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Super Tuesday 2016 analysis, live results: Why Donald Trump's success benefits Hillary Clinton

March 1, 2016 9:50 PM
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Super Tuesday takes place on March 1. This post will provide hour-by-hour news, analysis, exit polls and results throughout the day of the contests.

Democratic turnout data is coming in. The African-American vote powered Hillary Clinton's victory in South Carolina on Saturday, and African Americans are coming out in significant numbers to vote in Tuesday's Southern primaries as well. There are, however, some Super Tuesday states whose demographics favor Bernie Sanders, including his home state of Vermont.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, talking to reporters in Minneapolis on Tuesday, acknowledged that businessman Donald Trump "could be on the path" to the Republican presidential nomination despite advocating using torture on terror suspects, mass deportations of illegal immigrants and banning Muslims from entering the country.

But Clinton, who's leading the race to become the Democrats' presidential standard-bearer, says she doesn't necessarily see Trump as the most objectionable candidate the GOP could put up. "I think every one of them has views and have made comments that are deeply troubling to what I want to see our country stand for," she said. "So whoever they nominate, I'll be prepared to run against them if I'm so fortunate to be the nominee."

Clinton, a New Yorker, didn't get to cast a vote on Tuesday, but her rival for the Democratic nomination did. Said Sen. Bernie Sanders after leaving his polling place in Vermont: "I will tell you, after a lot of thought, I voted for me for president."

Texas is one of Super Tuesday's biggest prizes. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz needs a win in his home state to keep alive his argument that he's the best alternative to businessman Donald Trump, but Trump is pushing hard to win in the Lone Star State. For the Democrats, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has worked hard in Texas -- he flew directly there from South Carolina on Saturday -- but the final polls put former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead by 20 percentage points. Here politics experts at Dallas' Southern Methodist University weigh in on what their state's primary and the rest of the day's contests mean.

SMU communications professor Stephanie Martin says Trump's success represents a significant step backward for our culture. "It has never before happened that after an idea is delegitimized, it came back to be acceptable," Martin says. "For Trump to win [the presidency], it would have to become okay to be racist again, okay to be sexist again and okay to be against gay marriage again. You have a party now espousing ideas that have lost in the marketplace of ideas. And I think that puts the legitimacy of the party at stake and I don't know how that plays out."

Martin's SMU colleague, political scientist Matthew Wilson, agrees, and he says Clinton stands to benefit from Trump's success.

"Hillary will have a big night ... against Sanders in the southern states, but the bigger thing for her is what happens on the Republican side," Wilson says. "She'll have a big smile with every state that comes in for Donald Trump. The great irony of this race is she loses head-to-head polling against every Republican candidate except the one the Republican Party seems hell-bent on nominating. She could back into the presidency, overcoming her general unpopularity and baggage, if the alternative is Trump."

So GOP insiders want to find an alternative to Trump, but it might be too late. "I think Cruz will win Texas and Trump will win everywhere else," Wilson says. "In states outside Texas, it will be (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who usually finishes second), not Cruz, and that will perpetuate the confusion about who is the Trump alternative. Cruz will say he's won two states and Rubio hasn't won anything, but Rubio will say he has broader support and that he finished ahead of Cruz in almost every state. That confusion plays to Trump's advantage. The longer Trump avoids a one-on-one race, the easier it is for him to secure the nomination."

SMU communications professor Rita Kirk says Rubio is truly the only realistic alternative to Trump in the Republican race, even if Cruz manages to win Texas. Polling shows that Cruz, not Trump, has the highest negatives among Republicans.

"We've done focus groups across the country this year and people have consistently felt Cruz is untruthful," Kirk says. "When he runs on a platform of 'TrusTed,' that can be damaging. There are a lot of people who would like his evangelical background, but they're untrusting of it. A lot of (Texans) today say they would not have voted for him during his senate campaign if he'd articulated the views then that he's articulating now on issues such as immigration."

The opinion of Cruz's senate colleagues famously fit into this pattern. Not a single senator has endorsed Cruz's presidential run. "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said last week.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has talked up Reagan Democrats coming to his side in a general election. He might need a lot of them if anti-Trump Republicans move beyond the "#NeverTrump hashtag and attempt to form a new Republican Party.

