Donald Trump leads because America is angry
Stagnant middle class wages and a racist backlash are driving the Republican candidate's campaign.
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Super Tuesday 2.0 lived up to its billing. As results trickled in on Wednesday morning, the big winners were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Trump swept Florida and won Illinois and North Carolina comfortably. He also won the last of the five states that held primaries last night, Missouri, but his victory margin over Ted Cruz was a razor-thin 0.18 per cent. Under Missouri state election rules, a margin below 0.50 per cent can trigger a recount so the result remains provisional.
Ohio governor John Kasich meanwhile won his state to deny Trump a 5-0 sweep. Following his defeat to Trump in his home state of Florida, Marco Rubio announced he was ending his presidential campaign.
Amongst Democrats, Hillary won four of the five states. She also beat Bernie Sanders in the fifth, Missouri - though by just 0.24 per cent. Here too a recount looms.
The Republican nomination contest is now effectively a two-man race: Trump and Cruz. Kasich remains a factor but his appeal is limited to the American midwest. Excluding Missouri, Trump now leads Cruz by 640 delegates to 405. He needs 1,237 delegates to win the party's nomination.
Last Friday, Dr Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who dropped out of the presidential race two weeks ago, endorsed Trump. Another candidate who ended his presidential bid last month, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has already endorsed Trump.
Meanwhile, much of the world is aghast. How could Americans even think of nominating a man like Trump to face off against the Democrat nominee (Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders) in the presidential election on November 8?
The Republican party itself has been torn apart by Trump's string of victories. Influential members of the establishment elite, led by former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain, who lost to president Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008 respectively, have called Trump a "phony" and a "fraud".
Pro-Democrat newspapers like The New York Times are horrified by Trump's violence-strewn juggernaut. The Economist recently pointed out Trump's German ancestry on his father's side. It neglected to mention that Trump's mother, Mary Macleod, was British, born in an island off Scotland.
So the Anglo-German Trump steamrollers on. He may still implode, his critics hope. The violent protests at his rallies in Ohio and Illinois have dismayed most Americans. Others believe that Cruz and Kasich may together have enough delegates to keep Trump below the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination at the Republican party convention in the last week of July. That could lead to a "brokered" convention, freeing delegates to vote for the candidate they want.
Aware of this, Trump has warned Republican party chiefs that this would mock the "people's verdict" and lead to chaos. It could fracture the party, handing the Democrat nominee (Clinton or Sanders) the presidential election on a platter in November. Cruz, however, has now gone on record to say that whoever has the most delegates should be the Republican nominee. A contested or brokered convention, he says, would "be disastrous".
Rising tide of anger
What accounts for Trump's popular surge? Americans are angry about rising income inequality. Blue-collar workers have seen real wages stagnating for over a decade while Wall Street fund managers and tech company whiz-kids in Silicon Valley earn millions. Trump promises to bring jobs back by cutting down on H-1B visas and stopping illegal immigrants from Mexico who take away jobs from local Americans. At a rally on Monday though, he praised "smart Indian students" and called for them to be allowed to work in America.
The second vein of anger Trump has tapped into is against Islamist terrorism. The beheading of Americans in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State (IS) enraged the country. Anti-Muslim and anti-migrant sentiment is strong and rising. Trump is riding this xenophobic wave. He has promised punishment harsher than "water boarding" for captured terrorists. He says he will send 30,000 US ground troops to "destroy" IS in the Middle East.
Apart from jobs, migrants and Islamist terrorism, American anger is directed at Barack Obama. They see him as a weak president. Nearly 67 per cent of Americans are white. Add white Hispanics (of Portuguese and Spanish descent) and the number of white Americans goes up to 73 per cent. It is this majority that is reacting to Trump's Islamaphobic, racist message.
By getting a respected African-American former presidential candidate like Ben Carson to endorse him, Trump hopes to soften his racist image. After the violence in Chicago by a racially mixed group of protestors last Friday which led to the cancellation of Trump's rally in Illinois University, and a thwarted attack on Trump at a Dayton, Ohio rally, that seems unlikely.
Trump meanwhile points out that the number of people coming out to vote has nearly doubled and that Democrats and independents are flocking to the Republican party fold. Trump uses insult as a means to provoke. His favourite target is the media. He taunts journalists who cover his near-daily press conferences, saying they are the "most dishonest people created by God." He called The New York Times a paper that "lies" and never "checks facts".
The Left-liberal media in the US hates Trump with equal fervour. Even Right-wing Fox TV host Megyn Kelly has engaged in a running feud with Trump who dismissed her as a "lightweight". Kelly, a former practising attorney, got her revenge in a recent Fox TV-moderated debate among Republican candidates. She put Trump on the mat over alleged fraud at Trump University. The matter is in court.
For a man with so many enemies, Trump's presidential run has been surreal. The results of the five state primaries on Tuesday showed how volatile the 2016 US presidential election will be. Four people still have a chance to be the next US president: Trump, Hillary, Cruz and Sanders.
The smart money is on Trump versus Clinton come November in what promises to be the most sharply polarised US presidential contest since John Kennedy faced Richard Nixon in 1960.