Calling Donald Trump the “presumptive nominee” after his decisive win in the Indiana primary as Texas senator, Ted Cruz dropped out of the GOP race for president, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Twitter told the Washington, D.C. political and media establishment what everybody else already knew.
Trump is going to win the Republican nomination for president. Easily.
What is remarkable is that this predictable outcome was not obvious to more commentators months ago.
He was a joke. A circus. He wasn’t really running. He wasn’t serious. He was the flavor of the week. He would implode rapidly.
Trump stormed on to the scene in June 2015, immediately rose to the top of national GOP polls and stayed there all the way to the end of the year on a simple-to-understand economic message against unbridled trade and immigration and of restoring American greatness.
Still what was to become of the failed #NeverTrump”movement” — really just a small club of wild-eyed Washington, D.C. insiders who apparently only talk to themselves — who were adamant in their insistence that he simply could not win.
Nobody would show up to vote for him. He had no ground game. Blah, blah, blah.
Then 2016 came, and voters began to actually render their verdict. As they usually tend to do in competitive Republican contests for president, Iowa and New Hampshire winnowed the field down to two candidates with a real shot at being the nominee: Cruz and Trump.
Since 1972, every single Republican nominee for president has been somebody who either won Iowa or New Hampshire. Without exception. If #NeverTrump was to have had any chance at success, surely Cruz was their obvious choice.
But, no, said #NeverTrump — which must have had a strong component of #NeverCruz included — Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who showed up in third in Iowa, was the one. He would turn it into a three-man race. A lot of eggs were put in the Rubio basket despite ample history suggesting gaining momentum after the first two contests was next to impossible.
Rubio was subsequently slaughtered in South Carolina, the victory that sent Trump well on his path to the nomination. Since 1980, South Carolina has chosen the eventual nominee every year with the exception of 2012. The odds were very much in Trump’s corner after only three contests.
South Carolina really was a critical turn. After that, #NeverTrump more or less settled on a regional strategy based around the remaining competition’s home states. If Cruz carried Texas, John Kasich took Ohio and Rubio claimed Florida, Trump’s momentum would be stopped.
That, in spite of all objective evidence suggesting that after Iowa and New Hampshire, the only candidate who actually had a shot of beating Trump at the nomination was Cruz. But, for whatever reason Rubio stuck with it all the way to Florida when he should have probably dropped out after South Carolina. He (and Kasich) peeled votes from Cruz in the intervening weeks that Cruz desperately needed in order to compete all the way to June. Was Rubio trying to help Trump?
Because he’s the real reason why Cruz didn’t have as much of a shot. Rubio staying in allowed Trump to win Nevada, Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Louisiana, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina with pluralities, and prevented Cruz from achieving a critical majority in Texas.
Not that the end result would have been much different. Trump was a strong candidate in his own right who was always going to be hard to beat. But all the insistence on three-man races to get to the elusive contested convention — which will never happen — and the reluctance to get behind Cruz when he was the only one who really had a chance are the key reasons behind #NeverTrump’s failure.
And it was all so predictable.
Instead, Trump knocked Rubio out by sweeping the South including Florida and Virginia. Yes, Cruz won Texas. And Kasich won Ohio on March 15 — just in time to be mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright.
At that point, Cruz was the only one with a real shot, as he won other states. Kasich had no real campaign beyond his home state, but for whatever reason he stayed in the race, too, becoming the next Rubio.
Onward! cried #NeverTrump. All Cruz and Kasich had to do was suck enough votes and delegates from Trump to prevent him from winning the nomination at the June convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
After Cruz won Wisconsin on April 5 and Colorado on April 16, #NeverTrump claimed victory.
It would be a contested convention, we were assured. Trump would never get a majority of the delegates. He would lose after the first ballot.
Instead, Trump went on to sweep the rest of the northeast, including his home state of New York, plus Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. There, he won his first majorities in the GOP contest that once had 17 candidates.
Still, Trump’s fate was sealed, all the smartest people in the room prophesized. Cruz would win Indiana and would cede Oregon and New Mexico to Kasich. Trump’s momentum would be halted and that would be that. California and New Jersey on June 7 would not be enough to put Trump over the 1,237 delegates he needed to win.
That, even as 89 percent of Republican voters in a May 2 CNN-ORC poll were pretty confident Trump was going to be the nominee. Turns out, the voters have a better sense of what’s happening than the Washington, D.C. political and media establishment.
Instead, Trump thumped Cruz in Indiana on May 3, who then dropped out of the race. And without Cruz — who after Iowa was always the only candidate who could have possibly stopped Trump but nobody would listen, much to Cruz’ dismay — so too did the hopes of #NeverTrump die.
Unconvinced, a #NeverTrump group called Conservatives Against Trump promptly issued a statement after the debacle in Indiana, “We believe a Trump nomination is not inevitable despite tonight’s result.” Yeah, okay there. A combination of Baghdad Bob meets the last Japanese soldier fighting the war, Hiroo Onoda — denying reality in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
A day later, despite having Trump right where he wanted him in a two-man race, Kasich spared himself the humiliation he was about to endure in subsequent contests and quietly left the race.
Ironically, the remaining states still need to vote in order for Trump to clinch the nomination — which his competition have now just ceded uncontested after all the talk of a contested convention. They were gracious exits, to be sure. But, really, after all that?
#NeverTrump? Never mind. What a joke.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.