As Donald Trump shows off his newfound campaign discipline and closes in on the Republican presidential nomination, the hastily put-together movement to stop him is confronting a hard truth.
Trump's dominating victory in New York's primary this week kept rival Ted Cruz from winning any delegates, meaning that the Texas senator—as well as Ohio Governor John Kasich—now has no mathematical chance of winning the nomination before primary voting ends on June 7.
Instead, Trump's two remaining rivals, as well as the groups that raised millions of dollars last month in a last-ditch effort to slow down the brash billionaire, have just one remaining hope: Keep the front-runner from winning the 1,237 delegates he needs by convincing primary voters to back a rival who cannot actually win the nomination through votes alone in order to force a contested convention.
“The ‘never Trump’ movement is unarguably one of the most ineffectual political movements in the history of American politics,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist for John McCain’s 2008 Republican presidential campaign. Schmidt said it was “increasingly apparent” after Trump’s win in New York on Tuesday that the former reality TV show host would collect all the delegates he needs to avoid a second ballot at the convention.
“Trust has completely collapsed in every every institution in America,” Schmidt continued. “And the notion that you’re going to explain to voters in this environment that it’s delegates—and not voters—who are going to pick the nominee is something that is going to be very, very difficult.”
The difficulty of the strategy was on display in Hollywood, Florida, where Cruz insisted that Trump wouldn't win enough delegates and that Kasich didn't have a strong argument for voters at the convention. Left unsaid: How Cruz's path was any clearer.
“We are headed to a contested convention,” Cruz said. His campaign had $8.8 million on hand as of April 1, according to campaign finance reports filed Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Kasich posted a message on Twitter Wednesday that further illustrated the shifting dynamics of the race. “Now that Cruz is now mathematically eliminated, the only diff between him and Kasich is Kasich can defeat Clinton,” the message on the Ohio governor's account said.
For his part, Trump on Thursday said both competitors should give up. “Senator Ted Cruz has been MATHEMATICALLY ELIMINATED from race. He said Kasich should get out for same reason. I think both should get out!” Trump tweeted.
Frustrated with the lack of support from the “Never Trump” groups in New York, Kasich's campaign published a memo making a barely veiled plea for the groups to help in the five mid-Atlantic and northeastern states that hold primaries on April 26. Trump is expected to do well in each.
“Donald Trump will not be the nominee—if the Never Trump forces get serious,” Kasich strategist John Weaver wrote in a memo distributed to reporters. “They weren't serious in New York and allowed Trump to get over 50 percent in numerous districts where he could have been stopped.”
“Continued lack of engagement by Never Trumpers could allow the Trump campaign to get back on track,” Weaver continued.
That suggestion prompted a lengthy rebuke from Liz Mair, a strategist for Make America Awesome, one of the Republican groups opposed to Trump. She said Weaver “needs to consume more news.”
“I love John (genuinely, unlike a lot of folks in the party), but I’m not sure he was totally paying attention to what the collective anti-Trump forces did ahead of New York. This is understandable; he’s got a lot on his plate,” Mair said in an e-mail. “For our part, we ran a very heavily-covered ad targeting Trump in an area where Cruz could—and did, in large part thanks to us—pick off Trump votes but where Kasich could not.”
One of the groups dedicated to stopping Trump, Our Principles PAC, collected $8.34 million in March, according to campaign finance reports filed Wednesday. Top donors included Cliff Asness, the chief investment officer at AQR Capital Management, who gave $1 million, and billionaire Warren Stephens, who has given a total of $2 million to the group.
Brian Baker, a senior adviser for Our Principles, said Trump will do well in mid-Atlantic states next week but then struggle as the race moves West in May and June.
“Our donors were aware that Trump was from New York,” Baker said in an interview, dismissing the value of Trump's win on Tuesday, the biggest of his campaign. “Emotions change, but the facts do not and the math does not. Trump still needs well more than 50 percent of the remaining delegates.”
David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club For Growth, whose PAC endorsed Cruz, said the group will look to make a play in Indiana's May 3 primary.
“It's key that Indiana becomes the next firewall, and the key priority in the race,” he said. McIntosh said that the PAC will be looking to pick off a few delegates in Pennsylvania, but that they are still analyzing the current status of the race.
Rory Cooper, a senior adviser to the Never Trump PAC, said that the group isn't aiming to win states, only keep delegates from Trump. In the states that hold primaries on April 26, Cooper said they'll advocate for Kasich in Connecticut. In Pennsylvania and Indiana they'll push for Cruz. In Rhode Island, they're not singling out either candidate.
“We are in a competition for delegates and not a competition for narrative,” Cooper said.
Campaigning in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Trump told his crowd that even though he's millions of votes ahead, and leads Cruz by about 300 delegates, there's still talk of derailing his candidacy. He said the system was “dishonest” and promised to “straighten it out” as president.
“It's a rigged, crooked system that is designed so the bosses can pick who they want,” Trump told thousands at the rally. “It's rigged for the lobbyists. It's rigged for the donors. And it's rigged for the special interests.”
“The only way we can beat the dishonest, rigged system is by you coming out to vote. And you’ll get your chance in a couple of weeks.”
—With assistance from John McCormick in Hollywood, Florida, and Kevin Cirilli and Sahil Kapur in Washington.