- Big night for billionaire pushes him toward nomination
- Cruz wins home state for first victory since Iowa caucuses
Donald Trump exploited a divided Republican Party to take seven states as part of a commanding Super Tuesday showing, even as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas managed to keep his campaign alive with victories in Oklahoma, Alaska and his home state.
The real estate mogul and reality television star grabbed a firmer grip on his party’s presidential nomination, potentially so strong that his rivals may no longer be able to knock it away from him.
Cruz’s victories, including one that kept him from an embarrassing and potentially campaign-ending loss in Texas, are likely to keep his bid viable at least through the next big slate of contests on March 15.
“I feel awfully good,” Trump said, when asked if he views himself as the presumptive nominee at a late-night news conference in Palm Beach, Florida.
His wins included Virginia, a state where Florida Senator Marco Rubio aggressively campaigned and was thought to have a shot at winning. Rubio did pull out a win, his first, in Minnesota’s caucuses.
“This was definitely a good night for Trump,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “The decision to have a press conference, in that fashion, to appear presidential, was smart, despite saying some crazy things.”
In his speech from Texas, Cruz made a point of highlighting that he’s won multiple states and Rubio hasn’t. "Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump," he said.
"If you’re angry with Washington, I understand," Cruz said. "But Donald Trump has been part of the Washington corruption for 40 years."
Trump, who has ridden a wave of anger at the Washington establishment among voters who’ve felt left out of the political process, told reporters that Rubio "hurt" himself by going so negative against him, starting with Thursday’s debate.
“He decided to become Don Rickles," Trump said, invoking the name of the 89-year-old comedian known for his insult humor. "But Don Rickles has a lot more talent.”
Rubio vowed to fight on as he spoke to supporters at the Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center in Miami, saying he’d begun to turn the tide on Trump by taking a more aggressive stance against him.
Rubio on Attack
“Just five days ago, we began to unmask the true nature of the front-runner,” he said. “Five days ago, we began to explain to the American people that Donald Trump is a con artist. In just five days, we have seen the impact that it’s having all across the country. We have seen in state after state, he loves to talk about polls, we have seen in state after state his numbers coming down and ours going up.”
Rubio seemed to suggest that his candidacy would continue, even if he doesn’t win the March 15 primary in Florida. “No matter how long it takes, no matter how many states it takes, no matter how many weeks and months it takes, I will campaign wherever it takes, and as long as it takes, to ensure that I am the next president of the United States,” he said.
Besides Virginia, Trump also won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Vermont, where Ohio Governor John Kasich placed a strong second.
The Super Tuesday outcome across 11 states represented the closest thing yet to a national referendum on Trump, the brash New York billionaire who has thrown out the traditional rules of campaigning.
In all of the states, the raw vote totals are telling, but more important will be the delegates awarded under varying rules in the states.
State officials reported strong turnout as the biggest day yet in the 2016 campaign drew to a close and a divisive Republican Party battle continued to simmer over the front-runner and the future of the party.
Trump entered the day with all the momentum and a string of three dominant victories behind him, in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. He continues to benefit from a splintering of support for his rivals among leaders of the party establishment.
In the days before the voting, Cruz and Rubio ratcheted up their personal and political attacks on the front-runner as their party struggled to agree on whether and how to stop him. Rubio even questioned the size of Trump’s hands and, indirectly, his manliness.
The situation has left some establishment Republicans openly questioning whether their fractured party is headed for disaster in November, should Trump win the nomination. A poll released Tuesday by CNN showed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton beating Trump 52 percent to 44 percent among registered voters in a hypothetical general-election contest. Against Rubio and Cruz, she narrowly trailed.
The Republican dismay is fueled, in part, by Trump’s initial failure to repudiate the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in a weekend TV interview.
Just as Trump tried to portray himself as someone who could bring Republicans together, there were growing rumblings from within his own party about the unrest created by his candidacy. A little more than an hour before he gave his victory speech, a political action committee, "Our Principles PAC," released a web video attacking him as a racist.
The Super Tuesday contests -- like those held in the first four states -- awarded delegates on a proportional basis, so winning some of the vote translated to netting some of the 595 delegates at stake. The rules change starting with the March 15 contests, when states start awarding delegates on a winner-take-all basis. A total of 1,237 are needed to win the Republican nomination.
—With assistance Terrence Dopp, Kevin Cirilli, James Nash and Sahil Kapur.