It’s surprisingly easy to lose count of the many instances in which Donald Trump’s candidacy faced game-changing, campaign-ending, credibility-destroying controversies. The New York Republican was finished, we were told, after he attacked John McCain’s war record. And Megyn Kelly’s “whatever.” And Mexican immigrants. And Muslims from around the globe.
Trump’s rhetoric about imaginary 9/11 celebrations were disqualifying, rumor had it. So was his mockery of a physically disabled journalist. So was his reluctance to disavow support from white supremacists.
Last week, after literal violence started becoming more common at Trump campaign rallies, once again, many observers found themselves reaching a well-now-he’s-gone-too-far moment. That is, until last night, when we received yet another reminder that when it comes to Trump and his far-right supporters, there’s no such thing as “going too far.” MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported:
Republican voters faced a choice on Tuesday between Trump and chaos. They decided to take their chances with chaos for now. […]It will take time to sort through the results, but the net delegate haul could be enough to keep Trump on pace to win the nomination outright, especially if [Ohio Gov. John Kasich] continues to divide his opposition.
The race for the GOP nomination isn’t over in a literal sense, but as a practical matter, we appear to have reached the beginning of the end. Reaching 1,237 delegates may be difficult before the convention, but Trump’s dominance – including wins yesterday in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and possibly Missouri – leaves little doubt as to who the likely Republican nominee is going to be.
Two weeks ago, after Trump fared very well in Super Tuesday contests, there was a general consensus about the road ahead: Republicans faced a two-week sprint that would decide the race. If the GOP establishment and the non-Trump candidates were going to derail the frontrunner, they had until March 15 to get the job done. They failed.
And with that in mind, time has effectively run out. Since those primaries and caucuses two weeks ago, Trump has won nine additional contests, bringing his total to 20 state victories and an insurmountable delegate lead.
If we weren’t talking about a former reality-show star with no political experience, we’d already be calling Trump the presumptive nominee and start shifting our attention to speculation about his running mate.
As for the larger context, let’s again try to cut through the noise and break things down from a pitch-vs-hype-vs-truth perspective.
The pitch: If you deny me the nomination at this point, all hell will break loose and it’ll tear the Republican Party apart.
The buzz: If Donald Trump stays on track, he’ll be the nominee, at which point, all hell will break loose and it’ll tear the Republican Party apart.
The truth: There is no precedent for one of the least-popular figures in American public life becoming a major party’s presidential nominee. There’s still a chance for convention mischief, but it seems just as likely Trump will wrap up the nomination before the delegates go to Cleveland.
The pitch: Republican officials, donors, pundits, and insiders may not like me, but now they’ll have to ask themselves whether they like Trump more.
The buzz: Were it not for the spoilers, Cruz probably would have won North Carolina, Missouri, and possibly Illinois, but it’s too late now.
The truth: The demise of Marco Rubio’s campaign should help Cruz a bit, but overall, yesterday was a very bad day for the Texas senator. He not only appears to have come up short in every contest, but he’s also been denied the one-on-one showdown he was counting on to win.
The pitch: I finally won a state!
The buzz: When a sitting governor and former longtime congressman wins less than half the Republican vote in his own home state, that isn’t exactly a triumph.
The truth: Winning Ohio keeps Kasich in the game, but the strategy was never just about one state; it was about parlaying a big primary victory into fresh momentum going into states like Wisconsin, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Can the governor capitalize? The odds are against him.
The pitch: Remember all of those guarantees I made about winning Florida? Never mind.
The buzz: Rubio failed so spectacularly in 2016, his electoral career is probably finished, permanently.
The truth: I’ll flesh out some additional thoughts on Rubio a little later this morning, but he went all in to win his home state, investing enormous amounts of money, time, and energy, and he lost every county but one. It was a humiliating rejection and the senator had no choice but to leave the stage.