By Niall Stanage - 03/01/16 06:00 AM EST
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: Clinton's VP pick 'VERY disrespectful' to Sanders, supporters Protesters prepare to flood Philadelphia for convention Priebus: 'Division is profit' for cable news MORE is poised to win almost all of the states voting on Super Tuesday, despite warnings from his rivals and other GOP critics that the party could split apart at the seams if he becomes the presidential nominee.
Unless there is a huge upset on Tuesday, Trump will take another massive leap toward the nomination. He has won three out of four contests so far and has secured almost five times as many delegates as his closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzWalker jabs at Kasich for snubbing GOP convention Trump: Cruz is 'lucky' that I walked in on his speech Kasich leaves door open to Trump endorsement MORE. Trump has 82 delegates to Cruz’s 17.
The prospect of a Trump nomination is abhorrent to many in the Republican Party.
Wehner, despite the length of his association with the GOP, is adamant that he would not support Trump in a general election, even against Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: Clinton's VP pick 'VERY disrespectful' to Sanders, supporters Protesters prepare to flood Philadelphia for convention Walker jabs at Kasich for snubbing GOP convention MORE.
“I am not going to vote for Trump under any circumstances,” Wehner said. “I see him as an existential threat ... a threat to America and the Republican Party and conservatism unlike anything I have ever seen.”
Such views are gaining wider currency as conservatives emerge from a lengthy period of denial to confront the fact that the celebrity businessman is now a red-hot favorite to become the GOP standard-bearer.
Trump holds clear polling leads in seven of the 11 contests Republicans will hold Tuesday. A candidate other than Trump is the favorite in just one state: Cruz, in his home state of Texas. The other three states suffer from a dearth of reliable polling.
A strong performance by Trump could see him build up so much momentum as to render him unstoppable.
In a reflection of how high the stakes have become — and of how ineffective anti-Trump attacks have been so far — the race took a lurch toward nastier ground over the weekend. Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioBudowsky: Why Warren masters Trump Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ Five ways Trump’s convention was a success MORE mocked the billionaire for his tan (“he needs to sue whoever did that to his face”) and his small hands. Trump hit back, blasting the Floridian as “Little Marco” and “a very nasty guy” during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
Further fueling the feverish atmosphere now enveloping the GOP race, Trump three times declined to disavow former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke during an appearance on another Sunday political talk show, CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper.
That performance earned condemnation from 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who described the remarks as “disqualifying & disgusting” in a Monday tweet. MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, who has previously been described as friendly toward Trump, also called the remarks “disqualifying.”
Trump later blamed the peculiar exchange on a faulty earpiece.
In another example of mounting GOP panic, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) took to social media on Sunday to express broader opposition to Trump’s campaign. He assailed the real estate mogul in a series of tweets and, in a letter posted to his Facebook page, announced that in a hypothetical match-up between Trump and Clinton, he would vote for neither.
Sasse’s Facebook posting asserted that “Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation.” Sasse also suggested that Trump’s use of the word “reign” was “creepy,” saying it seemed as if “he thinks he’s running for King.”
As for the future of the Republican Party, Rubio warned on Friday that “the Republican Party would be split apart if he became the nominee, because we cannot allow the party of Reagan to be taken over by a con man.”
There is a real divide even among elected officials about Trump.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dropped out of the White House race in February, delivered a seismic shock to party insiders when he endorsed Trump on Friday. Then the New York tycoon gained his first senatorial endorsement, when Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump starts considering Cabinet Trump tweets: 'Such a great honor' to be GOP nominee GOP nominates Trump for president MORE (R-Ala.) backed him on Sunday. The senator’s home state votes on Tuesday, and Trump has a lead of almost 18 points there, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.) and Rep. Tom Marino (Pa.) also backed Trump on Monday, becoming the third and fourth GOP House members to do so. The others are Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Chris Collins (N.Y.).
The endorsements cause indignation among those who are most vigorously opposed Trump.
“This is a man utterly unfit to be president of the United States and nobody should be pretending otherwise,” said Eliot Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Cohen worked in the State Department during George W. Bush’s administration and was a special adviser on foreign policy to Romney during the 2012 campaign.
Of Trump’s candidacy in general, Cohen added, “It’s just dreadful. And I should be clear, I am a Republican. It’s extremely painful.”
Asked about the Christie endorsement, in particular, Wehner said, “I thought it was shameful — just unbelievably shameful. ... It was sheer political opportunism.”
Christie, of course, would vigorously reject that characterization. At his speech in Texas announcing his backing of Trump, the New Jersey governor insisted that “there is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs both at home and around the world than Donald Trump.”
Some establishment-minded Republicans continue to hold out hope that some kind of machinations at the Republican National Convention could wrest the nomination out of Trump’s grasp. But such an outcome would engender an enormous counter-reaction from the businessman’s supporters.
And there is no guarantee such a maneuver will even be possible.
“One can argue that he has thrown out the old rule book and, ‘well, if he has thrown out the old rule book, you can’t rule out a brokered convention,’ ” said Cohen. “But at the moment, he looks like the favorite. You have to admit it.”