Being given the opportunity to disavow David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and the white supremacist movement isn't a setup or a trick question. Even racists know better than to engage in their racism before a national audience. Yet on CNN on Sunday, Donald Trump denied common sense on a biblical scale -- three times he declined to criticize Duke and his ilk for supporting him. And yet that awful moment, which encapsulates so much of what is going wrong in the Republican primary, may prove irrelevant as Super Tuesday voters look to push him far ahead in the delegate count.
Trump can try to rewrite that moment in history all he wants. His latest claim that it was due to a poor earpiece and that he didn't know what groups were being discussed doesn't wash -- not when he used the name "David Duke" and the term "white supremacists" in his reply. This wasn't some little-known backroom racist, this was the former Louisiana state representative who famously supports racial segregation and rails against Jews for controlling Hollywood and the banking system. And, by the way, what curious timing to refuse to disavow the former KKK leader when important southern primaries loom.
So what does all of that mean for Super Tuesday? The latest national poll numbers released on Monday suggest Trump is leading the GOP field with 49 percent of the vote, or 30 points above his nearest competitor, Sen. Marco Rubio. Trump could easily end up winning in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Only Texas, the home state of Sen. Ted Cruz, may go against him, and even that outcome is far from certain. Trump is surely not going to end the day with all 595 Republican delegates that are up for grabs, but he could wind up with a near-insurmountable lead.
The idea of a brokered convention? That looks increasingly unrealistic. As the GOP field has winnowed, Trump's lead has grown, not diminished. Soon, the billionaire is likely to pass the 50 percent barrier, and by then no attacks on his tax returns, his character, his hiring of illegal laborers or, yes, even his refusal to disavow the nation's best-known racist are going to stop this political juggernaut. The Party of Lincoln has reaped what it sowed: All these years of anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-establishment and often hateful, venomous rhetoric and dog whistling attacks on President Barack Obama have produced that strategy's uber-candidate, someone who embraces all of it without the niceties -- or even intellectual consistencies.
Never miss a local story.
That Sens. Cruz and Rubio have obviously amped up their attacks on Trump in recent days -- descending to Trump's coarse style in some cases -- is a classic case of too little, too late. How do you tell voters that building a wall across Mexico goes too far, that experienced politicians can be better trusted or that replacing Obamacare with "more competition" isn't a rational health care strategy when so many on that side of the aisle sound so much like Trump? For every Meg Whitman blasting the real estate tycoon as a "dishonest demagogue," there's now a Gov. Chris Christie or Sen. Jeff Sessions rising to his defense. It's beginning to look like in this version of the famous movie, a large chunk of the villagers have actually taken a shine to Frankenstein's monster.
Trump panders to supporters, alienates everyone else.
Meanwhile, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton's big win in South Carolina on Saturday appears to have set her up for a big day on Super Tuesday. Whatever doubts Democrats may harbor about the former first lady -- that she isn't an exciting candidate, that she hasn't spurred turnout like Obama did eight years ago, that she doesn't appeal to young voters -- seems to be diminishing. Sen. Bernie Sanders isn't going away and will probably do respectably in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oklahoma, not to mention his home state of Vermont, but lopsided wins by Clinton in southern states are likely to push the delegate count her way -- and that's what matters.
Trump shakes up GOP
When the dust settles, Super Tuesday may be remembered as the day the matchup for the general election was set. But it may also be recalled as the day the Republican Party truly lost its way, disconnected not only from the mainstream of American politics but from the decency, morality or at least the caution that once defined the party that freed the slaves.