This week, the Republicans trying to stop Donald Trump from winning the presidential nomination and taking over their party went to new lengths to signal just how much they hate the real estate mogul. On Sunday night, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced they were entering into an alliance in order to stop Trump from picking up the 1,237 delegates he needs to get the nomination on the convention's first ballot. This was immediately blasted as coming too late, a weak last-ditch effort to throw the Trump train off track, and the next few days have demonstrated just how far the Cruz/Kasich team is behind.
First, Trump finally passed the 50 percent threshold of support among right-leaning voters in the polls—something he hadn't been able to pull off with a divided field until now. Then he won all five of Tuesday's primaries, earning over 50 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut. Although it was known going into Tuesday that he would win, his margins of victory exceeded expectations. He even surpassed Mitt Romney in votes won in a Republican primary—making him, by that measure at least, the most popular GOP candidate in modern history. Seriously.
At a glossy press conference, held, as usual, in Manhattan's Trump Tower, the billionaire businessman did not miss the opportunity to pat himself on the back. "I am so honored," he said. "This to me was our biggest night." He added later, "I consider myself the presumptive nominee."
That's not one of the candidate's trademark exaggerations—according to the Wall Street Journal, he needs to win around 56 percent of the remaining bound delegates to get to 1,237, which seems eminently doable, especially since several of the remaining primaries are winner take all.
Still, in a high school gym in Indiana, whose winner-take-most primary next Tuesday could be the anti-Trump's movement's last stand, Cruz was defiant as ever. "The media is going to have heart palpitations this evening," he said. "Tonight, this campaign moves back to more favorable terrain."
But even his own base may be abandoning that idea.
In an endless stream of polls, a majority of voters now say that the candidate with the most delegates going into the convention in Cleveland this summer should be the nominee, which at this point means Trump. It's no wonder that Trump has drawn more voters while labeling the nomination process as "rigged"—the Republican base wants this to be over, and it thinks, as Trump does, that whoever gets the most votes and most delegates should get the chance to face the Democrats (which likely means Hillary Clinton) in a general election.
Without 1,237 delegates in hand, no candidate can win the nomination on the first ballot, but allowing Cruz to take the prize from Trump on a second or third ballot at an open convention would be politically risky. Already, rank-and-file voters distrust the Republican Establishment, and the appearance of a bunch of elites screwing over the campaign's most popular candidate could cause an outright revolt that might damage the party as much, or even more, than backing Trump.
At the same time, putting Trump on the ticket could have serious, lasting consequences on the GOP brand. He is hated by two thirds of Americans, and reports of him acting more "presidential" of late appear to have been greatly exaggerated. On Tuesday night, Trump dismissed Clinton's appeal as being based on her gender, saying, "And frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get five percent of the vote." Then there's the matter of his court appearance in the Trump University case, in which his real estate seminar is accused of being a scam. It was scheduled for the first day of the convention on Tuesday.
In other words, things are looking pretty good for the Democrats.
This is a Republican crisis to remember: Choose Trump, and hope he doesn't lose you Congress? Or ditch Trump, and pray that he and his supporters don't raise up in revolt? After Tuesday night, however, it's clear that there's a third possibility: Trump could just take the nomination through sheer popularity and leave the GOP without a choice.
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