Donald Trump, the real estate magnate and reality television star who has said Mexican immigrants are rapists and has called for banning all Muslims from the U.S., won the Republican primary in the pivotal state of Indiana on Tuesday night. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), his most serious remaining challenger, dropped out. Trump is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.
The Republican presidential primary is a race for delegates, not votes, and for months, Trump's opponents had held out hope that they would win enough delegates to deny him a majority on the first ballot at the July convention. Now, after last week's stronger-than-expected showing in Pennsylvania, Trump looked likely to wrap up the nomination earlier than his foes had feared. His Indiana win comes on a day dominated by Trump's charge that his GOP rival's father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Seriously. That happened.
Trump didn't need Indiana to keep him on track for an outright victory, but his win on Tuesday made the ultimate outcome all but certain. Trump had nearly 1,000 delegates going into Tuesday. With his strong showing in Indiana, he should win the vast majority of that state's 57 delegates and draw within 200 delegates of the 1,237 he needs to secure the nomination.
In California and New Jersey, the largest remaining states, polling shows Trump ahead by more than 20 points. If those numbers hold -- which they almost certainly will, given that Cruz has dropped out -- he'll win all of New Jersey's 51 delegates and the vast majority of California's 172.
The delegate math and Cruz's decision confirmed what most Republican voters have already accepted. Trump now has the support of more than half of Republicans nationwide, according to HuffPost Pollster's average, with twice the backing of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). And even before Indiana voted, 91 percent believed Trump would win the nomination, according to a CNN/ORC survey. PredictWise, which forecasts political events based on political betting markets, gave Trump an 88 percent chance of winning a majority of delegates as of Tuesday morning, up 28 points since this time last month.
As Trump moved closer to the nomination, Republicans have warmed to the idea of having him as their standard-bearer. Republicans' opinions of Trump, while still notably mixed, have ticked upward in the past month, according to polling from Gallup. Views of Cruz, meanwhile, have plummeted for the first time into negative territory.
Just a few months ago, Trump's nomination seemed impossible to just about everyone. (There were a few exceptions.) Surely, many pundits -- and some GOP candidates -- argued, there was a ceiling to his support. The Republican establishment would coalesce around a single anti-Trump candidate instead.
But no such alternative emerged. The orange-haired demagogue has held an uninterrupted and increasing lead in HuffPollster's national polling average since he passed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in July 2015. Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in the last presidential election, lost the lead in national polls four times over a similar period in 2011 and 2012.
Trump had long been interested in the top job. According to biographer Wayne Barrett, he told a New York Republican Party official in 1985 that he'd like to be president one day. He made a trip to New Hampshire in 1987, fueling speculation that he might run.
Trump began laying the groundwork for his 2016 campaign more than a half-decade ago. In 2010, when his family charity, the Donald J. Trump foundation, began redirecting money from traditional nonprofits, such as the Salvation Army and the United Way, to conservative political organizations. That year, as HuffPost's Christina Wilkie reported in January, Trump's foundation gave $5,000 to Liberty Central, the advocacy group founded by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife.
Trump ramped up his efforts in 2011, when his foundation gave $10,000 to the Palmetto Family Council, a group that opposes divorce, same-sex marriage and abortion in the early primary state of South Carolina. That same year, he grabbed a prime speaking spot at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the premier annual gathering of right-wing activists.
The 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner may have fueled Trump's lust for the highest office in the land, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns reported in March. For years, Trump had furiously promoted the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama had not been born in the United States. (He was.) When Trump -- who has also suggested that vaccines cause autism -- arrived at the White House Correspondents Dinner that July, Obama mocked him mercilessly.
"That evening of public abasement, rather than sending Mr. Trump away, accelerated his ferocious efforts to gain stature within the political world," Haberman and Burns wrote. The Republican Party, they argued, "placated and indulged" Trump, "and accepted his money and support, seemingly not grasping how fervently determined he was to become a major force in American politics. In the process, the party bestowed upon Mr. Trump the kind of legitimacy that he craved, which has helped him pursue a credible bid for the presidency."
Trump met with pollsters in 2011, but ultimately decided not to run in 2012. But his interest in the White House -- and his work to win it -- continued unabated. Wilkie noticed:
Starting in 2012 [Trump] began in earnest to use his foundation to grease the wheels of the conservative political machine. One of his first big gifts was $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a grass-roots Christian advocacy group run by Franklin Graham. He also donated $35,000 to Samaritan’s Purse, another of Graham’s evangelical nonprofits.
In 2013, the Trump Foundation gave grants to even more conservative and religious groups, including the American Conservative Union, the anti-abortion group Justice for All, the Family Leader Foundation and a Texas-based evangelical ministry. The next year, Trump donated $250,000 to the Republican Governors' Association, then run by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
In June 2015, Trump announced he would run for president against a field that would include heavyweights like Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Cruz, and Christie, who has since endorsed Trump. But Trump began the race with near-universal name recognition -- none of the other candidates were even close. He was leading the polls within weeks.
Pundits laughed. Trump made outrageous comments. Pundits gasped -- but they covered him. The media gave Trump some $2 billion worth of free media coverage. Trump rose in the polls. He hired staff in Iowa and New Hampshire. He finished second in Iowa, then won New Hampshire and South Carolina. His rivals massively outspent him, to little effect. In New Hampshire, Bush paid $1,150 per vote, compared with Trump's $40. Trump won 22 of the next 34 states, millions of votes, and hundreds of delegates. Barring a miracle, he'll be the GOP nominee.
In the primary, he ran against a scattered field of candidates with little institutional support. In the general election, Trump will face Hillary Clinton, who is almost certain to have a unified Democratic Party behind her. And factions of the Republican establishment are still considering running a third-party challenger against him.
There's no reason to believe he should win. But he just did.
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.
This article has been updated to note Cruz is ending his campaign.