Regardless of what happens from here until November, you had better believe that people will be talking about and studying the 2016 Republican Primary for years to come. The 2016 Republican Primary cycle: wherein Donald Trump went from a fringe novelty to being the presumptive nominee of the Party of Lincoln.
Look, before jumping too deeply into the analysis, we admit, we were wrong about Trump’s chances early on in the race. Back when we were writing about the horserace (the “Power Rankings” articles, etc.), we started from a position (admittedly like many others) of denying Trump the courtesy of consideration. However, on July 28, 2015, we issued our mea culpa on the Trump phenomenon. While we still held the view that Mr. Trump’s campaign was going to deflate, we ended the piece with the ominous words: “predicting Trump is like trying to predict the path of a tornado.”
Last night, voters in Indiana gave Donald Trump a crushing victory over Ted Cruz, the lone remaining legitimate rival to Trump’s ascendancy (Kasich is a great guy, but he’s been running behind the ghost of Marco Rubio’s campaign for months). Indiana was not supposed to go for Trump as recently as two weeks ago. Our blog, along with many others, predicted that Indiana, following the lead of Wisconsin, would be a staggering blow to Trump’s possibility of achieving the “magic” 1,237 delegates needed on the first ballot to be the GOP nominee. In fact, it was because of Trump’s apparent course for a dismal performance in Indiana that we revised our prediction at this blog in favor of an open convention. To be blunt: the #NeverTrump forces within the Republican Party looked poised for victory.
But then two things happened: the New York Primary and Paul Manafort. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Manafort, read this piece by Slate. Trump, coming off of a mensis horribilis wherein he got demolished in Wisconsin, saw “Never Trump” reach its zenith, gave at least four bad interviews, and watched his campaign infrastructure collapse, limped into April 19th with a plea to New Yorkers: “I need your help. You know me. Show the country.” And they did. In a big way (yuge, even).
It’s naive to say that the narrative changed over night simply because Trump carried his home state. However, as a matter of perception, Trump went from being a “loser” to being a “big winner.” More importantly, behind the scenes, Trump dramatically reworked his team and gave the people with experience the free rein they needed to resuscitate Trump’s failing campaign.
Now, most of us who watch politics weren’t surprised that Trump carried New York (though the margin by which he did was impressive), and most folks predicted that he would carry all of the “Acela Primary” states on April 26th. What was unpredictable, thought, even to some of the hardest Trump partisans, was the margin by which he would win. On April 26th, in five Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, Trump won every single county.
Over the next week, between April 26th and May 3rd, Ted Cruz’s campaign imploded as Trump’s inevitability became assured. Indiana became the most dramatic expression of the one-month reversal of the Trump campaign from floundering to total victory. In a state where Cruz had a comfortable lead just three weeks ago, Trump won so dramatically that Cruz was forced from the race.
Policy, skill, politics and rhetoric wholly notwithstanding (and saying nothing about November), the last eleven months have proven one thing: Donald Trump is an excellent marketer. That’s not meant as an insult or a sleight against his campaign, but rather as a reflection on Trump’s superior read of the American electorate than all of the polito-crats in Washington DC and their backers. This was Trump’s gamble: is my read of the American people better than the people who are the political opinion-shapers in the Republican Party?
There are going to be countless hours spent on the “why” of Trump and the apparent paper tiger of the Republican Party’s opposition to him, and we will certainly be discussing these issues going forward. However, at this juncture, the truth, regardless of your opinion of it, is clear: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for President of the United States.