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California’s role in shaping 2016 post-Super Tuesday

Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump speaks to the media at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump speaks to the media at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
John Moore/Getty Images

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are much closer to their party's Presidential nominations after strong showings yesterday on Super Tuesday.

A broad swath of leading Republicans are trying to figure out what to do about Donald Trump's dominance on Super Tuesday. Trump won over 300 delegates, Ted Cruz got just over 200, and Marco Rubio received just over 100. Starting March 15th, the GOP primaries become winner-take-all.

If Trump continues winning states, he'll be grabbing fistfuls of delegates at a time. With that prospective staring them in the face, traditional Republicans are thrashing around looking for an alternative to Trump. Is there anything they can do to stop his progress?

Then, a couple months ago in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times and on AirTalk, political science professor Larry Gerston claimed that, due to the larger than usual pool of candidates vying for the GOP spot, that this could be the year that California’s vote could finally matter in the primaries.

We check in with Gerston about how Tuesday’s results impacted that outlook.

Interview highlights

What are your thoughts about the appeal of the various candidates? Does Ted Cruz have strong support of Evangelical Christians in California? Does Marco Rubio have a chance to tap into the traditional, more moderate California Republican? Or Trump -- just because he’s the juggernaut -- is he the likely winner?

Larry N. Gerston: All of the above. California has an odd proportion representation formula for allocated delegates, it’s by congressional districts and it gets kind of quirky. But it’s hard to imagine that any one of them would walk away with a lie and share. That said, all bets are off once you get that late in the campaign and the growing urgency, on the part of so many Republicans, to settle upon a nominee. The last thing they want is an open convention. That will produce all kinds of chaos that takes away the energy from the general election and provides great fodder for the Democrats.

So, that being the case, it may well be that one of those candidates is able to really galvanize enough support in California to put him over the top at that point. The simple fact is that there is a lot of uncertainty in the air, more uncertainty than we can remember. And the later we get into the campaign, the more the large states –and California will be the last of those large states – could become pivotal.

Exit polls indicated that among Trump supporters, they didn’t see themselves as particularly aligned with his values –and they didn’t see him as being particularly electable, but still voted for him. And I don’t mean to be dismissive, but [there seems to be] a strong emotional vote, that in voting for Trump, there is a feeling of empowerment of voice coming through. It’s not a logical vote, it’s a vote about “this is how I feel and I’m expressing myself in this support.” How do opponents deal with that?

Zach Courser: California Republicans are a frustrated lot. That Party has not done well here for many years and I think a lot of activists will probably be up to sending a message if June becomes a reality and that California can weigh in. I wouldn’t see California necessarily as saving the campaign for the Republican [Party] and throwing it to a more moderate candidate; I think California might actually throw its lot in with Trump.

I wonder if in Trump, the people who are supporting him are projecting on to him what they want him to be.

John Nichols: I would argue that it’s really something very, very different. I think this is the remarkable thing that DT has done. To my mind, it’s a frightening thing, but at the very least it’s intriguing. I think he’s inserted himself between the grassroots of the party and its leadership. He has basically turned toward the grassroots and said “These people up on top have been lying to you. They’ve promised you all sorts of things, they’ve never delivered and I have a better ability to deliver.”

The interesting thing about that sort of politics is, you don’t have to share the values of that person, you don’t have to like that person if your sense is that that person is pushing back against everybody who has made you frustrated or angry or disappointed in politics, that may be enough. And that person survives on the old theory “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And I think that’s what Trump is doing in the Republican [race]... The real question is whether he can transfer this kind of politics into the broader, general election. 

Do you think the Republican Party will suffer lasting damage Trump’s the nominee?

John Nichols: Absolutely. It will cease to be the Republican Party, it will be the party of Trumpism and that’s an important thing to understand. The only way that the Party comes out of this well, would be if Trump was overwhelmingly defeated. If he wins, he will do what he has done so far in this process, which is to redefine the party.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

This story has been updated.


Philip Rucker, Reporter at The Washington Post who’s been following the latest GOP stances on Donald Trump’s ascent

Lisa Camooso Miller, Republican strategist and partner at Blueprint Communications, a public affairs firm based in D.C.; Lisa tweets from @camoosomiller

Ed Espinoza, director of Progress Texas, a political communications firm based in Austin, TX. Former Western States Director for the Democratic National Committee in California and a superdelegate in 2008; Ed tweets from @EdEspinoza

Zach Courser, research director of the Dreier Roundtable and visiting assistant professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College

John Nichols, National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation; he tweets from @NicholsUprising

Larry N. Gerston, a professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University and author of many books, including “Not So Golden After All: The Rise and Fall of California” (CRC Press, 2012). He is the author of the op-ed piece, “This year, California will finally influence who becomes the GOP presidential nominee,” published yesterday in the LA Times; Larry tweets from @lgerston