With Donald Trump's victories Tuesday night, many Republicans will stop calling this "Super" Tuesday. They may remember it as the day their party came apart at its seams.
A growing number of GOP and conservative activists are pledging not to vote for Trump if he wins the nomination. Sure, in the past conservative leaders have threatened to curb their enthusiasm for the party if it nominated someone they didn't like. But never before have they made such public declarations, and in such detail as to why.
The David Duke controversy was the final straw for many.
On Sunday, three times CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump if he would disavow support from white supremacist David Duke and the KKK. Three times he declined to do so, saying he didn’t know enough to disavow. He said he’d have to do some research. Then, after his comments blew up in his orange face, he offered the lame excuse that his earpiece wasn’t working properly and he didn’t hear the questions. That is ridiculous since he repeated “white supremacist,” etc., in his replies.
The ensuing controversy has split the GOP into at least four factions:
Some politicians who have sounded pro-Trump in recent weeks tried to excuse Trump saying that he didn’t know anything about white supremacists. Mike Huckabee said: “Does anyone think Donald Trump is racist? I don’t.” Newt Gingrich tweeted that Trump had disavowed Duke and urged the media to "move on."
Some of Trump’s most ardent fans in the media sounded discouraged about the candidate they’ve been promoting for months. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough said Trump’s answers were “disqualifying” and called on him to “come clean” about his refusal to disavow. His panelists sounded despondent. For months they were cheerleaders for Trump, but Monday morning they sounded dumbfounded and demoralized. That didn't last long, though. On Tuesday, they were back to saying, in effect, that the KKK controversy didn't matter; that Trump supporters would stick with him, and he was basically inevitable as the GOP nominee.
#NeverTrump is the Twitter hashtag that many Republicans and conservatives have tweeted, pledging that they would never vote for him, even if he wins the GOP nomination. This is a long list of prominent activists. They argue that Trump doesn't have the temperament, character or knowledge needed in a president. And they're very specific in making the case that Trump is not trustworthy. They cite his flip-flopping on issues, his past failures in business, and his reluctance to distance himself from white supremacists.
Some politicians are still trying to stay neutral. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker had earlier endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and after Christie endorsed Trump, Baker said he was “surprised," but not disappointed. Baker said it was “unlikely” that he’d vote for Trump in the GOP primary, but would not endorse a Trump rival. On Tuesday, Baker said he voted for someone other than Trump or Ted Cruz, but wouldn't say whom.
House Speaker Paul Ryan declared that the GOP must remain the party of Lincoln, and not succumb to bigotry. It was clearly a repudiation of Trump's failure to condemn the white supremacists who have flocked to his campaign. Ryan concluded that he hoped he would not have to address this kind of issue in the presidential race again. But as long as Trump feels free to speak his mind — knowing that his fans love his insults — it's likely that Trumpian controversy will continue to split and haunt the GOP.
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst and regular contributor to WBUR's Politicker.