Path clear for controversial billionaire as main rivals Cruz and Kasich bow out of race for US presidential nomination.
The last time a major US political party picked someone to challenge for the Presidency who had not previously held elected office was in 1952. The choice was Dwight Eisenhower. And he had recently been the commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and had defeated Hitler.
More than half a century later the Republican Party has picked Donald Trump. A man who has flirted with political office before but is much better known in the US as the star of the reality TV show The Apprentice.
He will roll into the party’s convention in Cleveland in July as the anointed one. And like Reagan and Bush and Dole and McCain and Nixon and Romney before him, he will accept the nomination of his party.
It has been an incredible 10 months.
Since he glided down an escalator at Trump Tower in New York, people have been predicting the end. It couldn’t last the summer. It wouldn’t make it to the end of the year. He could never survive the last gaffe, scandal, row. But he did. And after suffering an initial defeat in the first nominating contest in Iowa, he has dominated the race.
Indiana, so often ignored and almost irrelevant, became a key state. With Trump dominating the voting, the two other candidates knew it was over. They couldn’t win the nomination themselves and they couldn’t block Trump from it either.
And so first Ted Cruz, the abrasive Texas Senator, and, hours later, John Kasich, the optimistic Ohio governor, ended their campaigns. Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
The party’s hierarchy had claimed Trump would never be the nominee. They launched feeble attacks against him. They spent millions trying to block him. And still he prevailed.
Just a few days after Mitt Romney lost heavily to Barack Obama in the 2012 election, Donald Trump quietly registered the phrase “Make America great again” with the US patent office. It was a tentative step in what has become a barnstorming campaign.
Trump harnessed the worries, concerns and anger of voters. They had watched the bailouts and suffered through the economic recession. They felt deserted by a Republican party which won control in the house and senate and promised changes, but seemed impotent, if ideologically pure.
Trump threw out the political rule book. He didn’t need expensive ads and large teams. With a small knot of trusted advisers and hours of free media, he took on what was regarded as the “strongest Republican field” in living memory. There were governors and senators, a retired world-class neurosurgeon and a former business executive. And he beat them all.
But now the party that sneered at Trump is in turmoil. It is not sure if it will embrace him, his style of politics and the policies he’s rolled out through the campaign. The last point is particularly important as so much of what he’s said goes against Republican orthodoxy. He is dismissive of free trade agreements unless America has the upper hand in them all. He’s keen to protect state-funded entitlements. His position on key social issues such as gay marriage and abortion has been extremely flexible.
And he has not backed away from his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the US.
The two previous Republican presidents, both called Bush, have made it clear they will not endorse their party’s pick. Prominent senators have said they will not support him. Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, won’t be at the convention.
Trump says he will change. He can become more presidential. He promised it through the campaign.
It may not be possible – but he may change what it means to be a Republican.