Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump emerged from Super Tuesday as the odds-on favourites to capture their parties’ presidential nominations, setting up a White House showdown between a longtime political stalwart and an electoral novice whose candidacy has rocked the Republican party.
The pair each won seven states on their way to commanding victories yesterday, as Clinton used her advantage among southern and black voters and Trump tapped into the anger of blue-collar workers and others who feel left behind by politics.
Both have US senators standing in their way—Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, Ted Cruz for the Republicans—but their parties’ voters now seem increasingly prepared to send them into the fight for the White House.
In many ways, Clinton is right where Democrats expected her to be, on the cusp of the nomination she was denied in 2008 by Barack Obama. After an early scare, Clinton has now relegated Sanders mostly to wins in liberal strongholds like Minnesota and his home state of Vermont.
“It’s clear tonight that the stakes in this election have never been higher, and the rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,” Clinton said at a victory rally on Tuesday night in Miami. “Trying to divide America between ‘us and them’ is wrong, and we’re not going to let it work.”
The admonition was a clear reference to Trump, a reality-TV billionaire who has stunned the political world. In another year, his past support of abortion rights and a personal history that includes a pair of divorces would have disqualified him. Instead, he has found a way to channel Republican anger over illegal immigration and other issues into a wave of support for the nomination that looks unstoppable. And he, too, used his victories on Tuesday to pivot toward the general election.
“I’m a unifier,” Trump said at a rally at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. “Once we get all of this finished, I’m going after one person and that’s Hillary Clinton.”
Trump’s seven victories—which spanned states as diverse as Alabama, Massachusetts, and Virginia—far outpaced any of his competitors. Ted Cruz was buoyed by wins in Oklahoma and his home state of Texas, meaning he likely will fight on to the next big group of contests March 15. With 65 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz held a 205 vote lead over Trump in Alaska, according to the Associated Press.
Rubio’s One Win
But the night was disastrous for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who despite a flood of establishment support—and an increasingly confident campaign team—managed only a win in Minnesota’s caucuses, in a showing sure to raise questions about whether his campaign can go on. Ben Carson and John Kasich left the night with no victories and only a handful of delegates.
For Trump and Clinton, Tuesday’s contests, which presented the biggest single-day delegate haul of the primary calendar, served as their desired turning point.
Clinton’s campaign signaled that it was increasingly focused on a general election strategy, and blunting the populist momentum Trump has ridden to victories in a diverse set of early voting states.
Trump also appears to be turning his attention toward November, using a hybrid victory speech and press conference to soften some of his rhetoric and argue that he could unify a diverse coalition behind his economic message. Trump predicted party leaders who have denounced his candidacy would come around, while bragging that his candidacy had excited voters who had otherwise checked out of the political process.
“Our party is expanding and all you have to do is take a look at the primary states where I’ve won,” Trump said. “We’ve gone from one number to a much larger number. That hasn’t happened to the Republican Party in many, many decades. So I think we’re going to be more inclusive, more unified and a much bigger party and I think we’re going to win in November.”
Trump may be unifying elements of his own party—but largely in last-ditch opposition to his candidacy.
The conservative Our Principles PAC said on Tuesday it would step up efforts against the frontrunner, including an expanding ad campaign in upcoming states including Illinois and Michigan and the hiring of new opposition researchers to examine the real estate mogul’s past. The group on Tuesday night unveiled a YouTube clip featuring several television personalities decrying Trump as a racist. And among the new hires is Tim Miller, the communications director to Jeb Bush’s shuttered presidential campaign.
“Donald’s general election campaign will fail worse than Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks did and Hillary Clinton will destroy him even if she’s campaigning from jail,” Miller said in a statement, vowing the group would “fight until the last delegate is counted to stop that from happening.”
Trump’s Republican rivals also pitched themselves as the last, best alternative to preventing Trump from earning the nomination—while encouraging rivals to exit the race.
“So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely,” Cruz said during a victory rally at the Redneck Country Club in Stafford, Texas. “And that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation.”
Paired with an emerging Democratic playbook—to accuse Trump of being anti-woman, intolerant and too hotheaded to have his finger on the nuclear button—it would be the first concerted effort to convince voters that Trump isn’t fit to be president.
“The party of Lincoln and Reagan and the presidency of the United States will never be held by a con artist,” Rubio told supporters in Miami.