The Republican Party establishment was officially slain by Donald Trump Tuesday night, as he defeated Florida native Senator Marco Rubio in that state's presidential primary contest. Rubio's path forward after losing his home state was completely erased and he promptly dropped out of the race after conceding to Trump.
This leaves Republican voters with only two choices remaining for their 2016 standard bearer, Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Moderate Republican John Kasich remained in the race after finally winning his first contest of the 2016 nominating cycle. However, because of his lack of delegates in comparison to Trump and Cruz, there is no mathematically feasible path for the Ohio Governor to win the nomination before the July nominating convention.
The choice between Cruz and Trump that now lies before Republican Party insiders is one they have loathed the thought of for months. Neither candidate has ever received backing from prominent Party leaders outside of New Jersey Governor and former presidential candidate Chris Christie's surprise endorsement of Trump back in February.
The reason for this is that neither man has the profile of a traditionally strong candidate in a presidential election. Although together they've dominated the Republican primary calendar, losing only two states to Kasich and Rubio, both Cruz and Trump poll poorly compared to their more establishment friendly rivals, particularly Trump, who consistently trails both Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in hypothetical November matchups.
Trump has alienated so many key demographics with controversial statements it's difficult to keep count. At this point, his viability with Latino's, women, young voters and well educated voters appears dubious at best in a general election. Trump's domination with the demographic he himself referred to as the "poorly educated" has sprung him to a lead in the Republican primaries, with only Cruz or a brokered nominating convention remaining in his way of total victory.
For his part, Cruz has made himself the movement conservative, evangelical Christian candidate in the vain of less successful campaigns by former presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
The problem for the Republican Party is that neither of these two candidates represent the direction they need to take to remain viable on the national stage. After performing what Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus referred to as an "autopsy" of the party's strategy in 2012, a third straight loss in presidential elections could represent the destruction of the party's brand by ideologically extreme and in some cases downright offensive candidates. In 2016, one of the United States' two major political parties is staring into what can only be described as an electoral abyss.
It's particularly difficult to see how Republicans rebound from a Trump nomination. Trump is so unpopular outside of his "poorly educated" vastly older, white fan base that the image of him accepting the GOP's nomination and being their official standard bearer might just destroy any credibility the party has left with crucial general election voting blocs.
His unpopularity with young voters and Latinos should prove particularly troubling for Republicans. High Latino turnout delivers multiple swing states to Democrats including Nevada, Colorado and possibly the huge 29 Electoral College vote prize of Florida. Mathematically speaking, Republicans cannot win the Electoral College without any of those states.
Young voters are already skewing decidedly more liberal than previous generations and Trump's candidacy may permanently damage their image of the Republican Party as they grow older and become a larger voting bloc. Currently, young voters have consistently low turnout in elections at every level of government. However, a Trump candidacy might just inspire young people to come out en masse to oppose him and vote Democratic in the 2016 election, possibly creating a new generation of progressive Democrats.
Republicans who are hopeful that Trump can make a mad dash back to the ideological center of the political spectrum in time for the general election should remember that he is on record having said things which cannot be erased or reevaluated in the minds of voters. Any attempt to deny or reinvent the image he has crafted of himself over the past 9 months will surely prove futile. In all likelihood, the distinct possibility of a Trump nomination leaves Republicans in a political wilderness which threatens to destroy a poorly aging political brand.