(CN) – As they hurdle headlong toward Super Tuesday, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have largely defined themselves in the electorate’s collective mind and are waging what amounts to a national “get out the vote” campaign.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, where the Democrats will hold their presidential primary on Saturday, Sen. Bernie Sanders has arrived to challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who seems to have doubled down in exciting her base in every possible way.
“We’re in the race to win it and I think we’re going to pull off an upset,” Sanders said Wednesday.
Donald Trump has won three of the first four Republican contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and on Tuesday night in Nevada, losing only the Iowa caucus to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by tapping into populist anger at the Washington establishment.
On the campaign trail, even Trump has professed surprise at what has occurred since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.
“Who knew this was going to happen?” Trump said last week. “I’ve won a lot in my life. But I never figured I’d be so far ahead. I figured I’d be in the pack and eke it out at the end.”
“I didn’t know this was going to happen,” he said. “But here we are … we’ve packed every single event, and we have a movement going on that’s so special, they’re talking about it all over the world.”
After each of his wins, Trump has marveled at his apparent across-the-board appeal to Republican voters, winning even the evangelical vote in South Carolina that was supposed to be the core of Cruz’s support.
“We’ve won every single category,” he said.
“Rich/poor, fat/thin, tall/short … we’ve won among women. We’ve won among men. We’ve won among highly educated people and among smart people that don’t have the big education … “
Trump, who said that by the end of February he will have spent $25 million of his own money on his campaign, said each of his victories buoys his cause.
“The bigger the mandate, the better it is, and the easier job we’re going to have,” he said while stumping in South Carolina.
By comparison, Cruz, who began his bid for the presidency a Tea Party favorite on a fervent, largely Christian-based crusade, has seen his fortunes plummet after a series of questionable campaign moves that brought persistent attacks on his integrity from both Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Cruz’s tactics included campaign calls to voters in Iowa, telling them that the other conservative Christian candidate in the race, Dr. Ben Carson, had ended his campaign; a campaign ad that featured photo-shopping Rubio’s head onto the body of another man who was shaking President Barack Obama’s hand; and most recently, circulating a video on Twitter that purportedly showed Rubio disparaging the Bible.
The accusation against Rubio was false, and Cruz fired his chief spokesman, Rich Tyler, who circulated the video.
Rubio has tried to position himself as a true conservative and the only candidate in the race with foreign policy experience, which he acquired as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
He’s also laid claim to a kind of “Morning in America”-era Reaganism, routinely telling his audience that they “still can be the generation that authored the greatest chapter in the story of America.”
In the days before the Tuesday caucus in Nevada, Rubio seemed to be benefitting from Jeb Bush’s decision to quit the race after South Carolina, garnering endorsement after endorsement from Republican party regulars.
But in the end, Trump received more votes in Nevada than Cruz and Rubio put together.
Following Trump on the campaign trail offers some clues to why he’s winning as big as he is; he may be a billionaire, but he’s a master of presenting himself as the everyman the everyman who has gotten very, very lucky.
His campaign sets the tone, long before he takes a step toward the stage and his podium. Where every campaign plays music at its events to keep attendees upbeat and entertained before the candidate arrives typically country music, almost inevitably featuring Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” Trump rock and rolls.
Almost certain to be heard at a Trump event are “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock, “Black and White” by Michael Jackson, and the candidate’s theme song, “Right Now” by Van Halen.
By the time he arrives to speak, Trump’s constituency is literally dancing in the aisles.
He then proceeds to dispense with most of the rules of public speaking.
Where Cruz delivers a sermon whenever he steps out on stage, and Rubio is a highly polished and apparently genuine public speaker, Trump is all over the place, hitting talking point after talking point, often veering wildly along the way.
If one closes one’s eyes at a Trump rally and just listens, one hears the cadence of Chris Rock in the candidate’s repeating lines twice for emphasis, a little bit of Andrew Dice Clay in his accent and sentence structure, and all of it sounding as if it were channeled through the vocal cords of the pugnacious former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, now a panelist on ESPN’s autumnal NFL pregame show.
Like Ditka, Trump appears to get a lot of air in his sentences, so much that they seem to evaporate to a conclusion, rather than trail off.
In short, he talks just like the majority of his supporters, and he gives voice to their frustrations and common logic.
Speaking of terrorism, Trump has repeatedly told his audiences that if the victims of terror attacks in Paris or San Bernardino had guns, fewer would have died.
“If bullets were going in the other direction, you wouldn’t have had 130 people killed in France, where they have the toughest gun laws in the world, you wouldn’t have had 14 people die in San Bernardino and countless others wounded,” he said.
“These were two people,” Trump said, continuing to talk of the San Bernardino shooting in December.
“They were radicalized. She probably radicalized him. Nobody knows. Who cares?” he said. “They were radicalized.”
“Radical … Islamic … Terrorism,” Trump said, emphasizing each word.
