WASHINGTON — Donald Trump crushed the competition in Indiana’s presidential primary Tuesday to become the presumptive Republican nominee, knocking Ted Cruz out of the race and decisively rebuking the party establishment’s efforts to quell his insurgent campaign.
Trump’s triumph heralded a seismic moment in American politics, vaulting a brash billionaire with no campaign experience, whose controversial style electrified an alienated GOP base, to the top ticket in the Republican Party.
The real estate mogul and reality TV star has now virtually destroyed not just the entire field of GOP candidates, which once numbered 16 opponents, but also the well-funded efforts of party leaders who tried to stop his runaway train of a campaign with a negative advertising barrage.
Cruz’s hopes of denying Trump the required 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination were suddenly dashed in the 53 percent to 37 percent drubbing. There will be no contested convention in Cleveland.
In the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders delivered another embarrassing loss to front-runner Hillary Clinton, who has all the delegate math in her favor and is attempting to pivot to the general election contest but cannot shake the progressive Vermont senator.
In a turn that few would have predicted, the Republican contest has reached a state of finality before the Democratic race.
Nothing was left standing in Trump’s path but the candidacy of Governor John Kasich of Ohio, who, with a paltry number of delegates and weak standing in the polls, poses no threat but vowed to keep fighting.
“It’s been some unbelievable day and evening and year,” Trump said from Trump Tower in Manhattan. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch and beautiful thing to behold.”
Unusually subdued during his 20-minute address, Trump said he wasn’t expecting Cruz would drop out.
“What Ted did is really a brave thing to do. And a great thing to do,” Trump said. “Because we want to bring unity to the Republican Party. We have to.’’
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote that Trump will be the party’s “presumptive nominee” and said, “We all need to unite and focus on defeating” Clinton.
Over the past few weeks, Trump has ridden a wave of momentum, winning 13 of the last 16 elections. He doesn’t yet have the required 1,237 bound delegates to secure the nomination outright, but without a strong opponent he will likely accomplish that soon. He was positioned to gobble up all 57 delegates from Indiana.
When the history of this primary is written, Indiana will be remembered as the place where the party’s last lines of defense against Trump’s historic outsider insurgency crumbled.
Party officials, who have hoped anyone but the divisive Trump would win, are now grappling with all of the implications that come with his nearly certain nomination.
Many GOP observers fear he will lose to Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, and also cost Republicans control of the Senate. His reputation for sexist comments and singling out Mexicans and Muslims, including proposals to build a wall on the Mexican border and ban Muslim immigrants, will give Democrats ample fodder for down-ballot congressional elections.
Republicans also face a difficult reconciliation process before the Cleveland convention in July over Trump’s policies on trade and foreign affairs, which depart dramatically from traditional GOP orthodoxy.
The historic sweep of Trump’s candidacy was almost impossible to predict when he moved slowly down an escalator at Trump Tower some 10 months ago and announced his presidential bid. He was immediately dismissed as a joke but proved the Republican leadership and pundits wrong with overt, attention-grabbing appeals to economic anxieties and discontent with Washington.
Few anticipated how Trump’s flamboyant personality and outsider appeal would enable him to overcome gaffes, untruths, salty language, thin policy ideas, and other apparent flaws that would have imperiled any traditional politician.
He has overcome opposition from the party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney — who in March called him a phony and a fraud — and a lineup of longtime Republican Party officials. He stood out in what many felt was a historically strong, and large, field of contenders and dispatched with better-funded rivals (including Jeb Bush), those thought to have more political potential (such as Marco Rubio), and those with decades of political experience (including Kasich).
Cruz had done a better job at mastering the arcane nominating rules, securing delegates who would be loyal to him in the event of a contested convention that goes past a first ballot and frees delegates to vote for whomever they choose.
But Indiana put Trump on a clear path to secure the nomination before the convention, and all that strategizing suddenly became irrelevant.
“I’ve said I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory. It appears that path has been foreclosed,” Cruz told supporters in Indianapolis about 90 minutes after polls closed Tuesday.
“Together we left it all on the field in Indiana. We gave it everything we’ve got. But the voters chose another path,” he said. “We are suspending our campaign.”
Following a fractious and deeply divisive primary, the party now faces a significant test in attempting to unite behind Trump.
“There are a lot of principled Republicans that will never come to terms with it,” said Kevin Madden, a Washington-based Republican consultant and former adviser to Romney. “Trump has had multiple opportunities to bring the party together but has passed on those opportunities by bashing his critics.”
In a harbinger of party defections, Mark Salter, a close confidant of Senator John McCain who worked on both of his presidential campaigns, said Tuesday that he would vote for Clinton over Trump.
“The GOP is going to nominate for president a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m with her.”
The final hours of the Indiana primary were marked by new acrimony. Trump initially cited an unfounded story in the Enquirer that accused Cruz’s father, Rafael, of being involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Cruz — who last year said the establishment wanted a “cage match” between him and Trump — then unloaded on his rival. Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.”
“I’m going to do something I haven’t done before . . . I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump,” he said.
“He is proud of being a serial philanderer,” he continued. “He describes his own battles with venereal diseases as his own personal Vietnam,” he added, citing comments Trump once made to radio shock jock Howard Stern.
Trump responded, saying Cruz was “a desperate candidate trying to save his failing campaign.”
“Over the last week, I have watched Lyin’ Ted become more and more unhinged as he is unable to react under the pressure and stress of losing, in all cases by landslides,” he said.
Anti-Trump groups vowed Tuesday night to fight on, despite the long odds.
“A substantial number of delegates remain up for grabs in this highly unpredictable year,” Katie Packer, chairwoman of Our Principles PAC, said in a statement. “In addition, there is more than a month before the California primary — more time for Trump to continue to disqualify himself in the eyes of voters.”
Kasich, who hasn’t won a state outside of his home state of Ohio, vowed to remain in the race until Trump secures 1,237 bound delegates.
“Tonight’s results are not going to alter Governor Kasich’s campaign plans,” senior strategist John Weaver wrote in a campaign memo.
On the Democratic side, because delegates are awarded proportionally, Sanders’ victory did not significantly affect Clinton’s lead.
Before Tuesday’s results were tabulated, Clinton needed to win only 35 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to capture the majority of the points available from state contests.
Clinton’s focus has been squarely on the road ahead against the GOP nominee, who her campaign believes will be Trump.
“I think we had a good campaign, we ran hard. But, you know, I’m really focused on moving into the general election,’’ Clinton said in an interview with MSNBC.
In a statement released after he was declared the winner, Sanders said “The Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over. They’re wrong.”
“We understand that we have an uphill climb to victory but we have been fighting uphill from the first day of this campaign. We are in this campaign to win and we’re going to fight until the last vote is cast. There is nothing I would like more than to take on and defeat Donald Trump,” he said.