The Great Divorce, Republican style

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Most party nominations are like marriages. Sometimes they are shotgun affairs or entered into out of convenience or desperation on the parts of the betrothed. Occasionally they are even love matches.

But what is happening now in the Republican Party seems far more akin to a divorce.

In 2008, many expected the enmity of the Democratic nominating process to produce an unhappy union. But in the end, Barack Obama’s courtship was successful and Democrats united behind him. In the same year, the warring wings of the GOP entered into a marriage of convenience to pick John McCain.

Perhaps no Republican could have won that year, given the condition of the Iraq war and the U.S. economy. But the loveless union between McCain’s wing of the party and conservatives hardly helped – especially compared to the unity and enthusiasm of the Democrats. It was “Yes we can!” versus “We think you probably shouldn’t, but whatever…”

A love match proved stronger than a marriage of convenience. And while there are many factors that determine which side wins a presidential election, party unity is high on the list. Obama was the exception to the rule that primary-season rancor bodes ill for general election success.

A CNN poll out today shows GOP frontrunner Donald Trump with the support of 49 percent of his party’s primary voters.

Now, we always ought to remember that CNN’s national polling has been consistently bullish on Trump compared to other outlets. Plus, the survey was mostly taken before Trump’s Sunday stumble over the support of white nationalist David Duke and lots of reporting on Trump’s various business difficulties, including the torch-job in today’s WaPo about Trump’s failed mortgage company.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that at 16-points better for Trump than the previous day’s Real Clear Politics Average of polls, CNN’s poll today is ahead of the curve instead of an outlier.

The poll says that like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, many Republicans have gone from viewing Trump as temperamentally unfit for the White House to believing the New York billionaire is the best choice to “keep America safe.”

If the CNN poll is accurate, then under normal circumstances, it would be good news for Republicans. Party elders designed this year’s process with a compressed schedule and few debates for the very purpose of pushing a frontrunner quickly over the top. Mitt Romney didn’t poll above 50 percent in his party until nearly four months after voting began. That was too long to wait to wed, especially for a marriage of desperation. So this is better, right?

Well, not really…

The same CNN poll that shows Trump on the cusp of locking up the nomination as soon as March 15 includes something which Fox News First has never seen before: While 49 percent of GOP respondents said they picked Trump, 48 percent said that they would probably or certainly not support Trump in the general election.

That compares to 29 percent for second place Sen. Marco Rubio, 31 percent third-place Sen. Ted Cruz and 33 percent among Democrats for their presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. Those numbers, as well as Trump’s, would be expected to fade as the rancor of the primaries faded. But there’s something else at work with a number so high.

If the poll, again, taken with copious servings of salt, were right, it would mean that Trump would not win the general election. But no earthquake there. That’s what polls have consistently shown.

However, that nearly half of Republicans would be prepared to repudiate their party’s nominee is truly the sign that the GOP may finally be at the breaking point forecast by the press in the past two cycles and tirelessly encouraged by President Obama and his party.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that given Trump’s stances on issues and his approach to government power that there are many conservatives who would hope to see a Trump nomination result in a humiliating general election defeat. That sentiment was present in the previous two cycles for some of those who now support Trump, but this seems different.

Not only is the revolt against the frontrunner seemingly more widespread, but it includes in its number those willing to suffer consequences for their refusal.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., vowed in a Facebook post on Sunday to refuse to support Trump and spoke for many in the #NeverTrump wing of the GOP when he wrote: “…parties are just tools to enact the things that we believe. Political parties are not families; they are not religions; they are not nations – they are often not even on the level of sports loyalties. They are just tools. I was not born Republican. I chose this party, for as long as it is useful.”

This means more from someone whose career and future hang in the balance than from a pundit who can simply zig back if their position comes a cropper. We certainly saw nothing of the kind from a sitting senator in 2012 or 2008. But one doubts Sasse will be the last one to take such a risk.

Do you believe that these sentiments will be more prevalent or less prevalent two weeks from now? How about by the time of the GOP convention in July? Factor in what will surely be Hillary Clinton’s centrist sprint after she locks up the nomination and many weeks of the kind of brutal media coverage of Trump we are only just now starting to see.

It would seem that the acrimony that is dominating the GOP primary process is actually going to get worse, something that wouldn’t have seemed possible even three weeks ago. And the once risible claims of the coming crackup in the party could result in the Great Republican Divorce.

[GOP delegate count: Trump 82; Cruz 17; Rubio 16; Kasich 6; Carson 4 (1,237 needed to win)]

Super Tuesday, the contest that will determine the rest of the Republican race, is one day away and the stakes have never been higher. What could happen? Christian Ferry, former campaign manager to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, gives his prediction to Chris Stirewalt and explains what it’s like to be on the inside of a campaign. WATCH HERE.

[Watch Fox: Attorney General Loretta Lynch sits down with Bret Baier to talk about the Clinton case and the rumor she may be the next Supreme Court pick. Tune in tonight at 6 p.m ET]

Today is Leap Day, the extra day added to the calendar every four years to keep our system in check. But can we do away with having that extra day and instead have an extra week? Christian Science Monitor brings us the proposal: “Steve Hanke, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, says having an even number of days in a quarter would simplify financial calculations. Dr. Hanke and his colleague Richard Henry have proposed their own new calendar: The Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar. In that calendar, every year would have 364 days and a leap week would be tacked on every five or six years to make up for the missing parts of a solar year. One advantage of this calendar, Hanke tells the Monitor, is that the date would fall on the same day every year. This would cut down on time spent revising schedules for companies, universities, and other institutions each year.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
National GOP nomination:
Trump 35.6 percent; Cruz 19.8 percent; Rubio 17.4 percent; Carson 9 percent; Kasich 8.8 percent
Georgia GOP Primary: Trump 36.2 percent; Rubio 21.8 percent; Cruz 21.4 percent; Carson 8 percent; Kasich 6.8 percent
Texas GOP Primary: Cruz 36.2 percent; Trump 26.6 percent; Rubio 19.2 percent; Kasich 6.4 percent; Carson 5.6 percent
Virginia GOP Primary: Trump 36.8 percent; Rubio 22.3 percent; Cruz 17.5 percent; Kasich 7 percent; Carson 6.5 percent
National Dem nomination: Clinton 49 percent; Sanders 41.5 percent
General Election Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +2.8 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Democrats +1

UPI: “More than 1,000 people from 29 states participated in the Florida Fish and Wild Life Commission’s 2016 python challenge. Participants captured 106 snakes in the monthlong competition designed to help thin out the thousands of invasive species in the Florida Everglades while also raising awareness for the state's environmental problems…People competed in both team and individual categories including ‘Most pythons’ and ‘Longest Python.’ Winners were awarded cash prizes as well as a hand-crafted Woodman’s Pal land-clearing tool donated by Pro Tool Industries.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.