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Trump declares himself 'presumptive nominee' as rivals look to convention fight

The mogul entered April with a narrow path to the nomination that required him to not only win, but dominate the northeastern contests. So far, so good.

Donald Trump has had just about enough of the Republican race.

“I consider myself the presumptive nominee, absolutely,” Trump said at a press conference after winning all five state primaries held on Tuesday by crushing margins.

Turning to the general election, he predicted he would “beat Hillary [Clinton] so easily” and even compete for deep blue states like New York, despite trailing Clinton nationally in every recent poll, often by wide margins. 

“The only card she has is the woman’s card,” Trump said. “If Hillary Clinton were a man I don’t think she'd get five percent of the vote.”

Trump isn’t actually the presumptive nominee yet, but he is doing everything he needs to get there.   

He entered April with a narrow path to the nomination that required him to not only win, but dominate the Northeastern contests where he was favored in order to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to avoid a perilous contested convention.

So far, so good. Trump exceeded expectations with a blowout win in New York last week over Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, and his sweep of Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania looked just as decisive on Tuesday.

Stopping Trump would be hard enough in a vacuum. But the election doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Cruz and Kasich are both mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination with pledged delegates before the convention. That means, in addition to making the case against Trump, they now also have to contend with Trump’s argument that voters would “revolt” if party leaders bypassed the nominee who held a decisive lead in the popular vote and delegate count.

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“Senator Cruz and Governor Kasich should really get out of the race,” Trump said Tuesday. “They have no path to victory.” 

Cruz’s speech, delivered before the polls closed from a gym in Indiana, appeared especially concerned with rebutting claims that Trump – who he called “the media’s chosen Republican candidate” – had put the race away.  

"The media is going to say, 'The race is over,’ ” Cruz said. “The media is going to say that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.”

An anti-Trump group, Our Principles PAC, similarly prebutted the results with a memo saying that they expected Trump to win all five states and that it had “no meaningful impact on his nearly impossible path to 1,237.” But Trump appeared poised to exceed even the high bar their memo set of 109 out of 118 pledged delegates up for grabs on Tuesday.

Cruz predicted future gains as the race moved to “more favorable terrain” in Indiana’s May 3 primary, along with upcoming states like Nebraska and California. While Cruz told NBC News the Indiana race was “very important” on Tuesday, he declined to label it a must-win for him.

How important? Trump’s opponents have long pegged Indiana as a crucial contest and, reflecting the stakes, Cruz and Kasich announced a shocking joint agreement ceding the state to Cruz in order to boost their odds of stopping Trump, who leads several recent polls.

While Trump’s wins may have been predictable, the margins were on the high end, giving him well more than the 90-95 delegates he needed, and bolstering his case that the party’s voters are coalescing around his campaign, even if its elected officials are not.

“Momentum” has not been much of a factor in the race lately. Cruz kicked off April with a win in Wisconsin, whose demographics lined up well with his message, and predicted a groundswell of new support only to crash when the race shifted to more favorable territory for Trump in New York.

That said, there is evidence Trump’s efforts to frame the race as effectively over are gaining ground. He hit 50 percent support among Republican voters for the first time in an NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll this week and, while the rules are clear that Trump needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination, Republicans appear to be siding with Trump’s argument that passing over the candidate with the most votes would produce an illegitimate nominee. In the same poll, 58 percent of respondents said they believed Trump should get the nod if he fell short of an outright majority.

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Exit polls on Tuesday told a similar story: 70 percent of Pennsylvania Republican respondents said the candidate “with the most votes in the primaries” should be the nominee if no one secures a delegate majority, rather than the candidate delegates think would be “the best nominee.“ In Connecticut, the number was 67 percent, and in Maryland it was 65 percent.

Trump critics argue that the wording of the polls affects the results and that voters may be more amenable if they learn the full rules of a convention first. Many believe Trump is a uniquely monstrous candidate politically, ideologically and morally that demands drastic action to block, even if it means dividing the party. That conversation isn’t taking place in a vacuum either, though, and it’s up to Cruz, Kasich and the #NeverTrump movement to make the case that the letter and spirit of the law favors their case.

In order to even get to that point, though, they need to stay alive until the convention itself. Nothing in the results on Tuesday indicated they’re on track to achieve that goal.