Super Tuesday led to one thing: super turnout. While Democrats struggle to generate any real enthusiasm, the GOP is blowing past primary records in one state after another. In Virginia alone, Republicans cast more than one million votes -- crushing the mark set in 2000 by more than 50 percent. The story was much the same in Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, and more. Experts say the GOP's intensity is at historic levels, and after seven years of Obama's lawlessness, they show no signs of letting up.
Although Donald Trump had a banner night by every measure -- extending his delegate lead with first place finishes in seven states -- he was far from the day's only winner. In fact, for as wildly successful as Trump was predicted to be Tuesday, many believe the mogul fell short of the high bar set for him. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who outperformed everyone in his home state, went on to gobble up wins in Oklahoma and Alaska -- solidifying himself as the only real competition for Trump, thanks to runner-up finishes in Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, and Tennessee.
By night's end, the road to 1,237 delegates looked a little less certain than many of the pundits had predicted with Trump's 319, Cruz's 226, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 110. And as the Weekly Standard pointed out, "There's more evidence of Trump weakness if you look closely: Why did he lose Oklahoma? Because it's the only state where the vote was restricted to actual Republicans. Which further bolsters the case that Trump is not leading a revolt from within the party, but staging a hostile takeover of it." Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The party needs a makeover, but a true conservative makeover! Looking further into the combined numbers of Rubio and Cruz, they have more total delegates than the frontrunner, so this is far from over.
Unfortunately for the Florida senator, that was one of the few positives from the biggest primary night of the year. For many, Rubio was by far Super Tuesday's biggest disappointment. "Yes, he can say he won a state (Minnesota)..." Charlie Cook explained, "but, at the end of the night, Rubio came in third place almost everywhere else. The fact that Rubio lost Virginia, a state that is tailor-made for a candidate with his profile, was a particularly harsh blow. It is really hard to see how he wins his home state of Florida. Whatever hope the Rubio team had of becoming the consensus Trump alternative died last night." With just one win under his belt (making him 1-14 for the year), the string of third place finishes is only fueling the cries for the remaining candidates to unify behind one Trump alternative. And polling makes a compelling case for it. Based on the most recent numbers, the largest percentage of Rubio voters would go to Cruz if the Florida senator left the race. Interestingly, Rubio wouldn't have the same advantage if Cruz dropped out, since far more Cruz voters say Trump is their "second choice." The path to challenging Trump should be pretty obvious: Ted Cruz.
Of course, there's been a lot of chatter and head scratching over the evangelical trends, which continued last night after Trump's dominant performance with this seemingly enigmatic group. Very few people have been able to wrap their heads around the "bizarre" relationship between Donald and evangelicals. Part of the reason for the unusual alliance, Peter Wehner speculates in yesterday's New York Times, "is that many evangelicals feel increasingly powerless, beaten down, aggrieved and under attack." But there may be a better explanation for Trump's popularity with this bloc, the Barna Group points out, which is that some of these "evangelicals" aren't evangelicals at all! If you want to understand where true evangelicals stand, they argue, ask the churchgoers. "Most polls are based on self-identification," the Group has found, "instead of what people do or believe... Reuters and others have found that church attendance distinctly decreases evangelical support for Trump, who has the least-religious supporters among the GOP candidates."
Barna's definition of evangelical is more "rigorous." To qualify, voters have to meet nine key faith criteria ranging from a personal commitment to Jesus Christ to agreement on who God is. Using that filter, true evangelicals, the Group notes, "whose faith hinges on obedience to God's commands, are far more interested in the character of candidates than any other segment." Looking at the election through Barna's lens, the mirage of Trump's broad evangelical support begins to fall away.
"Overall, far more evangelicals view Trump as 'very unfavorable' than 'very favorable," the survey notes. "Researchers found a 38 percentage point difference between the extreme ends of Trump's favorability spectrum... When Barna asked its 869 survey respondents to choose their favorite candidate, evangelicals who identified as Republicans split between Cruz (38%) and Carson (35%), trailed by Rubio (14%) and Trump (11%). Practicing Christians also chose Cruz first (30%), followed by Carson (20%), Trump (18%), and Rubio (15%)."
The liberal media would love to perpetuate the story that evangelicals are abandoning their morals to vote for someone with questionable character. And perhaps some are. But Barna's research makes it clear -- true evangelicals haven't lost faith in their core values.
DISCLAIMER: Tony Perkins has made an endorsement in his individual and personal capacity only, and it should not be construed or interpreted in any way as the endorsement of FRC, FRC Action, or any affiliated entity.