More by necessity than design, some of the leading Republicans opposed to Donald Trump are completely reversing their thinking about how he might be stopped after his sweeping wins on Super Tuesday.More.
After Trump’s victories in seven of 11 states this week, some of his key Republican critics are moving from a long-shot bet on beating him through consolidation to an even riskier wager on denying him the nomination through fragmentation.
Before Tuesday, Republican leaders had almost universally bet on consolidation: clearing the field to unite behind one alternative to the front-runner. But after Trump captured states across the GOP’s geographic and demographic spectrum, those resisting him are now talking about a strategy of fragmentation: encouraging Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich, Trump’s principal remaining rivals, to informally divide the country and simultaneously challenge him on different battlefields.
The goal is to splinter the vote enough to prevent Trump from acquiring the 1,237 delegates he needs for a first ballot nomination at the GOP convention in Cleveland. “I don’t think consolidation is the path forward; I think that was a December option,” says Stuart Stevens, the senior strategist for Mitt Romney in 2012 and a leading Trump critic. “I think people other than Donald Trump winning delegates is the answer, and that is better achieved not through consolidation.”
Katie Packer Gage, the executive director of Our Principles PAC, the leading conservative group targeting Trump, has now also concluded that fragmentation offers a better chance of stopping him than consolidation, if only because the latter is so unlikely. “Whatever [is] the best option might be irrelevant,” she says. “That might be the only option. There probably does have to be a multi-pronged effort to deny him the nomination.”
It would be tempting to call this a strategy of divide and conquer-except that would understate the position of weakness from which this discussion springs. “I would call it divide and survive,” Stevens says. “No one is going to be conquering.”
Among Republicans nervous about Trump, the talk of consolidation hasn’t stopped. But nothing about Tuesday’s results encouraged it. Instead it underscored the limits confronting each of the candidates chasing Trump, even as it demonstrated both the front-runner’s strengths and continuing challenges.
In most respects, Trump’s performance this week was dominant. Trump crossed the geographic and religious divide that stymied the past two GOP nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, by winning northern and border states with relatively fewer evangelicals that they carried (Vermont, Massachusetts, Virginia) but also taking the heavily evangelical Southern states they lost (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee). And Trump continued to demonstrate enormous appeal for the party’s turbulent blue-collar wing, carrying at least 46 percent of non-college whites in Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Massachusetts.
But in other ways, Trump’s performance hinted at lingering resistance...
Well, we've got Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, and Nebraska caucuses on Saturday, as well as the Louisiana primary. On Tuesday, Idaho, Michigan, and Mississippi hold their primaries, and Hawaii holds its caucuses. We'll know how well this fragmentation strategy is working out real soon, and on March 15th Florida and Ohio hold their primaries, both of which are winner take all. If Kasich and Rubio lose, it's pretty much all over.
I'll have more, as always.