Trump clinches, Cruz bails and the media face a new Republican reality

Donald Trump, mocked and minimized by the media for months, dismissed by the pundits as a fringe character, is now the de facto Republican nominee.

While I took him seriously from the beginning, I have to pause and remind myself that a non-politician, a billionaire real estate guy, just beat all these senators and governors and took control of the GOP.

In the end, Indiana was an anticlimax. The only surprise was that Ted Cruz, who vowed to fight on to the convention, abruptly dropped out.

Cruz didn’t mention Trump in his passionate withdrawal speech. Trump called him a hell of a competitor.

Trump spoke in an unusually soft voice, as if the gravity of what he had just accomplished was suddenly weighing on him. He said we are going to love and cherish each other. The street fighting New Yorker disappeared, at least for an evening.

In retrospect, since Cruz was obviously weighing a withdrawal, it’s hard to understand why he went so thermonuclear in the final 48 hours.

Trump’s victory in a state that the prognosticators once said was fertile ground for Cruz was forecast by media polling, but the loss of drama was more profound than that. The Hoosier state, famous for what Cruz called its basketball rings, was no longer deemed a must-win for Trump.

In fact, news organizations had concluded that Trump had a clear path to the magic 1,237 even if he lost Indiana.

It would be easy to attribute Trump’s win to momentum, and the way he rolled through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island clearly gave him a winner’s aura.

Cruz’s rough week, in which every real or perceived stumble was magnified by the media, also played a role.

By early Tuesday morning, cable networks were using such phrases as “The Donald on the brink” or “Cruz facing his Waterloo.”

But what devalued the Indiana contest were days of coverage on how the members of a crumbling Republican establishment were reluctantly embracing Trump, or at least resigning themselves to his nomination.

The papers were filled with quotes from GOP honchos saying they wanted to avoid a contested convention, that it was time for the party to unify, and that maybe Trump wasn’t so bad after all. Reporters tracked down Cruz delegates who said they were thinking of switching to Trump.

Some voices in the party, the conservative media and the #NeverTrump movement continued to warn that his nomination would be suicidal. But there was a sense that the thing is wrapping up.

The media started covering Cruz with the relentless negativity reserved for a candidate who is seen as sinking. He is wrong that the media are in the tank for Trump, but it is true that he’s been unable to catch a break.

It started with the doomed Kasich deal and the long-shot Fiorina move. Then he had to deny being Lucifer. By the time Carly fell off a stage the other day, the pundits were ripping Cruz for not rushing to rescue her.

Perhaps nothing symbolized his rocky road more vividly than his engaging a Trump supporter in a lengthy debate captured by the cameras. It was an obvious attempt to create a moment, and I thought it took some verve. But the pundits jeered, calling it cringe-inducing. And there was something sad about Cruz saying “I treated you respectfully, sir” to some sign-carrying who retorted with “Lyin’ Ted” and “Are you Canadian?”

The senator indeed seemed desperate when he called Trump, whose first divorce was tabloid fodder, a “serial philanderer” who once spoke of venereal disease as his Vietnam. (And Trump wasn’t exactly statesmanlike in repeating a National Enquirer report saying Cruz’s father was standing next to Lee Harvey Oswald when JFK’s killer was murdered.)

But now Cruz has bowed to the tyranny of math.

For a few brief, shining moments, journalists thought they were getting a brokered convention. Now, even though Hillary lost Indiana to Bernie Sanders, they’re getting a Trump-Clinton race. And the general election begins today.

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