The Party of Trump and the Path Ahead The strength of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the Super Tuesday primary contests, evident before the first votes were cast, brings the 2016 presidential race to a point of reckoning. Not enough delegates were at stake to give either candidate a mathematical lock on a nomination, but voters can see the shape of the choice facing them in the general election.
The Republicans seem to be reeling, unable or unwilling to comprehend that a shady, bombastic liar is hardening the image of their party as a symbol of intolerance and division.
Last summer, as Trump began to rise in the polls, party leaders took umbrage at the idea that they'd have to do something to keep the nomination from the likes of him. They stood aside and said, let voters decide.
Now voters are deciding. They are leaning, in unbelievable numbers, toward a man whose quest for the presidency revolves around targeting religious and racial minorities and people with disabilities, who flirts with white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, who ridicules and slanders those who disagree with him.
His opponents, meanwhile, have rushed to adopt his anger-filled message. It's small wonder that Republican leaders don't seem to know quite what to say.
"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games," House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tuesday, after months of such games.
He sounded naively unaware of the darker elements within the Republican Party, present for decades, and now holding sway: "This party does not prey on people's prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln."
The Republican Party is taking a big step toward becoming the party of Trump. Those who could challenge Trump -- Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- are not only to the right of Trump on many issues, but are embracing the same game of exclusion, bigotry and character assassination.
That Rubio would make double entendres about the size of Trump's hands and talk about Trump wetting his pants shows how much his influence has permeated this race and how willingly his rivals are copying his tactics.
There were opportunities to stop this, early on. Possessed of a crack team of researchers, the Republican Party did not turn its resources on investigating this man's record of falsehoods and business failures. When struggling families worry that their children's American dream will be obscured behind a mountain of college debt, even a passing reference to the scam that is Trump University would surely have resonated many months ago. It may now be too late to alter the course Trump has set, but Republican leaders would be derelict not to try.
On the Democratic side, Clinton, who is pulling away in the contest with Bernie Sanders, should stick to the high ground. Say what one will about Sanders' bid, he has run a campaign admirable in its restraint and positive ideals, no easy feat this year.
Clinton should continue to campaign on who she is and what she can do for middle-class Americans seeking leadership that reflects the best, not the worst, of political impulses.
Trump's foul statements and shallow ideas can and should be exposed through detailed, dispassionate analysis and smart debate, approaches that would lift his opponent as they diminish him.
Republicans are reaping the whirlwind right now, and Democrats should seize the chance to show Americans an alternative to Trump's politics of rage, and an image of themselves to be proud of, not shrink from.