Trump Assumes GOP Mantle With Indiana Victory
An outcome that many Republicans first thought impossible, and then actively feared and fought, is now reality: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.
Trump marched to victory in Indiana on Tuesday and effectively clinched his party’s nomination when his chief remaining rival, Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race. The result marked the apex of Trump’s unthinkable rise from a novelty candidate dismissed by party leaders to an untouchable front-runner lauded by supporters for his candor.
In post-victory remarks from Trump Tower in New York City, he pivoted immediately to a general election message, telling supporters, “We’re going after Hillary.”
“We want to bring unity to the Republican Party,” Trump added.
As a first step in that direction, he extended an olive branch to Cruz following a Republican primary that has recently become acrimonious and quite personal, calling the Texas senator “one hell of a competitor” with “an amazing future.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus confirmed in a tweet that Trump “will be presumptive GOP nominee” and urged his party “to unite and focus on defeating Hillary Clinton.”
The Democratic primary, meanwhile, will continue on. Bernie Sanders notched a victory over Clinton on Tuesday in Indiana, an unexpected boon even as he faces little mathematical chance of ultimately winning his party’s nomination.
“The Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over,” Sanders told the Associated Press. “They're wrong.”
On the Republican side, Ohio Gov. John Kasich planned to press ahead with his quixotic campaign — but without Cruz in the race, Trump is all but assured to lock up the 1,237 delegates he will need to win the nomination.
He will do so as one of the most polarizing major party nominees in recent history, with more than 65 percent of people viewing him unfavorably, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
Until recently, it seemed possible, if not likely, that Cruz would keep Trump short of the requisite number of delegates, forcing a scramble for support at an open convention. But a sense of inevitability began to build within the past few weeks for Trump, as he dominated in New York’s primary and then in contests throughout the Northeast.
“You cannot be blind to what’s been going on the last few weeks,” said Tom Rath, an adviser to Kasich. “At a certain point people began publicly embracing [Trump’s] candidacy that had not done so, and that tells you something.”
Despite this shift, Cruz hoped Indiana would be his firewall against Trump. Instead, it was his Waterloo.
“I’ve said I would continue on as long as there is a viable path to victory,” Cruz told a crowd of supporters Tuesday. “Tonight, I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed.”
Cruz seemed in recent days to telegraph his desperate position in the Hoosier State, beginning with an unusual detente with Kasich that enabled the conservative senator to essentially take on Trump one-on-one. From there, Cruz exhausted his options to shift the campaign narrative, even tapping Carly Fiorina as his would-be running mate.
Part of Cruz’s plan, however, hinged on a conceit of the anti-Trump movement: that Kasich and Cruz supporters could unite in common purpose to defeat the real estate tycoon. In Indiana, however, as in many other states, support for Trump exceeded that for Cruz and Kasich combined — despite millions of dollars spent by Cruz and anti-Trump forces.
With its primary effectively settled, the Republican Party will now to turn to the question of how to unite its voters with Trump as a standard-bearer, while beginning to ratchet up his campaign operation for a general election.
Neither task will be small. Trump’s unconventional operation has not built out in some of the key areas for a general election campaign, including data and fundraising. Meanwhile, a powerful segment of the party has promised never to support him, including elected officials and the most recent GOP nominee, Mitt Romney.
Trump’s allies, however, have predicted that Clinton will be a powerful unifying force for Republicans.
“I expect Trump to pivot immediately to an unrelenting attack on Hillary Clinton,” said Roger Stone, an informal adviser to Trump, “and nothing will unite the party better than that.”