President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court Wednesday underscores how closely the Republican Party’s future influence over every lever of federal power is now bound to the volatile instincts of Donald J. Trump.
If Senate Republicans uphold their promise to block Garland, and Trump continues his march to the party’s presidential nomination, the GOP will be betting that Americans will choose to vest control of the next Supreme Court nominee in a candidate whose most recent judicial pronouncement was promising to explore paying the legal fees for an elderly white supporter who sucker punched a young black protester at one of his rallies. (After sending that unmistakable initial signal, Trump later retreated.)
It remains plausible that Trump will arrive at the GOP convention with fewer than the 1,237 delegates that he needs for a first-ballot nomination (though that remains within his reach.) But it’s no longer plausible that any rival will arrive there with as many delegates as him, and seems unlikely any will claim nearly as many—making him tough to deny even if he falls short.
In Tuesday’s contests, Trump demonstrated again that he has split the GOP along a new class-based axis. The core of Trump’s success remains his dominance among white voters without a college education across geographic, religious, and ideological lines. After Tuesday, exit polls have been conducted in 20 states. Trump has carried most non-college whites in 17 of them, often attracting about half their votes or more. Trump’s position with white-collar Republicans is much more equivocal. Across the 20 exit-polled states, he has carried most college-educated Republicans in just eight (and tied Ted Cruz in another). But Trump has generally remained more competitive with these voters than his opponents have with his blue-collar base.