Republican opposition to Trump deepens divisions in party

Party’s 2012 nominee plans to lay out case against billionaire in speech today

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking on “Super Tuesday” night in Palm Beach, Florida. Photograph: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will deliver a speech today laying out his case against Donald Trump, despite the billionaire's sweep of seven states in the "Super Tuesday" ballots.

Stepping up efforts by the Republican establishment to block the brash businessman from standing as the party’s candidate in the November presidential election, Mr Romney plans to give full voice to the fears of party elders over Mr Trump’s insurgent candidacy.

After 15 state nominating contests in the US presidential race, the New York property mogul has won 10 and taken almost half of the party delegates who will formally pick the party nominee in July.

The meteoric rise of an outsider to lead the Republican race on a wave of anger against the party’s politicians in Washington threatens to fracture the party as Mr Romney escalates his attempts to derail Mr Trump and the businessman’s rivals struggle to challenge him.


Potential bombshells

Mr Romney has trolled the Republican front-runner in recent days, suggesting there are “bombshells” in his undisclosed tax returns. He also pointed to an off-the-record interview Mr Trump gave to the

New York Times

editorial board in which he has supposedly promised to soften his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.

On Monday, he chided Mr Trump for refusing to denounce an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, describing his remarks on Sunday as "disqualifying and disgusting".

The former nominee has been joined by his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan, a Republican congressional leader and speaker of the House of Representatives, in attacking Mr Trump in recent days, opening a gulf in the party that could pit the leadership against many voters.

Expressing concern about the unusual level of internal turmoil, Minnesota's former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty described this moment as "an inflection point" in the 2016 race and the party, saying the chasm "could test the outer limits" of traditional divisions.

"If the Republican Party were an airplane and you're looking out the window, you'd see some pieces of the surface flying off and you'd be wondering whether the engine or a wing is next," said Mr Pawlenty who ran for president in 2012.

The internal strife over Mr Trump has bubbled up as the businessman swept the southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, and two northeastern states, Massachusetts and Vermont. The wins reflect his growing popularity among Republicans seeking a non-politician to lead them in November.

“We have a country that’s in big trouble,” he said at a victory press conference in Palm Beach on Tuesday night. “Our infrastructure is going to hell. The middle class has been forgotten in this country.”

Mr Trump's closest rival, Senator Ted Cruz, won his home state of Texas and neighbouring Oklahoma but couldn't sustain an expected southern firewall against him as Mr Trump won five southern states.

Florida senator Marco Rubio, dubbed by Mr Trump as the "big loser" of Super Tuesday, clawed back his first state win in Minnesota, polling well among college-graduate Republicans in suburban areas.

He narrowly lost to the businessman in Virginia where he had hoped to do well with establishment voters in Washington's suburbs. Mr Rubio's prospects as the preferred establishment alternative to Mr Trump rest on his home state, which votes on March 15th, though a Quinnipiac University poll this week gave Mr Trump a 16-point lead over the 44-year-old US senator in Florida.

In a remarkable sign of just how Mr Trump has mobilised his own bloc of supporters, the number of Republican primary voters in Virginia topped a staggering 1.025 million, up from 265,570 in 2012.

In contrast, Democrats will be alarmed at declines in the turnout of voters on Super Tuesday and how that might affect their prospects in the November 8th election. Democratic turnout was down by between 16 and 52 per cent across five southern states, while Republican voter turnout soared in their primaries, from 35 to 107 per cent.

Despite two other Republicans – Ohio governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson – performing badly in most states on Super Tuesday, they are showing no signs of dropping out, at least in Mr Kasich's case until March 15th when his home state votes.

Mr Carson said yesterday that he doesn't see a way of winning the Republican nomination and has said he will not participate in the party's next debate in Detroit, Michigan, tonight.

Bizarrely, however, he stopped short of suspending his presidential campaign.

Grassroots movement

“I do not see a political path forward in light of last evening’s Super Tuesday primary results,” Mr Carson said. “However, this grassroots movement on behalf of ‘we the people’ will continue.”

The next state contests take place on Saturday with Republicans voting in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine, and Democrats nominating candidates in Kansas, Louisiana and Nebraska before the race moves on to the industrial midwest on Tuesday.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times