Judging from the turnout of Tuesday's Republican presidential caucus in Nevada, the GOP is converting its "big tent" into a revival tent.
Trouble for the Republican establishment is, Nevadans clearly find themselves feeling the spirit for flamboyant billionaire Donald Trump over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump not only drubbed the field, but he collected 42 percent of the caucus votes on the strength of his cult of personality and tough guy talk.
Trump might be in err, but he is never in doubt. And he might also be the only man still standing capable of attracting independent voters and disaffected Democrats.
Some will argue, as Ken Shapiro did last summer on Breitbart.com, that Republicans have actually been illustrating their broad-based appeal by fielding a fun bus full of candidates — and doing so to the detriment of the party.
"The establishment knows the GOP has become an umbrella without a unifying shaft, which is why they cling to relics of the past like Jeb Bush, hoping against hope that the name alone will unify (it didn't work for former President Millard Fillmore in 1856, and it won't work now)," he observed. "The Tea Party knows that the GOP has been hijacked by moneyed interests, which is why it seeks to ignore the party money; the same goes for the libertarians. And Evangelicals look for someone to take their priorities seriously, without embarrassment.
"So what's the solution? To figure out the Top Priorities of the various constituencies, and figure out who must take a back seat on those issues. It's one thing to have a Big Tent party. It's another things to let the clowns run the circus."
But it's also one thing to offer a Whitman's Sampler of candidates who make the party appear to be more broad-based than it actually is, and another thing to cling to arguments that have already been adjudicated.
Listening to the Republican presidential hopefuls go at it during caucus week in Nevada, and personal styles aside, they sounded a lot more alike than different. While ringmaster Donald Trump was by far the loudest critic of our broken immigration system, Rubio and Cruz ring the same bells. The same goes for everything from the future of Guantanamo to the sanctity of the family.
If making a credible appeal to minorities and women matters in November, and I'm guessing it will, who believes Trump, Rubio and Cruz have made inroads?
It's hard to imagine they'll be able to stoke enough outrage with divisive politics to prevail in a general election here. Granted, it's only the primary, Yes, a lot can happen between now and November. Candidates who come out spewing venom have been known to tone down their hard-core hyperbole in an effort to appeal to a more general audience.
Whether Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz can manage to do that is uncertain. But Trump and the rest of the remaining Republican presidential hopefuls will be hard-pressed to persuade the vast cross-section of Americans they've been busy marginalizing and insulting in recent months of the righteousness of their campaigns.
Will the winner of the Republican nomination really be able to walk back all the vitriolic language and Terminator talk? Will he even try?
Proving he knows better than anyone how to push the hot button issues with his followers, during Monday night's overflow rally at the South Point Arena Trump pressed controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio into action. Arpaio, who has gained national notoriety for his roundups and harassment of undocumented immigrants, delivered a ringing endorsement of the man of the hour.
"When Sheriff Joe endorses Trump, it means there's nobody like Trump on immigration," Trump said. "That we know."
The crowd went wild.
Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-0295.