Republicans wrestle with Trump surge

GOP stalwarts - but not all - plan to turn up the heat

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Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — The Republican Party wrestled Wednesday with whether to rally behind GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump or pursue a bloody fight to take him down, with no clear alternative to replace him.

A day after the Super Tuesday elections, neither Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who won his first contest, in Minnesota — nor Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who won three victories, including his home state of Texas — showed any readiness to make way for the billionaire,

A Super PAC with ties to GOP business leaders said it was stepping up its anti-Trump efforts.

And Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who has become an increasingly aggressive critic of Trump, plans to give a major address Thursday about the state of the presidential race.

It all could spell a brutal war of attrition stretching well into the spring.

“We are going to campaign in all 50 states and we are going to do whatever it takes to ensure that I am not only the nominee, but the Republican Party does not fall in the hands of someone like Donald Trump,” Rubio said in a Fox News interview.

On the other hand, conservative megadonors the Koch brothers will not use their $400 million political budget to try to block Trump’s path to the presidential nomination, a spokesman said.

The field of Republican candidates may not budge much for now to clear the way for Trump, although Ben Carson said he saw no “political path forward” and would not take the stage in Thursday’s televised GOP debate. The debate is at 8 p.m. Iowa Time on Fox News.

Many party stalwarts are loath to back Cruz, an unpopular senator with them who forced a federal government shutdown in 2013 and then irritated leaders by threatening to do it again.

But even some of them began publicly entertaining the idea as Trump’s Super Tuesday rout became clear.

“Ted Cruz is not my favorite by any means,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told CBS. “But we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.”

The conservative Our Principles PAC said it would expand an ad campaign in upcoming states including Illinois and Michigan and hire new opposition researchers to examine the real estate mogul’s past. The group on Tuesday night unveiled a YouTube clip featuring several television personalities decrying Trump as a racist.

Among the new hires is Tim Miller, the communications director to Jeb Bush’s shuttered campaign.

“Donald’s general election campaign will fail worse than Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks did and Hillary Clinton will destroy him even if she’s campaigning from jail,” Miller said in a statement.

Trump’s competitors pitched themselves as the last, best alternative to preventing him from earning the nomination — while encouraging each other to exit.

“So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely,” Cruz said during a rally. “And that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation.”

Paired with an emerging Democratic playbook to accuse Trump of being anti-woman, intolerant and too hotheaded to have his finger on the nuclear button, it would be the first concerted effort to convince voters that Trump isn’t fit for the office.

Trump won seven state contests, giving him a 90-delegate advantage over Cruz, who won Oklahoma and Alaska in addition to Texas. Behind them trails Rubio.

Cruz planned to campaign Wednesday night in Kansas, which holds its nominating caucuses Saturday with 40 delegates at stake. Kasich and Rubio were scheduled to visit Michigan, where a March 8 primary puts 59 delegates up for grabs.

But Trump predicted party leaders who have denounced his candidacy would come around, while bragging that his candidacy has excited voters.

“Our party is expanding and all you have to do is take a look at the primary states where I’ve won,” Trump said. “We’ve gone from one number to a much larger number. That hasn’t happened to the Republican Party in many, many decades. So I think we’re going to be more inclusive, more unified and a much bigger party and I think we’re going to win in November.”

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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