Back in July, I wrote a light-hearted piece trying to imagine the acceptance speech that Donald Trump might give at the 2016 Republican convention. The notion that such a speech might actually take place, that Trump really might be standing on the stage in Cleveland this summer, basking in the national spotlight as the GOP nominee, didn't seem real.
Well, it seems real now. Republican voters in Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and other states are going to the polls today, and are expected to give Trump a resounding victory. The Republican establishment, still trying to rally itself behind Marco Rubio, is now focusing on the March 15 primary in Florida as its last stand.
And even there, the signs are ominous. The RealClear polling average for Florida gives Trump a lead of almost 20 points in Rubio's home state. Early voting and absentee voting is already underway in Florida, and by the time March 15 rolls around, roughly half the ballots in the state will already have been cast.
According to Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, 580,000 absentee ballots had already been received by election supervisors as of Friday. More than 300,000 of those ballots were cast by Republicans, and according to Smith, almost 131,000 came from Republicans who were registered to vote back in 2012 but didn't bother to vote in that year's crucial GOP primary.
But they're coming out this year, accounting for almost 44 percent of the 2016 primary electorate.
"These low propensity voters – who were registered as GOP four years ago but weren’t compelled to vote for other non-establishment candidates, such as Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul or Herman Cain, to name a few of the GOP contenders that year – may be a good sign for Donald Trump," Smith concludes.
The likelihood of a Trump nomination is also placing other GOP officials in a delicate position.
"There’s no place in our society for racism and bigotry, and I found Mr. Trump’s response to David Duke and the KKK disgusting and offensive,” New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said Monday. But not so disgusting and offensive that Ayotte would refuse to back Trump in the general election. Her campaign made clear that "“Senator Ayotte intends to support the Republican nominee."
Sen. John Cornyn made a similar statement. “It’s just implausible to me that (Trump) doesn’t know who David Duke is or what his history is. So that’s deeply troubling,” Cornyn said. But he immediately went on to confirm that “I’ll support the party’s nominee — to do otherwise is to basically to support Hillary Clinton — and I’m not going to do that.”
Some are making the opposite call.
"This latest is more than utterly disgusting," writes Stuart Stevens, a longtime GOP political strategist who ran Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. "It really makes it impossible to pretend that Trump is not only an idiot but also a racist idiot."
He then pens a powerful summation:
"If Trump wins the nomination, politicians who support him will be acquiescing to, if not actively aiding, his hate. Donors, including the corporate donors, whom every convention depends on for support, cannot support a man with Trump’s unbalanced, bigoted views. How can any corporation justify to its board that it donated funds to support a bigot?
If the Republican Party stands for nothing but winning elections, it deserves to lose. It will with Trump. But on the day after the election, the pain will not be just that the White House, the Senate, and possibly the House of Representatives are now in Democratic hands.
No, the greatest pain will be from the shame of pretending that an evil man was not evil and a hater really didn’t mean what he said. We hold elections every two years, and there is always the chance to regain lost offices. But there is no mechanism to regain one’s dignity and sense of decency once squandered.
That defeat is permanent. To support Trump is to support a bigot. It’s really that simple."
It really is.