History shows that the Republican candidate who wins most of the states on Super Tuesday wins the nomination. And so Donald Trump is on course to stand on the stage in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer and follow in the footsteps of Nixon, Reagan, Bush (both of them), Dole and McCain. His rise has been spectacular.
Trump wondered about running for president in 2000 for the Reform Party. But eventually he decided not to seek the nomination saying that the party was too splintered to mount a successful run at the White House. He also didn’t like its main figures. One was Pat Buchanan, a former Nixon speechwriter who twice attempted to secure the Republican presidential nomination himself. He was accused of anti-Semitism while disputing the numbers of Jews killed by the Nazis at the Treblinka death camp. Another was David Duke, at one point a prominent Republican politician in Louisiana but perhaps better known as the former grand wizard of the racist Ku Klux Klan. Trump left saying: 'That is not the company I wish to keep'.
Yet when asked about David Duke expressing support for Trump’s election campaign this week, the billionaire businessman said he had no idea who Duke was. He didn’t initially disavow his support. And he claimed he didn’t have enough information about white supremacist groups to reject any endorsement they might offer. Within hours – and perhaps aware of the storm he had created – Trump rejected Duke’s backing.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks hate groups in the US, was astounded by Trump’s claims. Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the group, speaking from its headquarters in Alabama, said the idea that Trump had to look up the klan was 'astounding'. He added: 'I’ve never seen anything like that in mainstream politics, literally for decades'.
Trump has managed to harness a visceral anger in the US, where people feel that politicians have failed to deliver on promises, that they are ignored, and that the system is rigged against them. A similar anger has helped propel the Bernie Sanders campaign on the Democrat side. Potok tried to explain it: 'There is a large working class and lower middle class white America who feel they are in trouble and who they feel their country is changing around them and they’re angry'. He believes Trump was initially reluctant to repudiate the klan on the chance that it would impact on the constituency he was trying to reach.
Throughout his campaign he has attacked and attacked, yet every time the crowds have roared with approval. Despite people thinking that each new controversy would finish him, he’s become stronger and bolder.
For many of Trump’s supporters the last eight years have brought massive changes. There is a black man in the White House. Gay marriage has been legalised. A form of universal health care has been introduced.
One columnist in Houston, Cory Garcia, argues that Trump is the best thing to happen to American politics, believing he’s exposed a dark underbelly. Sitting in a conference room at his weekly paper, the Houston Press, he told me: 'Donald Trump is the answer to a lot of Republican questions about "what would happen if we were just honest? What if we didn't beat around the bush about race, or immigration, or terrorism? What if we just said what we meant? Like, would we be punished for that? Would people be isolated, would we be marginalised?" And the answer, at least to Republican voters, is no'.
The Republican establishment thought Trump’s campaign would fall apart. He didn’t have the support. He didn’t have the discipline. He didn’t have the organisation. Now they are deeply worried he will be the party’s standard-bearer in November’s presidential election.
And after Super Tuesday, that is more likely than not.