Trump’s hammerlock on the GOP nomination

Donald Trump greeted supporters after speaking at a caucus night watch party in Las Vegas Tuesday.
Donald Trump greeted supporters after speaking at a caucus night watch party in Las Vegas Tuesday.Getty Images

Donald Trump won big again last night. Within seconds of the polls closing in Nevada’s chaotic GOP caucus, Trump was declared the winner, giving him three victories in four contests.

Maybe now it will begin to dawn on Republican leaders how close Trump is to putting a hammerlock on this race. He heads into next week’s slate of 10 Super Tuesday primaries with the upper hand. Polls out in the last 48 hours have him up 9 points in Georgia, 34 in Massachusetts, and 15 in Vermont. The only places where he is not leading is Texas, Ted Cruz’s home state, and Arkansas, where a poll from earlier this month had Cruz narrowly up 4 points. There is talk that Marco Rubio could make a push in Minnesota, Virginia, or Colorado, and Cruz might be competitive in Alaska, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Trump could sweep on Super Tuesday.


That would put him in the driver’s seat — and if Republicans think they can stop him after that, they’re dreaming. A week after Super Tuesday comes Michigan, where Trump has a double-digit lead. Then it is on Ohio, where he has a narrow advantage over the state’s governor, John Kasich. The Buckeye State goes the same day as North Carolina, where Trump has a 9-point lead, and Illinois, where he has 13-point lead.

What is perhaps most remarkable about these poll results is the breadth of Trump’s coalition. He’s winning in the Deep South, the Northeast, the Far West and the Rust Belt. He’s ahead in blue and red states. He polls well among secular and religious voters. In South Carolina he won 29 percent of very conservative voters, 35 percent of somewhat conservative voters, and 34 percent of moderates. No other candidate in this race can boast the kind of broad-based support that Trump is assembling.


Now in a world where Republican candidates were not playing their version of a prisoner’s dilemma, there might be a way to stop him — rally around one candidate who could block his path to the nomination. One thing about Trump that seems clear is that he has a low ceiling of support. With a third or more of Republicans holding an unfavorable view of him, an “Anybody But Trump” campaign could potentially succeed — but only if someone drops out of the race. But since both Rubio or Cruz can claim to being the one to fight it out with Trump, neither will be inclined to leave — and certainly not before Super Tuesday.

The problem for both is that their support is narrow. Cruz is deeply reliant on evangelical and ultra-conservative voters (even though he lost evangelicals to Trump in South Carolina), but has shown little ability, so far, to appeal to a broader group of voters. Rubio has little true base of support, except, it seems among the Republican establishment. He has a narrow advantage among college-educated voters, but here he competes with the fourth wheel in the race — John Kasich, who is targeting Michigan and Ohio, where he will almost certainly take votes away from Rubio. Indeed, in the days since his fifth-place finish in South Carolina, Kasich has received an infusion of cash, as two hedge fund billionaires have pledged to fund his super PAC. He’s not going anywhere.


The bottom line is that if all these candidates stay in the race, it’s likely that Trump will prevail. Republicans now have six days to figure out a strategy to stop the unthinkable. The problem, however, is that they don’t seem to realize how serious things have gotten. By Tuesday, this thing could be over.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.