Texas Sen. Ted Cruz cleared the path Tuesday night for Donald Trump to claim the Republican presidential nomination, suspending his underdog campaign following a crushing defeat in Indiana – allowing the billionaire businessman to effectively leave the raucous primary behind and turn his attention squarely to the general election.
“We’re gonna win in November,” Trump declared at Trump Tower in New York City.
Representing one last primary hurdle, John Kasich’s campaign said the Ohio governor would remain in the race until a candidate reaches the necessary 1,237 delegates. But with Cruz ending his bid, Trump would appear on a glide path to hitting that, having vanquished almost everyone in what was once a 17-person field – and now within easy reach of the party mantle, an outcome some pundits and power-brokers once refused to even contemplate.
Cruz announced his decision to dismayed supporters in Indianapolis.
“I said I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory. Tonight, I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed,” Cruz said.
While a Trump-Hillary Clinton match-up now appears inevitable, Sen. Bernie Sanders kept the race alive on the Democratic side Tuesday night by pulling off a projected upset victory in Indiana.
“I understand that Secretary Clinton thinks that this campaign is over,” Sanders said, adding that he has “bad news” for her.
Sanders said he expects “more victories in the weeks to come,” as the race heads next to West Virginia, though he admitted he has an “uphill climb” to the nomination.
But on the GOP side, while Kasich remains in the race and Trump still could face drama at the party convention in Cleveland, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus declared him the "presumptive" nominee Tuesday night, as did Clinton.
Trump addressed supporters at Trump Tower Tuesday night after his seventh consecutive victory, in Indiana.
He called Cruz "one hell of a competitor," calling his decision to drop out of the race "brave."
He also said that while he wasn't sure if Cruz likes him, he praised his former rival as a "smart" and "tough guy" who had an "amazing future" ahead of him.
Trump then turned his attention to his likely Democratic opponent, saying, “We're going after Hillary Clinton."
The New York billionaire criticized Clinton's recent comments about the coal industry. He says she wants to close mines and he promised to help coal miners get back to work.
Cruz campaigned aggressively in Indiana, but could not overcome Trump.
“With a heavy heart, but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign. … But hear me now, I am not suspending our fight for liberty," Cruz said.
Fox News projected Trump has the winner shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m. ET.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Trump has 53.3 percent of the vote.
Tuesday’s primary capped off a bitter and personal clash between Trump and Cruz with each accusing the other of being an unhinged liar.
As soon as the race was called, Trump demanded Cruz exit the primary race, tweeting that “Lyin’ Ted” should “stop wasting time & money.”
Earlier in the day, Trump rehashed claims on Fox News that Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, appeared in a 1963 photograph with John F. Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald -- citing a report first published by the National Enquirer.
"His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being, you know, shot," Trump said on Fox & Friends. "Nobody even brings it up; I mean they don't even talk about that."
Responding, Cruz called his father his "hero," and labeled Trump an "amoral" liar. He also described Trump as a “braggadocious, arrogant buffoon.”
Cruz went into the Indiana primary vowing to fight on even if he lost.
The Associated Press now has Trump leading the delegate count with 1,047. Cruz suspended his campaign with 565. Kasich still has 153. To secure the Republican nomination, a candidate must have 1,237 delegates.
Though Trump could not clinch the nomination with a big win in Indiana, his path toward securing the delegates he needs gets much easier now.
Trump devoted more time to campaigning in Indiana than he has to most other states, underscoring his eagerness to put his Republican rivals away and shift his attention to Democratic front-runner Clinton.
Indiana emerged as a must-win state for Cruz and the “Stop Trump” movement to block Trump from locking up the Republican nomination.
In an attempt to stack the odds, Cruz and Kasich recently announced an alliance to deny the billionaire businessman the delegates needed to win.
Cruz and Kasich had agreed to cede upcoming primary contests to one another. Kasich would stand down in Indiana while Cruz would do the same in Oregon and New Mexico, which hold their primaries May 17 and June 7.
Cracks in communication about the tactical team-up were visible almost immediately. When Kasich was asked about the deal’s message on April 25 and what his Indiana supporters should do he said, “I’ve never told them not to vote for me. They ought to vote for me.”
Cruz also tried to reenergize his campaign by naming former businesswoman Carly Fiorina as his running mate. He rounded out the week with an endorsement from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
The Texan traveled across the state on a tour bus and spent most of his time reaching out to large groups of politically engaged evangelical Christians – a demographic he dominated.
While barnstorming Indiana, Cruz also sharpened his opposition to transgender rights for Americans and publically attacked both Trump and Clinton for supporting North Carolina’s controversial new anti-LGBT law.
According to the Associated Press delegate count, Clinton now has 2,202 delegates compared with Sanders’ 1,400. A Democratic candidate needs 2,383 delegates to get the party’s nomination.
Even if Clinton loses every single remaining primary, she can still win the nomination.
Neither Clinton nor Sanders spent Tuesday in Indiana. Sanders made stops in Kentucky while Clinton focused on West Virginia and Ohio, a key general election battleground.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.