Super Tuesday puts a fork in the road

Supporters scramble for a photo of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after she spoke at a campaign event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Supporters scramble for a photo of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after she spoke at a campaign event at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. AP

Today, Super Tuesday, is the fork in the road day; the most important day of the presidential primaries.

Will Hillary Clinton pull further ahead of Bernie Sanders? Will Donald Trump pull ahead of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to a point where he can’t be stopped?

Forty-eight hours before, Mr. Trump was dealing with his millionth scandal.

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, Mr. Trump denied common sense on a biblical scale – three times he declined to criticize Mr. Duke and his ilk for supporting him.

Mr. Trump’s latest claim Monday 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.

So what does all of that mean for Super Tuesday? The latest national polls suggest Trump is leading the GOP field, and Sen. Marco Rubio is his nearest competitor. Mr. 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. Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Obama have produced that strategy’s uber-candidate.

That Sens. Cruz and Rubio have obviously amped up their attacks on Trump in recent days — descending to Mr. Trump’s coarse style in some cases — is a classic case of too little, too late. 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.

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 doesn’t appeal to young voters — seems to be diminishing. When the dust settles, Super Tuesday may be remembered as the day the match-up 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.

This editorial first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.