Well, that was unexpected, and inevitable, and the Washington Post summed it up nicely:
Donald Trump, the celebrity mogul whose brash and unorthodox presidential bid was counted out time and again, became the de facto Republican nominee Tuesday night after a runaway victory in Indiana’s primary forced his chief rival, Ted Cruz, to quit the race.
Trump overcame a spirited last stand by Cruz – and a patchwork movement of Republicans working desperately to derail him in fear that his polarizing politics could doom the party – to gallop to the nomination. Indiana’s results positioned him to easily accumulate the 1,237 delegates required to avert a contested convention.
Even as Ohio Gov. John Kasich vowed to continue his long-shot campaign, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus declared Trump the “presumptive nominee” and urged all Republicans to unite behind him.
Ted Cruz gave up and that was that, and on the other side it was this:
On the Democratic side, Indiana proved a surprising aberration as Bernie Sanders scored an upset victory over Hillary Clinton, giving the Vermont senator a needed psychological boost and a fresh rationale to soldier on against increasingly difficult odds.
But Sanders’s success did not change the overall trajectory of the Democratic race, which remains strongly in the former secretary of state’s favor. Clinton holds what her campaign and many analysts argue is an irreversible lead in total delegates. Although she has not clinched the nomination, she has shifted her focus to a likely general election campaign against Trump.
That one is over too. No one really expected anything else, although this was a bit unexpected:
As Trump claimed the mantle of GOP standard-bearer on Tuesday night, he was uncharacteristically measured. He remarked on his unlikely journey – “It’s been some unbelievable day and evening and year… a beautiful thing to behold” – and promised Republicans that he would not let them down. “We’re going to win big league, believe me,” he said at Trump Tower in New York. “We’re going after Hillary Clinton. She will not be a great president. She will not be a good president. She will be a poor president.”
That was an unfortunate use of the future-perfect tense – he meant to say she won’t be president, not that she will be, but he’s not a careful man with language – unless that was a Freudian slip and he really doesn’t want to be president, because he would rather snipe at her from the sidelines, in the safety of having no real responsibilities, which is his usual way of dealing with the world. He was not in his comfort zone:
As Trump savored what his family members described as a shocking evening, he strived to be magnanimous in his remarks and singled out Cruz for praise. “Ted Cruz – I don’t know if he likes me or he doesn’t like me, but he is one hell of a competitor,” Trump said. “He is a tough, smart guy. And he has got an amazing future.”
Perhaps that was magnanimous. He wasn’t calling him Lying Ted – but Ted doesn’t like him:
Moments earlier, Cruz gave an emotional concession speech in Indianapolis. Flanked by his family and running mate Carly Fiorina, he said: “We left it all on the field in Indiana. We gave it everything we’ve got. But the voters chose another path. And so with a heavy heart but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign.”
He didn’t mention Trump. He didn’t say that now it was time for all good Republicans to rally around their party’s actual nominee and go after Hillary Clinton. He let all that slide, for obvious reasons:
Anti-Donald Trump Republicans are starting to consider whether their opposition to a Trump presidency is so strong that they would be prepared to fight him in the general election – even if that means helping put an avowed enemy, Hillary Clinton, in the Oval Office.
One strategy under discussion is to focus on helping down-ballot GOP candidates while sitting out the presidential race under the belief that Trump will lose to Clinton no matter what. A more drastic and difficult option: rallying support for a third-party candidate who could uphold traditional Republican positions but would almost certainly steal votes from Trump.
“You have to bet on sanity,” said GOP strategist Stuart Stevens, who helped lead the campaign of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. “If this is one of those moments in history where for various reasons the party has to play out nominating someone who is completely unelectable… so be it.”
But it’s more than the guy being unelectable:
The difficulty of the GOP’s path forward was clear in the hours before and after the voting here. Even as Trump has tried to assert himself as the presumptive GOP nominee, he allowed his already bitter rivalry with Cruz to darken further. Trump on Tuesday invoked a National Enquirer report alleging that Cruz’s father had been spotted with Lee Harvey Oswald around the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and refuted his claim.
Cruz announced hours later that he was suspending his campaign. But the continued nastiness prompted some anti-Trump Republicans to look toward a once-unthinkable prospect – undercutting the GOP nominee in ways that could make way for a Clinton presidency.