“They walked into a room full of people who gave them a wedding reception, people who gave them a baby shower, people that they knew … and they killed 14 people,” he said. “If there had been bullets flying both ways, there wouldn’t have been that kind of carnage. So we’re going to protect the Second Amendment.”
Trump, who became a reality television star by hosting “The Apprentice” on NBC, knows the value of launching a phrase into the popular culture. On “The Apprentice,” his tag line was “You’re Fired”; on the road promoting himself as the next president, it’s quickly becoming “the wall:” the border wall he says he will force Mexico to build.
By the time he reached South Carolina, Trump needed only to mention the wall to illicit sustained, loud applause, and even get his audiences to engage in a bit of call and response.
“What are we going to build?”
“Who’s going to pay for it?”
Trump’s message has changed over time. When he first began touting the wall, it was to stop illegal immigration. Since New Hampshire, he’s tied it to the war on drugs and the increased heroin abuse across the country.
“Drugs are pouring into this country,” Trump said. “People drive through the border, loaded up with drugs … we get the drugs, they leave without our money.
“So we’re going to close up the border. We’re going to have a wall … and it’s going to be a great wall. It’s going to be beautiful … because some day they’re probably going to name it after Trump and I have to make sure it’s good.
“That’s a promise to the country,” he continued. “And we’re going to work with Customs and Border Patrol and let them do their jobs.”
Bringing his comments back around to illegal immigration, Trump notes that he’s been endorsed by Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a controversial figure for his tough approach to dealing with immigrants.
“When Sheriff Joe endorses you, you are the toughest candidate on the border issue,” Trump said.
“We’re going to run our country properly, folks. We’re going to run our country properly.”
Trump doesn’t shy away from his most controversial pronouncements on issues like terrorism, in fact, on stage, he brings them up himself.
“At one of these debates I was asked, ‘Mr. Trump, how do you feel about waterboarding?'” he recalled. “And I got into a little trouble because I said I feel great about waterboarding … it’s so borderline … really minimal, minimal torture.
“In fact, I think we should go much, much further,” he said. “We have an enemy in the Middle East that’s chopping off people’s heads … drowning people in cages … can you imagine these people sitting down to dinner, eating whatever they eat, and talking about us worrying about waterboarding when they are chopping off heads? They much think we are the dumbest and weakest and stupidest people on Earth.”
Despite being the frontrunner in the Republican race, Trump continues to maintain he’s an outsider in politics, a system he says is corrupted by candidates “having to raise so much money from those they’re supposed to regulate.”
“It’s a crooked business, folks. This is a crooked business,” he said.
With that, Trump typically goes on to lambast Cruz, who he says “lies more than any human being I have ever seen.”
Trump acknowledges he has his critics, and that even those who like his take on issues express concern about personality.
“That’s OK,” he said. “To them I say, if you had your choice, would you really choose somebody with a wonderful personality, but who was bad on jobs and bad on the economy and bad on security and bad on the wall?
“Personally, I’d take the guy with the wall and the strong economy,” he said.
“I keep saying we’re going to make America great again, but I think we can make America even greater than it’s ever been,” Trump says these days as he wraps up his appearances.
“You’re going to be so proud of your country. You’re going to be so proud of your president. … because we are going to start winning, winning, winning again.”
Despite his travails, Cruz continues to try to stay on message, trying to position himself as the only candidate in the race who has taken on the congressional leadership. He is not well-liked in the Senate, even by members of his own party.
“When you are willing to take on the party leadership in Congress, they don’t like it,” Cruz has told rally after rally. “When you take on the corruption, the bipartisan corruption of the Democrats and career-politician Republicans that are bankrupting this country, they don’t like it.”
Cruz has also tried to make the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a litmus test for primary voters to consider while choosing a candidate.
“Justice Scalia … was a lion of the law,” Cruz said. “[His] passing leaves a huge vacuum and I think it focuses the mind and has people asking who in the race, beyond a shadow of a doubt … will nominate and fight to confirm a principled constitutionalist to the court who will protect the Bill of Rights?”
Cruz then warns his listeners that “the court is hanging in the balance.”
“We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court striking down every restriction on abortion that’s been enacted in the last 40 years [and] mandating unlimited abortion on demand up to the moment of delivery, partial birth abortion, with taxpayer funding and no parental notification,” he told an audience in Charleston during the South Carolina leg of his campaign.
He continued: “You know, Justice Scalia’s most significant opinion was Heller v. District of Columbia. I know that case well because I represented 31 states in Heller defending the Second Amendment right of individuals to keep and bear arms. We won 5-4.
“One more liberal appointment to the Supreme Court will literally write the 2nd Amendment out of the Bill of Rights … because the position of the four justices in dissent wasn’t that some gun control is sometimes permissible. The position of the dissenters was that the Second Amendment doesn’t protect any individual right to keep and bear arms whatsoever. … that there’s only a quote/unquote ‘collective right to the militia,’ which is fancy lawyer talk for a nonexistent right.
