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Record-setting turnout for Trump is a boost – and a threat – to the GOP

Normally, the winnowing process of the presidential primary system creates clarity, and with the results of Super Tuesday voting that appears to be the case for Democrats. For Republicans, though, the closer Donald Trump gets to the Republican nomination, the greater the confusion.

Consider: While Trump is helping to produce record turnouts among Republican primary voters, party leaders are warning that his nomination will give Democrats a third consecutive term in the White House. It’s a clear possibility, given Trump’s over-the-top personality, not to mention the fact that his positions on many issues – abortion and health care, to name two – were of the Democratic variety until he decided to run for president.

Still, it is true that Trump has excited the Republican base like no one in memory. He won in seven Super Tuesday states while driving a remarkable level of turnout. In Virginia, for example, more than 1 million votes were cast. That demolished the previous record, set in 2000, by more than 50 percent. In Tennessee, the 800,000 votes cast also set a record, breaking the previous one by almost 50 percent. Trump won both contests.

What is driving the turnout is disgust not only with politics, but with previous Republican leaders who energized the base with promises they could not keep, if they even wanted to. Yet, Trump is also doing that by promising to build a wall along the Southern border that, somehow, Mexico will agree to pay for. He promises mass deportations of illegal immigrants that will not happen. On a different front, he also had trouble distancing himself from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.

No matter. He is the anti-politician who talks big and that is enough to produce big turnouts – and to terrify the Republican leadership. Speaking to the New York Times, longtime Republican strategist Mike Murphy said a Trump presidency would be an “unmitigated disaster and would set the party back decades.”

“It’s like a computer designed him to lose elections for us,” he said. “Who does he offend? College-educated white women and Latinos, the groups we need to win.”

He’s not alone in fearing either a Trump nomination or a November victory would bring disaster to the party. Yet, if Democrats are rubbing their hands with glee, they should refrain, because they have their own issues to deal with. While the party is quickly coalescing around the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – though with less than record turnouts – many Democrats are also dissatisfied with politics as usual.

Those voters have created the Bernie Sanders phenomenon. They haven’t created anything like the schism that has opened in the Republican Party, but Clinton needs to woo them back and also to win the support of independents. Those voters may harbor doubts about Clinton’s judgment after her foolish decision to use a private email server for official State Department business. The decision has sparked formal investigations that are shadowing her campaign.

Still, with victories in eight Super Tuesday states, it’s hard to see how Clinton will lose the party’s nomination. And, but for the possibility of a brokered Republican convention, in which party leaders maneuver to deny Trump the nomination, the New Yorker seems bound for the GOP nomination.

What that portends is the ugliest, most brutish presidential election in modern history – and perhaps ever. It’s going to be a rough ride.