“The GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level,” tweeted Mark Salter, a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Then he added a Clinton campaign slogan: “I’m with her.”
There will be more and more “Republicans for Hillary” soon enough, and Jonathan Chait addresses that:
It is fitting that Donald Trump has essentially locked up the Republican presidential nomination on the same day he made yet another bizarre and senseless (that is, lacking any discernible purpose) comment by accusing Ted Cruz’s father of having conspired to kill President Kennedy. The accusation, which originated from the pro-Trump National Enquirer, neatly encapsulates his peculiarity. There are a number of lunatic theories professed by most Republicans: the theory of anthropogenic global warming is a conspiracy concocted by scientists worldwide; the Reagan and Bush tax cuts caused revenue to increase; George W. Bush kept us safe from terrorism. But Trump advocates an entirely different set of crackpot beliefs that lie outside conservative ideology, and every attempt by his rivals to expose them has failed spectacularly.
This was never about conservative ideology:
The most surreal and characteristic moment of Trump’s presidential campaign may have taken place two months ago. That week, Mitt Romney had mocked Trump’s business acumen, highlighting his many failed ventures, including Trump Steaks, in a well-regarded and highly publicized speech that articulated both the horror with which Republican elites regarded Trump and their strategy for preventing him from capturing the nomination. A few days later, having won a series of victories, Trump appeared in his Mar-a-Lago resort to insist Trump Steaks were indeed a going concern. “Do we have steaks? We have Trump steaks. He said the steak company, and we have Trump steaks. And by the way, if you want to take one, we’ll charge you about, what, 50 bucks a steak?” It was not only a blatant lie, but a lie that required no sophistication at all to see through. One did not need a grasp of economics or public policy to understand that Trump Steaks is a no-longer-extant product. There are no advertisements for these steaks. They are not available for purchase anywhere. They do not exist. Trump simply had his staff purchase a bunch of steaks at a supermarket and display them on a table, and call them “Trump Steaks.” But – and here is the most incredible detail of all, the one that reveals just how blunt the Trump con is – his campaign did not even bother to completely remove the wrappers from the steaks they purchased. The steaks still had the labels from the local butcher from which they were purchased.
That should have ended it:
Most of America, including a significant minority of Republicans, have seen Trump’s candidacy exactly for the con it is. Trump for President is a category error. He is, as his rivals have described him, a charlatan, a con artist, a congenital liar, a man self-evidently unfit for office at any level, and especially the presidency. As George Will has argued, his unfitness is so manifest that it applies to anybody who considers him suitable for the office; a person is “unqualified for high office because he or she will think Trump is qualified.”
But what Chait calls “fulfilling the basic threshold duty of a functioning party, ensuring its presidential nomination had remained in the hands of a reasonably well-informed and indisputably sane person – not a giant, not a Lincoln, but at least one of the 10 or 20 million most qualified people in America, or at minimum, a certifiable non-sociopath” just wasn’t to be:
Actual Republican voters have not seen things this way at all. Indeed, as the campaign has gone on, they have seen things this way less and less. Watching this happen has been astonishing. The GOP’s efforts to impose normalcy, or some facsimile thereof, have not only failed but backfired. Cruz and John Kasich finally split up the remaining territory in an attempt to jointly deny Trump a majority. Cruz also announced a joint ticket with Carly Fiorina, an effective performer who had avoided any attacks on fellow Republicans in the course of auditioning for a spot on the ticket. This was supposed to cast a vision of a broad-based, anybody-but-Trump ticket behind which a wide array of non-Trump Republicans could rally. The opposite occurred. In a recent poll, a mere 8 percent of Republican voters described themselves as “enthusiastic” about the ticket, and another 20 percent “comfortable”; a staggering 70 percent said it made them “uncomfortable” or “angry.” Republicans across the country have watched Cruz take the fight to Trump, and concluded that they really disliked… Cruz. The Texas senator has seen his favorable ratings plummet, while Trump’s have spiked upward…
The premise of the anti-Trump campaign – that his personality and moral character fundamentally make him unfit the presidency – has crumbled. It is not that Trump had disproved these criticisms. Far from it. Rather, more and more Republicans could not bring themselves to make this case.