“We are a liberal justice away from the high court returning Heller and concluding that no individual has a right to keep and bear arms whatsoever … that the government can ban firearms and we won’t have the right to challenge it,” he said.
Cruz has also claimed that a liberal appointment to fill the Supreme Court vacancy will threaten “religious liberty.”
“It is the first liberty protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights,” he said. “The foundation of everything else.”
In Charleston, Cruz recalled that when he was solicitor general of Texas, he appeared before the Supreme Court to defend a 10 Commandments monument on the Texas capitol grounds.
“We went to the Supreme Court and we won, 5-4,” he said.
“We are just one justice away from the U.S. Supreme Court ordering 10 Commandments monuments torn down from courthouse grounds and city halls and public parks all over this country.”
Cruz also recalled his defense of the Mojave Veterans Memorial Cross, in the Supreme Court case of Salazar v. Buono.
The cross was erected in 1934 to honor those killed during World War I, but it became an issue for the courts after several groups sued to have it removed from public land, citing separation of church and state.
On April 28, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled there was no violation of the separation of church and state when Congress transferred the land surrounding the cross to a veterans group.
“The ACLU sued, looking to tear down that monument,” Cruz said. “They said you couldn’t gaze at the image of the cross on public lands. They won in the district court. They won in the court of appeals, but we won in the Supreme Court, 5-4.
“We are one liberal justice away from the court ordering veterans memorials torn down all over this country if they have any religious symbol at all and we’re not far from the chisels being ordered out to remove the crosses and the Stars of David removed from the tombstones of our fallen soldiers,” Cruz claimed. “That’s what the stakes are.
“If we elect Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or some other socialist … we will lose out constitutional rights for a generation,” he said. “But here’s the sad truth, electing a Republican, if it is the wrong Republican, doesn’t ensure we keep our rights.
“When it comes to the Supreme Court nominees, the Democrats always get what they want a left-wing, reactionary activist who votes exactly as they want on every single case. On the Republican side, we bat less than 500 and many of the worst judicial activists were Republican nominees,” he said.
Cruz’s list of despicable justices includes former Chief Justice Earl Warren, and former justices William Brennan, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Harry Blackmun, whom, he points out, was “the author of Roe v. Wade.
“Every one of those men was a Republican appointee, and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “It’s not that Republican presidents secretly want to appoint liberals. It’s that far too many Republicans don’t really care about the court, so they are not willing to invest political capital in fighting for a conservative nominee.
“The thing is, the Democrats get the joke. … but what you see with Republican president after Republican president who doesn’t value the court is they say, ‘Gosh, if we nominate a true conservative, we’ll have a fight on our hands.’ So instead, they nominate a so-called stealth candidate who doesn’t have a conservative paper trail.
“Now, let me tell you something, if you’ve lived 50 years of your life without ever writing or saying or doing anything to prove you’re a conservative, you ain’t,” Cruz said.
In South Carolina this week it’s the Democrats’ turn to compete in the first-in-the-South primary.
While Sanders has held two substantial rallies in the state one in Charleston last week, when the candidates in the state’s Republican primary dominated media coverage, and one Sunday, in Greenville, he’s been focusing on solidifying his support in Super Tuesday states, including Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Massachusetts.
Sanders returned to South Carolina on Wednesday to participate in a CNN Town Hall in Columbia, and held a morning press conference at which he detailed proposals to reduce poverty nationwide.
Sanders says poverty has increased due in part to a 1996 welfare reform bill which he opposed as “an assault on the poor, women and children, minorities and immigrants.”
At a news conference at which he was flanked by state Reps. Justin Bamberg and Joe Neal, Sanders proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, starting a youth jobs program that he said would create 1 million jobs, and urged support for a $1 trillion, five-year push to put “13 million Americans to work in good-paying jobs rebuilding roads, bridges and railways.”
He also reiterated that he believes his proposed Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system would help reduce poverty.
In the meantime, Hillary Clinton seems to be trying in every way to secure a wide-margin victory in South Carolina, where she is leading in the polls, to quiet speculation that she’s not quite connecting with voters, despite her recent win in Nevada.
Clinton has been in South Carolina since Tuesday night and plans to stay in the state through primary day.
Her scheduled includes several events a day, most of them targeting minority voters. These include a “Breaking Down Barriers” series of town halls across the state which have featured the mothers of several young black men and women who have been killed by gun violence, often at the hands of police.
She was joined Tuesday night in Columbia by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly killed in a 2011 shooting, for an event to honor the victims of gun violence.
Former President Bill Clinton is slated to appear at five get-out-the-vote rallies across the state on Thursday and Friday.
On Thursday, President Clinton will travel to Rock Hill, Spartanburg and Winnsboro, and on Friday, to Aiken and Bluffton.
- How Rude!