissioned a study on how the party could be reformed to prevent future debacles and another on how their primary and delegation selection process might be altered to better guarantee that the candidate the party establishment wanted could shake off unwelcome interlopers, wrap things up more quickly and turn his sights on the Big Dance, the general election campaign.
Following much deliberation and not a few martinis, the Republican National Committee brought forth a brutally blunt 98-page report titled the Growth and Opportunity Project that concluded the GOP had become smug, uncaring and so ideologically rigid that it was turning off a majority of American voters with an image that was alienating to women, minorities and the young. The report was ignored in its entirety, but a plan to streamline a primary and delegation selection process that had become cumbersome, costly and drawn out the fight over the eventual establishment nominees in 2008 and 2012 was adopted in its entirety.
The result of ignoring one report and adopting the other is on flaming display this morning as the preening peacock who made a mockery of what the party needed to become and how it could get there celebrates huge Super Tuesday victories not just in the South, but in Massachusetts and Vermont, after blasting past the regional and ideological divisions that have defined the Republican Party for decades.
That peacock, of course, is Donald Trump, who since he announced his candidacy eight months ago has vanquished one party establishment conservative darling after another -- Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham, then Jeb Bush and now Marco Rubio and John Kasich -- in appealing to the hopes and fears of the working class voters the Republican elites not only ignored, but repeatedly insulted with pledges to reward the rich with tax cuts vows to cut the legs off of the very entitlement programs that can mean the difference between survival and penury.
Trump piled up wins in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia in addition to taking the two New England states to increase his substantial if not yet insurmountable delegate lead. He finished worse than second in a mere one of the 11 contested states.
Only Ted Cruz earned a reprieve in the face of the Trump blitzkrieg with largely meaningless victories in his home state of Texas and in Oklahoma and Alaska. It was supposed to be his biggest night, but was not, and his execrably nasty back is now against the wall.
Rubio, who did finally win a state (Minnesota, whoopee!), crapped out everywhere else to confirm that he is fading fast as a credible challenge to Trump, and is in danger of missing crucial delegate thresholds in Alabama, Tennessee and Vermont that will make Trump the winner-take-all under those streamlined delegate rules. Kasich flopped badly, doing well only in Vermont, where he finished a close second to Trump.
"I am a unifier," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida after being introduced by his new best friend Chris Christie in what one pundit half-jokingly described as seeming like "a hostage situation" as it becomes apparent that the blindly ambitious New Jersey governor has awoken to the unhappy reality he is now Trump's poodle.
The New York Times had another name for Trump: Liar.
"The Republicans seem to be reeling, unable or unwilling to comprehend that a shady, bombastic liar is hardening the image of their party as a symbol of intolerance and division," declared the usually understated Times in an instant editorial, this from a newspaper that angered liberal readers for years in refusing to use the world "torture" when writing about the Bush administration's systematic abuse of enemy combatants.
In a sign of his determination to lock up the nomination swiftly, Trump did not even campaign in Super Tuesday states yesterday, visiting instead the next two and perhaps final showdown states: Florida, Rubio's home state, and Ohio, where Kasich is governor.
The Democratic primary race was over before it began. Bernie Sanders waged a dogged, grassroots-based campaign with forward looking if regrettably impractical ideas, and he is likely to stick around for a while if he keeps filling halls and his financial well does't run dry. But Hillary Clinton was much too tall a mountain for him to surmount.
Clinton's advantages were apparent on Super Tuesday as she ran the tables in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and Massachusetts on the strength of a broad, racially diverse coalition that will likely make the difference in the November election, as well as lengthening her already sizable delegate lead. About 20 percent of the total delegates were awarded yesterday, and she won most of them.
Exit polls showed Clinton winning 88 percent of the black vote in Arkansas, 84 percent in Virginia, 83 percent in Tennessee, and 82 percent in Tennessee, while she won Hispanic voters by a 2-to-1 margin in her solid victory in Texas.
"What a super Tuesday," Clinton declared at a victory rally in Miami, adding her signature line mocking Trump's slogan: "America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole -- fill in what's been hollowed out."
Trump's victories notwithstanding, he got only 36 percent of the popular vote on Super Tuesday. (Cruz got 26 percent and Rubio 22 percent.) But the chances of him losing the nomination if the Republican field narrows to a one-on-one race are diminishing because that is not going to happen anytime soon with Cruz, Rubio and even Kasich determined to stay the course.
A snapshot of Trump's Virginia victory is an instructive illustration of how his coalition, like Clinton's, is broad, although not in the same way: He won "very conservative" and "somewhat conservative" voters, placed second with self-described moderates, won 39 percent of white Evangelicals and 47 percent of voters without a college degree who make less than $50,000 a year.
If Trump does not do poorly in Florida and Ohio on what fittingly will be the Ides of March, and he is leading in both states at the moment, he may be able to clinch the nomination or at least avoid a contested convention.
Clinton, meanwhile, already is turning her sights on Trump while pretending that there still is a race between she and Sanders. She also is trying to tamp down expectations that she will defeat Trump in a landslide, and former President Bill Clinton is telling any Democrat who will listen that Trump is a savvy and formidable opponent. He is correct.
Trump's supporters don't care that he is a dangerous bigot. His insults involving John McCain as POW and Jeb Bush as weakling baby brother of a lousy president, his tangle with Pope Francis and his refusal to distance himself from former KKK leader David Duke have not hurt him.
In any event, the biggest loser on Super Tuesday was the Republican establishment, which has not only reaped what it sowed, but is clueless as to how to prevent its self destruction. Or at least being fractured into three entrenched factions with a diminished Cruz the leader of the conservative purists, a weakened Rubio the leader of the mainstream, and a dominant Trump the leader of the angry pitchfork populists.
Beginning with Christie, the endorsements of Trump by establishment Republican bigs have been rolling in. Given the choice of rejecting Trump or embracing him, my guess is that party leaders will collectively hold their noses if they can't marginalize him at the nominating convention, give him a big hug and hope for the best.
POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968. CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS.
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.
HEADLINE LYRICS FROM "IT'S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE"
© 1965 BOB DYLAN
HEADLINE LYRICS FROM "IT'S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE"
© 1965 BOB DYLAN
TOP PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK PETERSON/REDUX, MAP COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES, BOTTOM PHOTOGRAPH BY UPI