Most of them just gave up:
Virtually the entire Republican apparatus will follow Trump sooner or later, because without the voters, they have no power. And those voters have revealed things about the nature of the party that many Republicans prefer to deny. Whatever abstract arguments for conservative policy – and these arguments exist, and a great many people subscribe to them earnestly – on the ground Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason. Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him. And since reason cannot penetrate the crude tribalism that animates Republicans, it follows that nothing President Obama could have proposed on economic stimulus, health care, or deficits could have avoided the paroxysms of rage that faced him.
The paranoid mendacity of Joe McCarthy, the racial pandering of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George Bush, the jingoism and anti-intellectualism of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin – all these forces have embodied the essence of American conservative politics as it is actually practiced – rather than as conservative intellectuals like to imagine it.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus puts that this way:
The party has lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. Given Democrats’ inherent Electoral College advantage and Trump’s unpopularity, Republicans appear headed to lose the White House again, along, perhaps, with control of the Senate. The party faces fundamental, interconnected decisions about what ideological path to embrace, how to attract voters in a changing America and how to manage the angry, populist, anti-establishment forces unleashed by Trump.
To look back at the GOP’s post-2012 autopsy report is to conclude that Democrats read the document and sent Trump as a Manchurian candidate to further alienate voters.
“Public perception of the Party is at record lows,” the report concluded. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”
Trump makes that bad situation worse, but he is not a cause of the party’s problems; he is a symptom of them.
This really was the unexpected inevitable, but now there’s a bigger problem:
The risk embedded in a Trump nomination – assuming a Trump loss in the general election – is that Republicans will derive the wrong lesson. The party’s most conservative members will argue that Trump’s failure was a matter of insufficient orthodoxy, and that the one true path to electoral success would have been to nominate a Ted Cruz-like true believer.
If Republicans were doomed – or, more accurately, doomed themselves – to lose in 2016, it would have been better for them to lose with Cruz, who dropped out on Tuesday night. That would at least have had the cleansing, Goldwateresque effect of proving the conservative argument wrong and returning power to the suppressed voices of reason within the party. Now, that fight seems destined to be rerun in 2020.
Josh Barro at Business Insider says dream on:
Trump is the candidate who finally figured out how to exploit the fact that much of the Republican voter base does not share the policy preferences of the Republican donor class, and that it is therefore possible to win the nomination without being saddled with their unpopular policy preferences.
He will not be the last candidate to understand this.
Future candidates will seek to rebuild Trump’s coalition, and they will follow in his footsteps by opposing free trade, promising to protect entitlements from cuts, questioning the value of America’s commitment to military alliances, and shrugging at social changes like the growing acceptance of transgender people.
All three of the supposed “legs” of the Republican coalition stool – libertarian economics, social conservatism, and militarism – are at risk from Trump and the populist-imitator candidates he will spawn.
That’s what comes next, but the New York Times’ Frank Bruni looks at the deeply flawed champion of conservative principle this time around:
As we bid Cruz adieu, we should give him his due: He took a mien and manner spectacularly ill-suited to the art of seducing voters about as far as they could go. He outlasted the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He outperformed Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008.
Like him, Santorum and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and built from there, courting the religious right with particular fervor. But they lacked the intensity of Cruz’s professed disdain for Washington, which was his other big sales pitch, made at its moment of maximum potency. He peddled extravagant piety and extreme contempt in equal measure.
If that sounds paradoxical, it is, and the tension between contradictory Cruzes is what ultimately did him in.
He spoke out of both sides of his scowl, itching to be the voice of the common man but equally eager to demonstrate what a highfalutin, Harvard-trained intellect he possessed. He wed a populist message to a plummy vocabulary. And while the line separating smart and smart aleck isn’t all that thin or blurry, he never could stay on the winning side of it.
He wore cowboy boots, but his favorites are made of ostrich.
This particular champion of conservative principle really was a piece of work:
Trump somehow saw fit to bring up a National Enquirer story linking Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz exploded, branding Trump a “pathological liar” and “serial philanderer.” He also brought up an interview from many years ago in which Trump told Howard Stern that his effort to steer clear of sexually transmitted diseases was his “personal Vietnam.”
Where was this rant six months ago, when the Republican field was crowded and Cruz played footsie with Trump? Back then he was wagering that Trump would fade, and he wanted to be in a friendly position to inherit the billionaire’s supporters.