Conservatives unhappy with Trump could simply cross party lines and vote for the Democratic nominee, which likely will be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But there's no reason to expect that to happen. The Republican establishment has spent two decades demonizing Clinton, which is partly what led to Trump's rise.

That's the catch-22 the GOP has put itself in. The Republican and Democratic parties have each seen off radical insurgencies in the past. The Democrats ran Soviet-appeasing lefties out of the party in the 1940s. The GOP pushed away the far-right Birchers in the early 1960s. But Trumpism is different. The Republican Party itself created the Trump phenomenon, spending years ginning up anti-establishment outrage in an effort to bring in new members and stymie Democrats who believe in hands-on government. It became unofficial party policy to convince people that Bill and Hillary Clinton, and then Barack Obama, weren't just ideological opponents; they were anti-American, truly corrupt, even evil. A lot of Americans have been convinced, and a fair number of them appear to believe that a strongman -- the descriptor for Trump used by the conservative journal National Review -- is needed to win this fight to the death. (To be sure, the GOP hasn't been alone in its destructive approach to politics in recent years. Democrats have done some Republican-bashing of their own.)

This leaves no good options for Republicans who believe that Trump, with his nativist appeals and entertainment-industry approach to campaigning, will bring about the death of the GOP. If the businessman and reality-TV star is the nominee, ideologically committed Republicans, if they truly are ideologically committed, have no option but to offer up a shadow Republican Party in hopes of saving the real thing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has already suggested as much by saying Republican senators facing tough re-election races can run against Trump.

The next logical step is a second Republican presidential candidate in the general election, to guarantee Trump's defeat and just maybe, if Trump spins completely out of control, buck history and score a victory. Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse says he's on the lookout for "some third candidate -- a conservative option, a Constitutionalist."

For mainstream Republicans, there may not really be a downside to such a Hail Mary attempt. Trump threatens to turn a Republican Party that has defined itself for 30 years by a core set of values and turn it into a nonsensical and ultimately doomed powder keg of nativism. "If a Trump nomination happens, it will imply that the Republican Party has been weakened and is perhaps even on the brink of failure, unable to coordinate on a plan to stop Trump despite the existential threat he poses to it," writes pollster/analyst Nate Silver.

For his part, Trump continues to ride high. He very well could score a clean sweep of the Super Tuesday states, which would make it exceptionally difficult for another candidate to catch him. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, following Trump's lead, has begun throwing bombs at Trump, but the attacks don't appear to be working. Rubio did not lead in a single Super Tuesday state in the final polls before the voting began.

"While Rubio attacked Trump [at an Oklahoma City rally], national cable networks played his speech live -- a favor granted constantly to Trump, rarely to anyone else. When Rubio switched tacks to deliver his positive stump speech, the networks cut away."

Presidential primary history shows that if you win New Hampshire, and you win South Carolina, and you win a handful of states on Super Tuesday, you are definitely going to be the nominee of your party.

"It would involve a clear declaration by as many voices as possible that Trump would be unacceptable as a president, accompanied by a massive media campaign designed to undermine the core of his appeal. It would mean a frontal attack on his character and temperament -- and a willingness to absorb all the blows he is brilliantly capable of launching. It's not clear that they could even pull it off at this late date -- and if you look at what the options really are, it's not clear the party would avoid serious long-term damage if they did. But at this point, this implausible nuclear option is the only remotely plausible approach."

Former Republican Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, who opposes Trump's candidacy, hopes there still remain other, less destructive possibilities. "This is an existential choice," he told the Washington Post. He added: "I'm hopeful the party won't destroy itself."

But the party does seem to be in destruction mode. Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have turned up their attacks on Trump. And mainstream Republicans who have so far stayed silent on the businessman/reality-TV star are beginning to make their distaste known.

The conservative journal National Review got out front on the anti-Trump movement, denouncing Trump in January as wholly unworthy of the Republican nomination and a threat to everything substantive the conservative movement has worked for over the past 50 years.

Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, the GOP's 2010 California gubernatorial candidate and a long-time backer of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, erupted in outrage when Christie endorsed Trump last week. She accused Christie of selling out his principles in hopes of landing the vice-presidential slot.

"Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism," she said. "Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. Christie knows all that and indicated as much many times publicly. The governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie's donors and supporters to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will. For some of us, principle and country still matter."

That certainly is true, but we don't know how many Republican leaders like Whitman prize principle and country, and how many will prioritize getting on the bandwagon.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has been among the most vocal anti-Trump Republicans. "My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical match-up between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them," he said recently. "I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option. I do not claim to speak for a movement, but I suspect I am far from alone."

Long-time Republican political strategist Kevin Madden said he's always supported the GOP nominee but this year he's "prepared to write somebody in (on the general election ballot) so that I have a clear conscience."

"It's just dreadful," Johns Hopkins University professor Eliot Cohen said of Trump's success. "And I should be clear, I am a Republican. It's extremely painful."

Such talk from Republican insiders doesn't seem to bother Trump in the slightest. His response is to double-down on his populist, anti-establishment appeal. "I'm representing a lot of anger out there," he said. "We're not angry people, but we're angry at the way this country's being run. And a lot of them are angry at the way the Republican Party is being run."

This past weekend Republican stalwarts saw two unsavory possibilities about their party's presidential front-runner come to the fore.

A) Donald Trump is a racist who values the support of white supremacists.

B) Donald Trump is not a racist but is a shameless opportunist who doesn't want to alienate white-supremacist voters and believes he has the political skill to have it both ways.

Here's what happened: notorious white supremacist David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who once served as a Louisiana state legislator, said on his radio program last week that "voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage."

"I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I'd have to look."

Trump, the public record makes clear, is well aware of who David Duke is. He has distanced himself from Duke in the past and has referred to him as far back as the 1990s.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, arguably Trump's top rival for the Republican nomination, jumped on Trump's comments. "We cannot be a party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan," he said.

All the other presidential candidates from both parties offered similar condemnation.

Will this David Duke brouhaha do what all of Trump's other controversial statements over the past nine months failed to do? That is, cause Republican voters to reject him at the polls?

Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are working feverishly to score some surprise victories in Tuesday's 11-state "Super Tuesday" contests and thus prevent a Trump sweep. Rubio spent the weekend painting Trump as a "con man" who isn't a real conservative. When someone at a rally yelled out that Rubio was an "empty suit," the Florida senator joked that the man was the "valedictorian of Trump University," Trump's defunct, for-profit business school that is facing fraud allegations.

The "Super Tuesday" contests will go a long way toward deciding who will land both the Republican and Democratic nominations. The string of Tuesday elections is also being called the "SEC primary," a nod to the South's dominating college football conference. But while the voting extravaganza is weighted toward the South, other parts of the country are also represented, which could be good news for the Democrats' Bernie Sanders and -- maybe, possibly, in-someone's-wildest-dream -- the Republicans' Ben Carson and John Kasich.

The Republicans and Democrats hold primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

Republicans also caucus in Alaska, and the Democrats do so in both Colorado and the territory of American Samoa. (Colorado Republicans hold a caucus too, but, bizarrely, they're only picking delegates, not candidates.)

More appears to be at stake for Republicans than Democrats on Tuesday. For months, Republican poohbahs have been waiting for Trump to implode. They figured it would happen after the real-estate magnate and reality-TV star criticized 2008 Republican nominee John McCain for being a POW during the Vietnam War. They were sure it would happen when he declared that Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly was "bleeding from her ... whatever" after she asked him a tough question. Trump's outrageous, look-at-me statements continued, week after week, and yet his poll numbers kept getting stronger. In February he won the New Hampshire primary, the South Carolina primary and the Nevada Caucus, each by a wide margin.

So now his fellow Republican candidates have finally turned their attention to knocking him down. And, so far, they appear to be doing a pretty good job at it. Rubio, flipping the script on an attack once directed at him, is mocking Trump for saying the same meaningless things over and over again. "He says five things," Rubio charged in last Thursday's debate. "Everyone's dumb, he's going to make America great again. Win, win, win, he's winning in the polls. And the lines around the states. Every night. Same thing."

