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Opinion Insults, innuendo and ignorance: The road to victory for Trump 2016

Despite his Super Tuesday romp, there is a still a mathematical possibility that someone other than Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2016. But those in the party who cling to the math look increasingly in denial, seeking refuge from reality in a bunch of hypotheticals.

Instead of relying on the math, which could still theoretically turn in another candidate's favour once states begin to allot delegates on a winner-take-all-basis in mid-March, the anti-Trump forces in the party need a miracle. If it hasn't happened by now, odds are it won't.

Nothing has slowed Mr. Trump's momentum. Not his dog whistle apologetics for white supremacists or blatant race-baiting not seen in U.S. politics since Pat Buchanan contested the GOP nomination in 1992 or George Wallace campaigned for resegregation five decades ago.

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Not his nods to conspiracy theorists, including those who call the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks an "inside job" or who say Muslims in New Jersey cheered the attackers on. Mr. Trump vows that, when he's president, "you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center."

Not his unabashed scapegoating, blaming all of the country's woes on illegal Mexican immigrants, radical Muslims, unfair trade by China and Mexico, unpatriotic U.S. corporations and Washington politicians corrupted by money. Not his tweeting of Mussolini quotes.

Even if there is a grain of truth in some of what he says, especially the bought-and-sold politicians part, it does not justify the ugliness of his tone. He has driven American politics into a gutter of insults, innuendo and ignorance. But Mr. Trump has figured that the way to the nomination is by appealing to the fallen angels of Americans' nature.

Sadly, it's working. "We have expanded the Republican Party," Mr. Trump said Tuesday night, underscoring the record turnout in most GOP state primaries so far. "The Republican Party has become more dynamic, more diverse … We're taking from the Democrats."

It's true that Mr. Trump has drawn hordes of new or lapsed voters to the polls. He won seven of 11 Republican contests on Tuesday, all but one by big margins, ending up with nearly 50 per cent more delegates than Texas Senator Ted Cruz and three times more than Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

But Mr. Trump is still repelling more Republicans than he is wooing. The party has been engaged in factional warfare for some time, as the Tea Party and moderate wings fight for its soul. With Mr. Trump's infusion of populist politics, turning countless Republican domestic and foreign policy principles on their heads, the party is now on the verge of imploding. GOP establishment types are furiously tweeting their hostility under the #NeverTrump hashtag. Party organizers fear a bloodbath in down-ticket congressional races in November if Mr. Trump is the nominee.

Others Republican names, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are being accused of opportunism by sidling up to Mr. Trump in what amounts to a pact with the devil. The enmity toward Mr. Christie and other Trump converts will sow lasting divisions within the party.

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"The degree of party unity during the primaries is one of the better historical predictors of the November outcome," observes data analyst Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight website. When Republicans or Democrats fail to settle on a consensus candidate early on in the nominating season, it tends to be a harbinger of doom in November. A fifth of registered Republicans deserted the party when Barry Goldwater was the nominee in 1964. But more than a quarter turned their back on the GOP in 1992, preferring a third-party populist (Ross Perot) to the establishment-backed George H.W. Bush. That split paved the way to Bill Clinton's presidency.

Hillary Clinton, now the forbidding front-runner for the Democratic nomination, may benefit from a similar Republican exodus in 2016 – provided she can overcome the negatives that many Democrats fear make her vulnerable in a general election.

The coming days will see desperate pleas from establishment types for the anti-Trump forces to unite behind Mr. Rubio in time for the winner-take-all Florida primary on March 15. But even if it worked, the well is now so badly poisoned it probably would not matter.

"I am a unifier," Mr. Trump insisted on Tuesday, hinting that his hard line on immigration might be "negotiable." It was the first sign that he might pivot to the centre for a general election. But hasn't he already put his country through enough?

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