Politics & Government

President Trump? That just got a lot more possible

Donald Trump speaks on Super Tuesday primary election night at the White and Gold Ballroom at The Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 1, 2016.
Donald Trump speaks on Super Tuesday primary election night at the White and Gold Ballroom at The Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 1, 2016. AP

Donald Trump could win the White House in November.

His victories in Super Tuesday states accelerated his march toward the GOP nomination. He’s not there yet, and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio showed strength in small doses.

But the real estate mogul won Tuesday from New England to the South, in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. He proved he can beat heavily funded, politically sophisticated opponents despite increasingly ugly, often disturbing, attacks and insults. And he’s shown strength in blue-collar areas that could put onetime battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania back into play for the GOP.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won the most states in Super Tuesday, but the underdog candidates also took home enough smaller prizes to remain in the race and fight another day. (Natalie Fertig / McClatchy)

Taken together, “he’s a formidable candidate” in a still-hypothetical but increasingly likely fall matchup against Democrat Hillary Clinton, said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.

Trump was already sounding like a November candidate Tuesday. “I’m a unifier,” he told supporters in Florida.

He talked about how he could get people together in the Oval Office. He had praise for Planned Parenthood’s work for women’s health, vowing, “I’m going to be good for women’s health issues.”

Trump showed some humility; asked whether he felt as though he were the presumptive nominee, he said, “I feel awfully good.” He even praised rival Cruz, who won Texas and Oklahoma.

Clinton topped Trump 42 to 40 percent among independents in the Feb. 10-15 Quinnipiac poll

None of that means Trump is a sure thing in the fall. And as he emerges as the presumptive Republican nominee, he faces a new series of challenges.

The national map features electorates far more ideologically and racially diverse than the Republican base Trump has so effectively wooed. He’d have to compete in states where African-American and Hispanic voters are influential blocs, and they’ve shown little inclination to back him.

Most daunting, Trump could face not a pair of first-term U.S. senators, a soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon or a nice-guy governor, but a former secretary of state with considerable experience in waging brutal campaigns. Clinton is expected to raise questions about the volatile Trump’s judgment and temperament, as well as provide vivid reminders of his broadsides against Mexicans, Muslims and women.

Trump would also face challenges such as those he’s begun to endure only in recent days, questions about his résumé as well as his style. “The criticism now concerns whether he’s a con man, not an entertainer,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York.

Trump’s temperament has also made him vulnerable. After he appeared to fumble an interview question Sunday about the Ku Klux Klan, Clinton and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders branded him a “hatemonger.”

Trump’s rivals did offer some warning signs Tuesday. Though Trump won Virginia, Rubio, a senator from Florida, was leading among better-educated, higher-income and moderate voters as well as independents, according to network exit polls. In Vermont, Kasich was topping Trump among women, seniors, higher-income and better-educated voters.

To support Trump is to support a bigot.

Stuart Stevens, Republican strategist, in Monday’s Daily Beast

Also, Trump still refuses to release his tax returns, even though there’s no legal reason he cannot. Critics are raising questions about the Trump Entrepreneur Institute, whose Better Business Bureau ratings fluctuated while it was open.

Even if the controversies fade, Trump will be tested on policy. Clinton can talk in nuanced terms about national security and foreign affairs. Can Trump? She can pinpoint ways the Affordable Care Act can be improved and expanded. Can Trump?

This is all serious stuff, with far more potential to derail Trump than the rude remarks or insults that have had little effect on his popularity.

So far, Trump has defied the logic of politics. No matter the remark, he survives and thrives, and polls show him in a virtual tie with Clinton. Quinnipiac’s latest poll showed Clinton with a 44 to 43 percent lead over Trump. Suffolk University’s Political Research Center put Trump up. 44.6 to 43.1 percent.

Even Trump’s unusually high Quinnipiac unfavorable rating – 57 percent – is not necessarily a liability. Clinton’s is 58 percent.

Six in 10 say Trump is not honest or trustworthy, but two-thirds say that about Clinton. She has been under scrutiny for using a private email server while secretary of state. The FBI is looking into the handling of sensitive information after some of the emails contained classified data.

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Trump has some advantages. Polls show that he does well in general election matchups with men and with voters over 50, and that he wins white voters and voters without college degrees by sizable margins.

He has demonstrated deep support among Republicans. In Massachusetts, Trump easily won every age and income group, as well as moderates and conservatives, exit polls found. He scored the same victories in the South, winning among the same groups in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

Trump leads Clinton among men by 47 to 39 percent. Clinton has a 48 to 39 percent lead among women, according to Quinnipiac.

He’s also picking up some GOP establishment support, or at least grudging acceptance.

“I think I can work with Donald Trump,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week. Trump has won endorsements from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Paul LePage of Maine and five congressmen. At this winter’s Republican National Committee meeting, insiders said routinely, though privately, that they could work with the veteran deal-maker.

Some conservative groups have launched a “Stop Trump” movement, and Rubio has been relentless, accusing Trump of “sticking it to the little guy.”

But Republicans have long been united in their disdain for Clinton, and history suggests that party loyalists often come home at the end, no matter how distasteful they find their candidate.

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

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