Will Trump face an independent challenge from the right?

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Donald Trump on December 29 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo (cc) by Matt Johnson.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Super Tuesday was newsworthy not so much because of what happened, but because it set the stage for what may prove to be cataclysmic events in the weeks and months ahead—especially on the Republican side.

To no one’s surprise, racist demagogue Donald Trump took another huge step toward becoming the Republican nominee, raising serious questions about the future of the party. Worcester’s own Charles P. Pierce, who writes a popular political blog for Esquire, compares the situation to the break-up of the Whig Party in the 1850s. In the Financial Times, Martin Wolf is even gloomier in a column headlined “Donald Trump embodies how great republics meet their end.”

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton hit her marks with ease. Bernie Sanders will soldier on, but as a left-wing protest candidate angling for a nice speaking slot at the party’s national convention rather than as someone who is actually running for president.

What follows is a round-up of commentary that will help you make sense of what comes next.

• The Republican crisis. Let’s start with a week-old piece whose relevance has only increased. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic, fears that Trump would mount an independent candidacy if he didn’t get his way have been turned on their head. Now it’s conservative Republicans who may ask one of their own to run as an independent this fall against major-party candidates Clinton and Trump.

Such a candidate would likely come not from the Republicans’ minuscule moderate wing but from the right, the better to challenge Trump’s heterodox (and ever-shifting) views on Social Security, health care, and abortion rights. Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has said that he won’t support for Trump and might support an independent conservative.

So here’s an idea: Why not South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley? She’s certainly conservative enough, coming to prominence several years ago on the strength of her Tea Party support. She’s non-white and struck just the right tone on the Confederate flag following the Charleston shootings last year. In other words, she’s an ideal alternative to Trump, who took a disturbingly long time to disavow the support of Ku Klux Klan figure David Duke.

If not Haley, there’s always Mitt Romney, as this Boston Globe editorial reminds us.

 Sanders faces reality. In the span of just a few weeks, Hillary Clinton has lurched from inevitable to teetering on the brink and then back to inevitable again—a media-driven phenomenon that we talked about on WGBH-TV’s Beat the Press last week.

So what went wrong with the Bernie Sanders campaign? Washington Postcolumnist Dana Milbank took a dive into the numbers and found that, though voters are angry, the anger is mainly on the Republican side. Milbank writes:

Americans overall have a dim view of where the country is headed: 36 percent think we’re on the right track, and 60 percent say we’re headed in the wrong direction, in the January Washington Post-ABC News poll. But break that down further and you find that 89 percent of Republicans think we’re on the wrong track. With Democrats, it’s reversed: Only 34 percent say we’re heading the wrong way.

Given those findings, Clinton’s decision to go all-in with her embrace of President Obama makes a lot of sense.

• A massive media fail. In Politico, Hadas Gold pulls together multiple strands in trying to explain why the media got Trump so wrong by treating him until recently as a laughingstock with no chance of winning the nomination. (Mea culpa.)

The best quote is from New Yorker editor David Remnick, who tells Gold, “The fact that so many of us, all of us, were wrong in predicting anywhere near the extent of his success so far, may be partly due to the fact we didn’t want to believe those currents could be appealed to so well and so deeply and successfully.”

• Two cheers for democracy. At National Review, the venerable conservative journal that recently devoted an entire issue to anti-Trumpism, Kevin D. Williamson writes that the two major political parties both produced better nominees before the rise of the modern primary-and-caucus system:

In our modern political discourse, we hear a great deal of lamentation about deals made in “smoke-filled rooms,” but in fact that horse-trading led to some pretty good outcomes. Vicious demagogues such as Donald Trump and loopy fanatics such as Bernie Sanders were kept from the levers of power with a surprisingly high degree of success.

• Why Rubio keeps losing. Marco Rubio finally won something—the Minnesota caucuses. But the Florida senator, a Tea Party favorite embraced by the party establishment, has consistently underperformed. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who on Super Tuesday won his home state along with Oklahoma and Alaska, now appears to be a more viable challenger to Trump than Rubio does.

Why did Rubio never rise to the moment? There were the robotic talking points, of course, as well as his seeming lack of any sort of core as he veered wildly from sunny optimism to telling a thinly veiled joke about the size of Trump’s packageover the weekend.

In SlateIsaac Chotiner opines about all these things and more—and reaches the conclusion that Rubio’s meltdown in the New Hampshire debate, in which he panicked under a withering assault from Chris Christie, may have done lasting harm, even though he seemed to have recovered. Chotiner writes that “it’s possible the initial conventional wisdom about his debate performance was correct,” although he adds that it’s “wishful thinking” to believe that Rubio would otherwise be the front-runner.

• Christie’s hostage video. Chris Christie’s uncomfortable appearance with Trump on Tuesday night following his endorsement provoked an outburst of mockery on Twitter. Typical was this tweet from Adam Riglian:

The Guardian and CNN.com have some amusing wrap-ups as well.