- - Monday, February 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Just prior to last week’s Republican debate in Houston, a new Quinnipiac poll was released showing Donald Trump crushing Sen. Marco Rubio 44 percent to 28 percent, a whopping 16 points, in the senator’s home state of Florida.

Iowa. New Hampshire. South Carolina. Nevada. Sen. Ted Cruz wins Iowa, but as we know Mr. Trump swept the rest. Gov. Nikki Haley’s coveted endorsement of Marco Rubio in South Carolina prior to that primary may have made a slight difference, but Mr. Trump took that state as well, with Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio essentially tied for a distant second.

Expecting evangelicals to come out in record numbers (they did), and combined with his ground game, I predicted Sen. Cruz would win that contest. Mr. Cruz, after all, was the candidate who most appealed to that group of voters, he designed his presidential campaign approach expecting to be their champion.

But Mr. Cruz did not carry that vote. He didn’t win South Carolina because something else is afoot, and I was still viewing results through the old lens of identity politics created by Democrats and adopted by Republicans.

In South Carolina, Mr. Trump caught 34 percent of the “evangelical vote,” while Ted Cruz, expected to easily win that primary, gained 26 percent in second place.

Once former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race there was a slew of establishment endorsements for Mr. Rubio just prior to the Nevada caucus, making it clear he is choice of the political class. In any other year that would be a boon, but in this year it’s like Typhoid Mary attaching herself to you for every dinner date.

In Nevada, using the evangelical vote as the indicator, the numbers were even more stark: Mr. Trump took 40 percent, Marco Rubio had 26 percent with Mr. Cruz limping behind with 23 percent of the evangelical vote.

The GOP’s political world was, again, on its head.

While there is some disagreement about what and who constitutes that vote, as a former leftist what strikes me immediately is a so-called special interest group voting outside their expected purview.

Could the stark failure of the political class over the last two decades, bringing on a terrorist army, a never-ending war, and a questionable economic future finally have brought voters to together? Is that inclusive phenomenon of the tea party now manifesting in the presidential race? It seems so, and it’s driving the powers-that-be mad.

So after Mr. Trump’s loss in Iowa and wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Super Tuesday is upon us after a debate where Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio finally took aim at the front-runner instead of each other. If this was any other time, arguments and accusations about taxes, lying, and an understanding of specifics in foreign and domestic policy might have been enough to make a dent in the leading candidate.

But the minutia relied upon in the past doesn’t seem to be at issue now. With the rise of Mr. Trump and for the Democrats, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the American people have called upon their inner Howard Beale and are sticking their heads out the window screaming, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

The thrashing of Mr. Trump at Houston’s debate by the second and third place contenders reminded viewers that Mr. Trump doesn’t frighten everyone, and might even be vulnerable on the issues when confronted, or at least mocked. But is it too late for those who do not care for Mr. Trump’s politics and reality showmanship?

That Mr. Trump got this far without any real pushback is an indictment of the disconnect of the Republican Party system as a whole. Every candidate in this volatile environment should have been taken seriously, yet neither Reince Preibus’ Republican National Committee nor conservative Super PACs did so.

The Washington Post reported on February 20 that of the $215 million super PACs spent on the Republican presidential race so far, only $9 million, or 4 percent, was devoted to attacking front-runner Donald Trump. Only just a few days before Super Tuesday did Mr. Trump face any real confrontation.

This reminds us of the magical thinking bubble that compels the Republican Party apparatchiks to insist on things that just aren’t true, like how Mr. Bush “will” win Florida, and now how Mr. Rubio “will” win Florida; Ohio Gov. Kasich, they insist, “will” win Ohio. It’s that same tired “most electable” nonsense that gave us President McCain and President Romney.

The inability of the Republican Party system itself to see beyond its navel made it impossible for them to understand this sea-change in the electorate, or adjust to it. They had much warning and decided to ridicule the tea party instead of working to understand it. They scratched their heads at the firing of Eric Cantor. They thought “they” were responsible for the Republican takeover of the House and Senate. Will they at some point take credit for President Trump? Will they at least stop calling the conservative base Brown Shirts?

I have a feeling we’ll know exactly what the establishment thinks of the average Republican primary voter by the evening of March 15, so put your seatbelts on.

Tammy Bruce is a radio talk show host and a Fox News contributor.

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