Back in 2008, the little-known, lightly financed Mike Huckabee won 22% of the votes in contests until John McCain clinched the nomination on March 4. In 2012, the sweater vest-clad Rick Santorum won 28% of the votes until Mitt Romney clinched the nomination on April 3.
In 2016, Trump faced no single establishment candidate but a field full of rivals afraid to criticize him and bent on undercutting each other. In primaries and caucuses up through April 5, by which time Trump eliminated all but one opponent, he won 36% of the votes — a steady progression from Huckabee’s 22% and Santorum’s 28%. So did Trump create MAGA, or did MAGA create Trump?
My conclusion: It’s a Trumpish party, but not exactly Trump’s party. It’s also a party on the brink of a big midterm victory, judging from primary turnout so far. More Republican ballots have been cast than Democratic ones in every primary state so far except Oregon, with Republicans casting 65% and 67% of ballots in solid Republican Ohio and Texas and 53% and 55% in marginal Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Trump will claim credit for the party’s victories, but Republicans may not renominate this former president in 2024, just as they declined to renominate Ulysses S. Grant in 1880 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
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