For the Republican Party, Donald Trump’s resounding victory in his home state of New York last night should have been a clarifying moment. Any hope the Republican establishment might have harbored Trump would reveal some unknown weakness was dashed in an electoral romp that delivered him at minimum 89 of the state’s 95 delegates and left his nearest challenger, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, completely shut out.
The math won’t get better for Cruz, either. A week from today, the results will be in from a handful of states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, where he will again be steamrolled by Trump, though perhaps not as thoroughly as he was in New York.
For Cruz and the Republican Party, it’s long past time to stop pretending. The GOP is going to be a different party by the time the general election is over in November. The question is whether it will be remade in the image of Donald Trump -- a man who is arguably not even a real Republican -- or in a more traditional, albeit smaller, form, shorn of an angry fringe that Trump has mobilized with appeals to anger, bigotry, and xenophobia.
It won’t be easy. In many ways, the Republican primary has been a game of make-believe from the start.
The absurdly large field of 17 presidential hopefuls was stuffed with vanity candidates -- former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, former New York governor George Pataki, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee -- who never had a prayer of winning the nomination, much less the presidency.
Once the field cleared somewhat, the non-Trump wing of the party was still divided between several candidates each insisting that he, and only he, could rally the voters to beat first Trump and then the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The result was a divided vote that allowed Trump to build a commanding lead despite never winning a majority in a statewide vote until he took 60 percent in New York last night.
It’s now blindingly obvious that nobody is going to beat Trump in the sense of winning more delegates than he does heading into the nominating convention in July, regardless of whether or not anybody gets the 1,237 bound delegates necessary to guarantee a first ballot win.
Cruz, who had decamped for Pennsylvania long before the New York vote was complete, has tacitly acknowledged this for weeks now, with his ongoing effort to insinuate his supporters into slates of Trump delegates chosen at conventions across the country. The plan is that if Trump can be prevented from clinching a first ballot win, those delegates will be free to vote their real allegiance on a second ballot and any that come afterward.
But Trump’s path to a first ballot nomination isn’t limited to winning 1,237 bound delegates. If he can get close, say within 100, he will have a real chance to persuade enough of the delegates who will arrive at the convention in Cleveland unbound to get behind him to clinch the win that way.
It’s past time for the members of the GOP who do not wish to see the party of Lincoln and Roosevelt taken over by Donald Trump to put aside all niceties about process and protocol and admit that the only way to be sure Trump is not the nominee is by turning the nominating preocess into exactly what Trump it accusing it of being anyway: a system manipulated by party insiders.
At this point, every string left un-pulled, every favor not called in, every arcane procedural rule left un-invoked is a concession to a candidate whose ultimate loyalty is not to the party or the country, but to himself.
It will be a messy, bloody fight, but guess what? That fight is coming one way or the other. Even in victory last night, Trump was not a magnanimous unifier. His speech after the New York polls closed was brief, but angry, blasting the Republican primary process as a “crooked system” that has been “rigged” against him.
For Republicans who want to retain some of the party’s brand equity past July, the price is clear: alienation of a segment of the party that is loyal more to Trump than to the GOP’s ideas. It will be painful, but no more so than losing the #NeverTrump wing of the party, which plainly isn’t going to fall in line behind The Donald if he prevails in Cleveland.