He and Cruz are attacking Trump not just over David Duke and the fraud charges leveled at Trump University. They're also attacking him for his use of illegal-immigrant labor in the past while he's now calling for mass deportations, for not releasing his tax records, for policy positions that are all flash and no detail, and generally for being boorish.

They're also pointing out that Trump's lack of experience in government and his willingness -- indeed, desire -- to disparage and humiliate politicians who don't agree with him will undermine a President Trump. In the long run it's this charge, says Southern Methodist University communications professor Rita Kirk, that could have the greatest impact.

"When Jimmy Carter ran for president, he ran as an outsider," Kirk points out, referring to the former Georgia governor who came into office in 1976 after the Watergate scandal. "And when he got to office, Washington was happy to acknowledge that he was an outsider, that he played by himself a lot, and his first year was hellacious in terms of getting things done. Voters might like Trump's intent in being bombastic, but he'll be challenged this week on, 'Can he deliver?'"

Can he? For the first time in his nine months as a candidate, Trump is actually on the defensive -- and he doesn't like it.

The attacks have cheered anti-Trump Republicans, but it remains to be seen if they'll matter. Trump has tapped into fears about globalization and anger at President Barack Obama and the do-nothing Republican Congress, and this has brought out voters who have no allegiance to the GOP's usual arguments.

Rubio and Cruz need to post victories on Super Tuesday to halt Trump's momentum and change the narrative. Time is running out for them.

The heralded polling-analysis site believes Rubio's best shots for getting into the win column are in Virginia, Georgia and Texas. FiveThirtyEight gives him a 43 percent chance of winning Virginia and a 29 percent chance of winning Georgia.

The problem for Rubio, who traditional Republicans are lining up behind: the states that look the best for him are also the ones where Cruz is the strongest. Cruz, the winner in Iowa and a favorite among evangelical Christian voters, needs to win Texas, his home state, or he'll have a hard time convincing anyone he's still a viable candidate. He has also shown strength in Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.

This much is clear: the fun is over. Trump is the dominant front-runner right now, but the Republican race isn't about entertainment anymore. It's become a serious business.

March couldn't get here fast enough for Hillary Clinton, the long-time front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. African-American voters have been her most reliable constituency, which means her campaign has always viewed the South as its firewall. And indeed, coming off her smashing win Saturday in the South Carolina primary, Clinton heads into Super Tuesday with sizable poll leads in states that have large minority populations.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be a romp for the former secretary of state.

"Sanders is within striking distance of Hillary Clinton in at least five of the 11 contests that will take place on March 1," Politico reported this week.

The Vermont senator will definitely win -- and win big -- in his home state of Vermont, and polls indicate he'll also do well in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota and possibly Oklahoma.

Sanders, who self-identifies as a European-style democratic socialist, has owned the debate in the Democratic race, and it has put a serious scare into traditional Democrats who have their eye on the prize: the White House.

"Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton has been weakened by exposure to Sanders, and looks like a waffler and a 'me-too' candidate compared with her consistent opponent," Politico senior media writer Jack Shafer wrote after Clinton's win last week in the Nevada Caucus. "The exposure to Sanders has also increased the left-liberal tilt of the party, putting it at a distance from the flattened centrism that traditionally wins presidential elections."

Sanders, who has inspired legions of young voters with his calls to fight income inequality and expose Wall Street corruption, is trying to make inroads in the Democratic base. His approach now is to attack Clinton's greatest strength: her experience. In this year of outrage at the status quo, the Sanders campaign is seeking to paint Clinton as a politics-as-usual establishment candidate -- and use GOP front-runner Trump as a bogeyman.

Clinton might not agree with that statement -- she has repeatedly said that Americans need a president who has a proven track record of getting things done in Washington. But at the same time, in 2016's burn-down-the-house political atmosphere, she doesn't want to be viewed as an establishment candidate any more than Sanders, Trump or anyone else does.


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