By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet


Screenshot / YouTube

This piece originally ran on AlterNet.

Donald Trump swept away the final obstacles to the 2016 Republican nomination in Indiana on Tuesday, trouncing Ted Cruz in a one-on-one contest that the stop-Trump movement saw as their last chance to keep Trump from the presidential nomination.

Cruz, who finished double-digits behind Trump, suspended his presidential campaign, telling stunned supporters in Indianapolis that his path to the nomination had been “foreclosed,” but pledging to continue his crusade against “the tyranny of political correctness at home.”

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders upset Hillary Clinton, beating her 53 percent to 47 percent. That gives Sanders the showing he needs to keep campaigning, although his victory does not alter the dynamics of that party’s nominating contest. Sanders and Clinton will proportionately split Indiana’s 92 delegates, moving Clinton closer to the nomination while keeping Sanders from substantially gaining on her. (He needed to get 65 percent of the vote in Indiana and every remaining state to do that.)

Trump the Nominee

But the night’s biggest news was on the GOP side, where Trump, who is still 200-plus delegates short of the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination, now has a clear path to that threshold—especially as Cruz has suspended his campaign and nine states have yet to vote. Before Tuesday’s vote, polls found that Trump was far ahead of Cruz in delegate-rich California.

The Republican National Committee chairman called Trump the “presumptive nominee” and called for all Republicans to unite behind him. While some Republicans could still try to deny him the nomination at the convention in Cleveland, that scenario becomes much harder as he keeps winning state after state. The only other candidate still in the race, John Kasich, has won only his home state.

Trump topped 50 percent of the vote in Indiana, garnering its 57 Republican delegates. On the Democratic side, the state held an open primary, which allows independents to vote, unlike the recent New York State primary. That factor undeniably helped Sanders score a symbolic upset, and he will keep making the case that the party’s Democratic contest is still in play, even if the delegate math is not in his favor. Speaking at a Kentucky rally on Tuesday, Sanders said, “If we have large voter turnout, we win.”

The Surprising Republican Finish

Like the finish line flag at the state’s famous speedways, Indiana’s vote on Tuesday signaled the end of the nominating season for the Republican Party. The GOP presented 17 candidates, including governors, U.S. senators and the son and brother of a past president. For a party that bragged about its deep talent pool and a nominating process designed to boost establishment insiders—whether ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—it now is facing a nominee whose profile and stature only seemed to grow as its establishment’s power has withered and shrunk.

Time will tell if the 2016 race marks the end of the Republican Party as it’s been known in recent decades. But one thing is clear, the party of Trump is not the same party of the Bushes and even the last entertainer to be nominated, Ronald Reagan. Whether or not Trump’s unlikely coalition of less-educated and older white voters, women who do not mind his misogyny, and others drawn to his strongman posturing can win nationwide in the fall remains to be seen.

Only 30 percent of the expected November electorate took part in this year’s nominating contests, according to the Pew Research Center. But Trump’s ability to reach nontraditional voters has introduced an unpredictable element into the general election campaign.

Cruz’s Sudden Surprising Collapse

Indiana’s primary vote brought the race to an unexpectedly hasty conclusion. It ended Cruz’s presidential prospects in 2016, thwarted the stop-Trump forces that lined up behind him, further marginalized John Kasich, the only other remaining GOP candidate, and forced the party to realize that their top political talent was badly beaten by an outsider the GOP establishment had derided and dismissed, and who apparently understands their base better than they do.

The Indiana race was hard fought by Cruz, but everything he tried either flopped or was too little, too late. He entered the state with a non-compete agreement with Kasich, who did not campaign there because Cruz was ahead of him in the polls. Cruz then announced he would pick former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina as his running mate, who dutifully campaigned with him (though he did not immediately come over to help Fiorina after she accidentally fell off a stage while introducing him).

For his part, Trump fired back, repeatedly calling Cruz “lyin’ Ted” and a tool of the GOP establishment (though he is arguably the most reviled Republican senator), and referring to a vague report in the National Enquirer that Cruz’s father was seen in Dallas with President John F. Kennedy’s killer shortly before the assassination.

Cruz let loose on Trump Tuesday, telling reporters “what I really think of Donald Trump.” He called Trump “a pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” “terrified by strong women,” “a narcissist,” and a “serial philanderer” who had venereal diseases.

All of this is entertaining in a supermarket tabloid way, and it would be ludicrous were it not for the fact that Trump is now a step closer to the presidency. But after Indiana, Trump has a clear path to the 2016 presidential nomination and it appears unlikely there will be a contested convention or a third-party run.

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