- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Donald Trump survived the worst of Republican attacks against him, emerged Tuesday night with early projected victories in the Virginia, Vermont, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Massachusetts primaries, and earned the largest share of delegates for the GOP nomination.

Sen. Ted Cruz won contests in Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska, giving him an argument for continuing his campaign. However, Sen. Marco Rubio won Minnesota’s caucuses, nabbing his first victory of the campaign season. They and Ohio Gov. John Kasich traded second-place finishes in the rest of the states on the GOP map Tuesday.

Mr. Cruz called on the other candidates to drop out of the race and unify behind him in a bid to stop Mr. Trump.

Republican Party leaders were also increasingly nervous over Mr. Trump’s successes, with a super political action committee announcing it was belatedly mounting a major effort to organize major donors for a massive anti-Trump funding blitz.

They’re hoping a last-ditch effort can dent the billionaire businessman’s fortunes ahead of the upcoming March 15 showdown primaries in Florida and Ohio.

But Mr. Trump insisted he’s already unifying the GOP, and said he’ll lead a massive political movement into November’s general election.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump drives GOP’s record turnout; Democrats lack enthusiasm

He dubbed himself a common-sense conservative, said he’s moderating his tone on the campaign trail, and said he’s helped shatter primary turnout records by drawing Democrats and independents over to vote for him.

“We’ve actually expanded the party,” he said.

Mr. Trump praised Mr. Cruz for his victories, mocked Mr. Rubio for not having won any states yet, and pivoted to focus on Hillary Clinton, who is poised to claim Democrats’ nomination.

“She’s been there for so long. If she hasn’t straightened it out by now, she’s not going to straighten it out in the next four years,” Mr. Trump said as he held a victory press conference in Florida.

In her own victory remarks earlier, Mrs. Clinton took aim at Mr. Trump, ridiculing his “Make America great again” slogan.

“America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole. We have to fill in what’s been hollowed out,” she said.

Mr. Trump said that was a losing slogan.

“Make America great again is going to be much better than make America whole again,” Mr. Trump.

His victories capped off one of the craziest 10 days in modern political history, with Mr. Trump facing a verbal assault from Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, his two closest rivals in the GOP race; with the billionaire businessman being repeatedly asked to denounce some of the more extreme elements of his supporters; and with GOP leaders increasingly anxious over the prospect that Mr. Trump will lead their party into November’s general election.

But his supporters brushed aside those concerns, saying they were sending a message that the GOP for too long has ignored them, and they were finally asserting themselves.

“The establishment doesn’t want their little cupcake party upset there in Washington,” said home builder Eric Cape, 52, as he voted in Suwanee, Georgia.

Exit polling said GOP voters overall were fed up with the political establishment in Washington, and were looking for a new direction. While voters said they had concerns about Mr. Trump, his promised break with the corridors of power was welcome.

Mr. Cruz, though, said Mr. Trump’s victories were still small enough that there’s a path to victory for someone else — but only if the GOP unites behind a single opponent.

He called on the other campaigns to pray, and then throw their support behind his own bid.

“Tomorrow morning, we have choice. So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely. And that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives, and for the nation,” Mr. Cruz said at his victory party in Texas.

“After tonight, we have seen that our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump,” he said.

Mr. Rubio had a somewhat rocky night, claiming just a single state with his Minnesota victory. But he said he’s staying in the race because he’s only recently begun to attack Mr. Trump and he wants to see that play out.

“Just five days ago, we began to unmask the true nature of the front-runner so far in this race. Five days ago, we began to explain to the American people that Donald Trump is a con artist,” he said at a post-election party in Miami.

“We are seeing in state after state his numbers coming down, our numbers going up. And two weeks from tonight, right here in Florida, we are going to send a message loud and clear. We are going to send a message that the party of Lincoln and Reagan, and the presidency of the United States, will never be held by a con artist,” he said.

Heading into Tuesday the scoreboard stood at three victories for Mr. Trump — in primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina and in Nevada’s caucuses — to one victory for Mr. Cruz, in Iowa’s caucuses. Mr. Rubio, Mr. Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, had yet to win a state.

Mr. Carson earns votes from evangelical voters who liked the first-time candidate’s thoughtfulness and decency, while Mr. Kasich’s supporters said they were looking for an experienced politician who stood out from the circus that the race had become.

“He is one of the few left that still has a direct executive government management set of experiences, and I still am old enough to think that is kind of a good thing,” said Fred Lawrence, 74, a Kasich backer voting Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia. “He is a moderate, as I tend to be.”

Mr. Lawrence said he’ll have a tough decision to make if Mr. Trump emerges as Republicans’ nominee.

“I will be honest with you. It scares the hell out of me. If we are left with what I think is going to be the ballots, I can’t honestly vote for Trump as a president, and I will not vote for Hillary, period,” he said.

Mr. Trump will have his work cut out if he does claim the nomination and needs to unify the GOP. A number of voters said they had been for him, until his antics finally drove them away.

“His brashness has gotten too toxic,” said Colleen Gardner, 54, a nurse practitioner in Suwanee, who ended up backing Mr. Rubio.

Likewise Cori DeFrancis, 61, who voted in Atlanta for Mr. Rubio, said she’d been intrigued by Mr. Trump, but his demeanor is “very unpresidential.”

“I thought he would be good in the beginning but it has been a horror and an embarrassment to the Republican Party,” she said.

• Seth McLaughlin, reporting from Virginia, and S.A. Miller, reporting from Georgia, contributed to this article.

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