Republicans woke Wednesday morning to the reality that businessman Donald Trump is now the de facto leader of their party, and its presumptive presidential nominee with the express backing of the Republican National Committee.
And if they flipped on their televisions, they could have enjoyed their morning coffee -- or choked on it -- listening to Trump extol the journalistic integrity of the National Enquirer and wave off reams of polling data that show he will be the most unpopular presidential candidate fielded by a major US political party in modern memory.
Trump won a crushing primary victory in Indiana Tuesday night, taking 53 percent of the vote to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 37 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 8 percent. The result put him in position to win all or most of the state’s 57 delegates to the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland this July.
Cruz and Kasich had weeks ago been forced to abandon the idea of winning a majority of the delegates outright, focusing instead on denying Trump a majority and forcing the convention into a series of votes in Cleveland during which any delegates required to vote for Trump on the first ballot would be free to switch their loyalties. Last night’s result made even that modest goal practically unattainable, which Cruz acknowledged by announcing that he would suspend his campaign.
Kasich remains defiant, pledging to stay in the race to the end, despite the fact that he has won only in his home state so far, and still has fewer delegates than even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race more than six weeks ago.
Trump has promised that in a general election campaign he would become “more presidential” than he has been in the primary, but in his first morning as leader of the Republican Party, he went on television and defended his choice to cite the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer in one of his attacks on the Cruz campaign.
The newspaper had published an old photograph that showed a man who resembles Cruz’s father passing out pro-Fidel Castro literature in the company of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald not long before Oswald shot and killed president John F. Kennedy.
There is no reason to believe that the picture is actually of Rafael Cruz, despite the Enquirer’s assertion that the photo “linked” him to the assassination of JFK.
Trump, however, speaking to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News Wednesday morning said he had no reason to apologize for using the newspaper -- famous for reporting thinly sourced celebrity gossip -- a source material.
“It was a major story in a major publication,” Trump insisted.
“It was the National Enquirer,” Stephanopoulos said incredulously, pointing out that even the expert cited by the paper said the story was ridiculous.
“You can’t knock the National Enquirer,” Trump said, pointing out that the paper does have a few celebrity sex scandal scoops to its credit. “It’s brought many things to light, not all of them pleasant.”
When he was confronted with recent polling numbers that show him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election, he responded by citing the single recent national poll showing him as the leader. The survey was conducted by Rasmussen Reports, which Trump referred to as “highly respected.” In fact, Rasmussen receives a “C” grade from the website fivethirtyeight.com, and has one of the largest biases toward Republicans of any poll that the website has not banned from its rankings for gross misconduct.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus appeared to concede that Trump will face major challenges in the general election, saying on CBS News Wednesday morning that there is “work to do” to bring woo minority voters and others who have been repelled by many of Trump’s positions and positions taken by some of his rivals during the primary.
There will also be a need to heal the self-inflicted wounds the GOP sustained during the primary.
“I would be lying to you all if I said, 'okay this is going to be easy, we're just going to pivot,’” Priebus said on CBS. “We need time to unify and we will unify -- but this is what today starts. It's this unification process.”
Some of those wounds, though, are apparently beyond healing.
Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, a number of prominent Republicans activists reiterated their promise that they would never vote for Donald Trump to be president and some did the practically unthinkable, pledging their support for Hillary Clinton.
One conservative writer with the Washington Free Beacon, Lachlan Markay, posted a picture to Twitter that showed him setting his voter registration card on fire. Another, conservative website RedState.com editor Ben Howe simply tweeted the following: