Donald Trump’s strong showing in the last round of primaries looks set to continue today as Indiana voters go to the polls. As he has continued to win primary contests, he’s also forced supposedly committed Ted Cruz delegates and allies to reconsider their support.
“What I have said is I’m leaning towards Cruz, but I’m not committed to anybody,” said Dick Dever, a North Dakota state senator and Republican delegate, to The National Review. He effectively summed up the position many Cruz delegates have taken since Trump’s five state sweep last week. “And after [Tuesday’s vote], I think Trump has the momentum going forward.”
His latest position presents a reversal from remarks he made exactly a month ago. According to NBC, he said Trump would be his last choice if it weren’t for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. A meeting with Trump campaign surrogate/saboteur Ben Carson warmed him up to Trump, if only slightly.
“Yes, you’re unbound, you can vote for whoever you want,” said Rick Becker, a former North Dakotan gubernatorial candidate still committed to Cruz. “But if Trump gets really close, should you even ignore your wishes, ignore your congressional district’s wishes, and just vote for Trump to try to salvage the Republican party from being torn apart?”
In Louisiana, 10 uncommitted delegates are up for grabs, but Cruz has only secured the support of one, according to ABC. The rest were still undecided, perhaps waiting to see which way the political headwinds would blow in the upcoming weeks. They, of course, don’t have to come to a decision about who they would support until the convention in July. But if the words of Roger Villere, a longtime Louisiana state GOP chief and one of the national party’s vice chairmen, are anything to go by, a “clear supermajority” of attendees at the Republican National Committee spring meeting in early April were coming around to the idea of Trump leading the party in the election.
“There were a lot of them who Trump wasn’t their first choice, but when we got in closed rooms and everybody started talking, the general consensus was that he’s going to be our nominee, and we will rally around him,” Villere said to Business Insider. “I wouldn’t say it was even reluctance. It’s just the reality.”
Trump’s sustained dominance of the Republican nomination race has entered a new phase, one which will require delegates to make hard decisions about the party’s unity and its future. But further tipping the balance in favor of Trump has been a small but growing contingent of Republican congressmen who have embraced the man, most likely due to political survival, opportunism and a desire to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.
“I don’t understand. I mean, it’s not ‘Never Trump.’ It’s ‘Never Hillary.’ Never, never, never Hillary. Come on. Wake up and smell the coffee,” said U.S. Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania. He, along with 57 percent of Republican voters, voted for Trump during last week’s primary contest. “I’ve never seen a party attack one of its own candidates with this aggressiveness.”
Pennsylvania was a key primary victory for Trump due to the 54 unpledged delegates the state carries, the majority of whom committed to support Trump at the convention. Their lopsided support for Trump (41 of 54 delegates plan on supporting him) was a reversal from similar contests, where Cruz’s ground game allowed him to capture most unbound delegates. In Pennsylvania, however, only three delegates pledged to support Cruz.
Meanwhile, Senator Orrin Hatch, who has served in the Senate since 1977, also pledged to support Trump to stop Clinton from winning the presidency, despite his own misgivings, and despite Utahans voting overwhelmingly for Cruz. “It looks to me like he’s going to win, and if he does, I’m going to do everything in my power to help him,” he said to Business Insider.
But Hatch already has a history of taking it easy on Trump. In March, he dismissed Trump’s failure to denounce the racism espoused by his supporters as an innocent failure to communicate. “I think deep down, I don’t think Donald Trump tolerates it either. I think he is just inexperienced in expressing himself at things like that,” Hatch said. The recent announcement that he would do everything in his power to stop a Clinton presidency was the result of the open-ended remarks he made in March.
The Utah senator’s strategic decision is just the beginning of conservatives’ acceptance that Trump will be the Republican Party nominee. Even Bill Kristol, one of the leading voices of the #NeverTrump movement, indicated that he may still vote for him. “On the one hand, I’ll say #NeverTrump, and on the other hand, I’ll say ‘never say never’. I’ll leave it ambiguous,” he said on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax show yesterday.
Republican strategist Karl Rove, who clashed with the racist billionaire in March, calling his knowledge of policy “a millimeter deep,” predicted Trump would win the nomination outright if he won the Indiana primary, which he looks set to do. “If Trump wins — if the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Maris poll is correct — and he wins, the race is effectively over,” he said on Fox News yesterday.
This groundswell of change has hit the Cruz campaign hard at the worst possible time. A Gallup poll released yesterday showed Trump exceeding Cruz in favorability ratings among Republicans for the first time during the primaries. Equally important are the optics of the campaign. Cruz has suffered ambushes from Trump supporters, who called him a Canadian, slipped their hands away as he went to shake them, and in a truly bizarre scenario, had a 12-year-old who wouldn’t stop yelling “you suck!” get escorted out of a campaign event by police.