Whoever dubbed Tuesday, April 26 the “Acela Primary” (because the five states that held primaries on that day coincide with the route of Amtrak’s fastest carrier) needs a refresher in how trains and Republican presidential hopefuls run.
The Washington-to-Boston Acela service is known for the three things: speed, “quiet cars” and higher fares.
You won’t find those first two traits – swiftness and silence – in this boisterous, time-consuming GOP affair. Expensive, yes, but not a joy ride.
Here are four takeaways, now that the Republican local has completed its northeastern course.
Trump Towered. I’ve kept struggling with a way to best characterize Donald Trump’s roll – New York last week; Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all this week.
One thought: Trump 2016 looks a lot like the American map circa the mid-1700’s. He’s conquered 12 of the 13 original colonies (New Jersey votes on June 7), plus most of the southeast. Except for a few states here and there, Trump controls the American continent east of the Mississippi River.
But now the race moves west. First up: Indiana, on May 3 (more on that in a moment). A week later: West Virginia and Nebraska.
After that, the GOP field spends quality time on the West Coast – two weeks in Oregon and Washington – before a final push in California, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota and the aforementioned New Jersey.
The question: Trump has momentum as he steps off the Acela. Then again, so too did Texas Sen. Ted Cruz after he rolled Trump in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary.
From this point forward to California, will it be “nomemtum” or “big mo” for The Donald?
Isn’t It Bromantic? You’ve heard of Rudolph Valentino, but maybe not Jean Acker. She was Valentino’s first wife – best known for supposedly locking him out of the bedroom on their wedding night, never consummating the marriage, yet suing for the legal right to “Mrs. Rudolph Valentino”.
The political marriage between Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (quicker even than Valentino and Acker’s two-month courtship) may not turn out to be as cinematic.
But there is the matter of consummation.
Cruz thinks Kasich intends to cede Indiana to the more conservative Texan; Kasich has told reporters he’s not instructing his followers to switch to Cruz.
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether Cruz and Kasich much care for each other. What I don’t understand: why they felt the need to go public with their hasty nuptials. Other than the obvious reason: they both realize the urgency of the moment – far behind in delegates, needing to defeat Trump soon before he salts away the GOP nomination.
It’s funny how fast things can change in politics: we entered April with Trump looking wobbly; we’ll exit the month with Cruz and Kasich resorting to a bromance that reeks of desperation.
Hoosier Daddy. A word about campaigning in Indiana, home to a pivotal presidential contest and a contentious GOP Senate primary both of which are playing out along “establishment/outsider” lines: if I were working the basketball-crazy state, I’d want one of three individuals by my side – basketball legend Larry Bird, former Indiana University Coach Bobby Knight, or the kid who drained the jumper at the end of “Hoosiers”.
OK, Jimmy Chitwood doesn’t exist in real life and “Larry Legend” isn’t all that political (though he once snubbed Ronald Reagan). That leaves us with Coach Knight, who’s appearing with Trump at a Wednesday evening rally in Indianapolis.
It’s not the first sports endorsement to come Trump’s way – Buffalo Bills Coach Rex Ryan warmed up the crowd for him at a rally the day before New York’s primary. And it begs the question of pro-Trump star power other than the “Apprentice” and Gary Busey, Wayne Newton and Jon Voight.
With polls showing Trump holding a narrow lead among Hoosiers, Cruz could use some star-power of his own – better yet, maybe a Gene Hackman pep talk.
California. The Chicago Cubs have waited 71 years for a World Series appearance; 108 years for a title. California’s absence from the national political picture seems just as pronounced.
Post-Acela Primary, Trump’s delegate count has risen well into the 900’s. That puts him three-fourths of the way to 1,237, which is now officially out of reach for Cruz (until after a first ballot in Cleveland, when pledged delegates can begin switching their votes).
Here’s why California matters more with each passing week: Trump can’t win without taking a gluttonous portion of the Golden State’s 172 GOP delegates (to get to 1,237 on June 7, I’m guessing he’ll have to score 140 delegates); as such, it’s the #nevertrump movement’s last chance to derail him.
In California Amtrak parlance, that primary would be a ticket on the Coast Starlight – a three-day ride along the West Coast that isn’t fast and isn’t cheap.
And unlike Tuesday’s Acela experience: maybe the only real hope of throwing Trump from the train.
Bill Whalen is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, where he analyzes California and national politics. He also blogs daily on the 2016 election at www.adayattheracesblog.com. Follow him on Twitter @hooverwhalen.