How Donald Trump won the GOP nomination

John Cassidy writes: Despite the best efforts of the Never Trump movement, it has been clear for some time that Donald Trump is destined to be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. His sweeping victory in New York, a couple of weeks ago, confirmed his popularity among the white suburban voters who make up the key voting bloc in the G.O.P. And his decisive win in Indiana, on Tuesday, more or less settled things. Ted Cruz, in suspending his candidacy, was only accepting the inevitable.

I noted a couple of months ago that one of the big problems with the Never Trump movement was that it didn’t have a credible candidate. Once Marco Rubio flamed out, its only options were John Kasich, who had won but a single state (his own), and the stridently reactionary Cruz. Republican primary voters have their idiosyncrasies and prejudices, but in one respect they are just like other Americans. Presented with a choice of voting for Cruz or A.N. Other, a majority of them opted for the latter — a fact that played greatly to Trump’s advantage.

Still, even Trump appeared to be surprised by his sixteen-point margin of victory in the Hoosier State. In a speech at Trump Tower, Trump said that he hadn’t expected Cruz to drop out just yet. The Texas Senator’s decision occasioned a rhetorical flip-flop on Trump’s part. Earlier in the day he had suggested that Cruz’s father, Rafael, who is now an evangelical preacher, had aided and abetted Lee Harvey Oswald, a claim arising from an article that had appeared in the National Enquirer. In his speech, Trump now paid tribute to Cruz’s “whole beautiful family.”

It has been evident ever since Trump announced his candidacy, eleven months ago, that there was virtually nothing he wouldn’t say to tar his rivals or anyone else who dared to challenge him. This is the candidate who referred to Rick Perry as a dimwit; criticized Carly Fiorina’s appearance; claimed that John McCain wasn’t a war hero; appeared to suggest, during a televised debate, that Megyn Kelly was menstruating; and compared Ben Carson to a child molester. Ultimately, none of these statements did much damage to Trump’s campaign. Arguably, they enhanced it.

Historians and political scientists will be debating for decades how Trump got to this point, but any convincing explanation must acknowledge his talents as a demagogue and pugilist. Speaking on CNN last night, David Axelrod, one of the many commentators who initially dismissed Trump’s candidacy, said, “He’s proven himself to be very resourceful and very skilled.” Axelrod pointed, in particular, to Trump’s mastery of television and social media. On Fox, Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, which has been in the vanguard of the Never Trump movement, said, “I have to tip my hat to what Trump has achieved.” Citing the fact that Trump didn’t have any pollsters or, until recently, any political organization to speak of, Lowry added, “It is completely incredible.”

That it is. But there are two factors in Trump’s rise that help to account for it: the febrile environment he has been operating in, and the potency of his message. [Continue reading…]

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