But by Tuesday, Trump was the main obstacle between Cruz and the Republican presidential nomination, and Cruz has just one true compass: his own advancement.
Well, Cruz is who he is:
The nakedness of his vanity and transparency of his ambition were always his biggest problem. He routinely excoriated other politicians for self-centeredness while repeatedly hogging center stage, his remarks interminable – after his Iowa victory, for example, or when he presumptuously introduced Carly Fiorina as his running mate – and his pauses so theatrically drawn out that you could watch the entirety of “The Revenant” during some of them.
He trashed “the establishment” and wore its rejection of him as a badge of honor only until it stopped rejecting him and its help was his best hope to wrest the nomination away from Trump. At that point he did dizzy cartwheels over every prominent endorsement that came his way. …
And where was the humility that a Christian faith as frequently proclaimed as his should encompass? It wasn’t evident when he stormed into the Senate in early 2013, an upstart intent on upstaging the veterans.
So no one should have been surprised by his concession speech:
He left Trump out of his remarks. There were no congratulations. There was no indication of whether he’d publicly back Trump in the months to come. There was nothing to purge the memory of what he’d said earlier Tuesday, when he described Trump as “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Yes, we have, and so has he, every day, in the mirror.
The Republican nomination process this cycle was more of a mess than it usually is, but Slate’s Isaac Chotiner argues that this time it was far more than a mess:
When people look back at tonight’s results a generation from now, our larger cultural response – at least as seen through our television media – will seem incomprehensible. On TV Tuesday night, there was hardly a whimper. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox contented themselves with bright chatter about Ted Cruz’s hurt feelings, about Donald Trump’s political skill, about the feckless, pathetic Republican establishment. None of the commentators I saw mentioned the import of what was happening. Large chunks of the media have spent so long domesticating Trump that his victory no longer appeared momentous. He is the new normal.
“We will be listening very closely to the tone Trump and Cruz take,” Wolf Blitzer told his audience, as we waited for the two men – the triumphant winner and the insincere loser – to speak to their respective supporters. “The fact is, he tapped into a zeitgeist,” David Axelrod said. “Donald Trump has a phenomenal sense of his audience.” “It’s stunning, and it’s historic,” Gloria Borger finally said on CNN. But she didn’t mention anything stunning or historic, merely noting Trump’s ability to “tap into something.” It was as if CNN had decided to cover 9/11 as a story about real estate in Lower Manhattan.
On MSNBC and Fox, the talk was similar. Would Trump debate Clinton? Could he win over female voters? By the time Cruz announced, less than two hours after the polls had closed in Indiana, that he was dropping out of the race, it had begun to seem like something out of a dream. This was really happening. But television’s acknowledgment that this indeed was happening did not affect anyone’s analysis of what “this” was.
They all missed the point:
There was little talk of ideology, or racism, or bigotry, or fascist appeals. Instead, the conversation was about process; Trump had been fit into the usual rhythms of an election season. The closest thing I heard to open-mouthed shock came from Rachel Maddow, who wondered, correctly, why out of 330 million people the Republican Party had chosen this particular reality television star.
Chotiner argues that THIS is what happened:
The Republican Party is now a white nationalist party, or at least a party with a white nationalist as its figurehead. The one attribute of our politics that used to make it slightly more palatable than much of European politics is no more. We’ve had our Dick Cheney and our Donald Rumsfeld and even our Richard Nixon. But we could always take pride in the way our redoubtable two-party system prevented quasi-fascists from getting close to real power. We’ve never had someone so untethered both from reality and from any sort of institutional check or balance come so close to the most powerful office on earth.
That was the unexpected inevitable. Andrew Sullivan recently explained the problem:
The emergence of the first black president – unimaginable before our more inclusive democracy – is miraculous, a strengthening, rather than weakening, of the system. The days when party machines just fixed things or rigged elections are mercifully done with. The way in which outsider candidates, from Obama to Trump and Sanders, have brought millions of new people into the electoral process is an unmitigated advance. The inclusion of previously excluded voices helps, rather than impedes, our public deliberation. But it is precisely because of the great accomplishments of our democracy that we should be vigilant about its specific, unique vulnerability: its susceptibility, in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue…
This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain – and has actually helped exacerbate.
And that gives us Donald Trump, the big surprise that was inevitable. Now what?