HOUSTON – Donald J. Trump continued his sprint toward the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday virtually unobstructed, securing the lion’s share of delegates from 11 state contests on the most consequential day of the primary calendar.
Supporters of the New York real estate tycoon and reality television star – who won seven states, including much of the American South, on Tuesday – once again crossed demographic lines, according to exit polls. He won decisively in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee, as well as in Vermont and Massachusetts, leaving delegate scraps to his remaining four rivals: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson.
“I’m a unifier,” Trump said at a press conference in Palm Beach, Florida, where he hopes to trounce Rubio on March 15 on his home turf. “Our party is expanding, and all you have to do is take a look at the primary states where I’ve won.”
On Wednesday, Carson appeared set to end his bid after failing to win a single state in all the primaries held so far.
“I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results,” Carson said in a statement. He said he would also skip the next Republican debate, scheduled for Thursday night in Detroit.
Cruz, meanwhile, won his home state of Texas on Tuesday – a significant prize – as well as Oklahoma and Alaska.
Rubio secured his first primary win of the season in Minnesota, and picked up several more delegates nationwide, as Super Tuesday contests allocate their delegates to the national convention on a vote-proportionate basis.
In an aggressive speech in Stafford, near Houston, at the Redneck Country Club, Cruz urged Rubio to leave the race so that Republicans can coalesce behind his campaign in the fight against Trump – a “Washington deal-maker, profane and vulgar, who has a lifelong pattern of using government power for personal gain,” he said.
“I will rip to shreds this catastrophic nuclear deal” [with Iran], Cruz told the crowd, where both American and Israeli flags waved.
“I will stand unapologetically with the State of Israel.”
Rubio also promised to restart the US-Israel relationship in his speech on Tuesday night, attacking Trump for his promise to be “neutral” in the Middle East peace process.
“Allies like Israel – we will always be on their side,” Rubio said. “On my first day in office, we will cancel Barack Obama’s deal with Iran.”
Trump now appears on a glidepath to the Republican nomination.
And after Tuesday, the fight enters a consequential stage in which states begin to assign their delegates on a winner-take-all basis.
For that reason, March 15 is a pivotal moment for Rubio and Kasich, who will both battle Trump for first place in their home states of Florida and Ohio, which offer 99 and 66 delegates, respectively. Victories against Trump would not only keep their campaigns afloat, but would deny him crucial delegates in his fight to reach the requisite 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination.
Trump ended Tuesday night with an estimated 285 delegates.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, handily beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Georgia and Virginia, as well as in Tennessee, Alabama, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Texas and the territory of American Samoa. Sanders won his home state of Vermont by a significant margin, as well as Minnesota, Oklahoma and Colorado.
With an increasing delegate margin over her only rival – she has secured nearly three times his number of pledged delegates, as well as super delegate support – Clinton appears poised to clinch the Democratic nomination, solidifying her place in history as the first female presidential nominee for a major American political party. In beating Sanders, she will have bettered the first Jewish contender ever to win any presidential nominating contest.
Clinton’s rhetoric on the campaign trail has already turned from Sanders to the Republican field, and specifically to Trump, who holds equally as strong a position in the party he calls his own.
“The stakes in this election have never been higher, and the rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,” Clinton told supporters in Miami. “Trying to divide America between us and them is wrong, and we’re not going to let it work.”
But Trump, too, will be making history of his own kind, possibly breezing to the GOP nomination spending little money and with virtually no establishment party support to speak of. Indeed, the Republican National Committee and its largest donors now fear Trump may wreak irreparable damage – if not a full splintering – to the Republican Party.