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Trump's Self-Fulfilling Victory

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Donald Trump’s big Tuesday night victory in Indiana wasn't technically going to clinch the nomination for him. Even by winning most or all of the delegates at stake in the Hoosier State, he would need more to get to the 1,237 he had to hit to be nominated at the convention in Cleveland -- about 40 percent in the remaining primaries. There was a plausible way for him to fall short. 

The problem was that it was even more implausible that any rival could stop him. Indiana was friendly territory for the reality-TV star, but it was also the kind of state that Ted Cruz or John Kasich really needed to win. If they couldn't win there, it seemed clear they could not shut Trump out of the delegates in California on June 7. Thus Cruz's decision to drop out. Kasich says he will stay to the bitter end, until Trump hits the magic number of delegates.

Most presidential nomination contests are won when the final opponent -- or at least the final serious opponent -- drops out, not when the front-runner hits that magic number. Much of the media on Tuesday night had declared the nomination won with a certitude that assumed the campaign was over.  

It’s hard to imagine a bigger disaster for the Republican Party. It is left with a likely nominee who appears to be an awful -- historically awful -- general-election candidate and who is also the least committed to the Republican agenda in decades.

This leaves a terrible choice for GOP politicians and other party actors. Support Trump, and they’ll always be associated with him and they’ll be tarred with whatever irresponsible things he says. Oppose him, and he’ll be an even weaker general-election candidate who could bring down the entire Republican ticket in November, costing them not only the closely contested Senate but perhaps even the House and several state legislative chambers. Even if he somehow won, he would still be unpredictable in office. Maybe he can get the party to support him. Maybe we have a new season of surprises ahead.  

Those of us who didn't see a Trump nomination coming -- something unprecedented in U.S. political history -- were dead wrong, and we have some explaining to do. But more important and more urgent is that Trump's success -- and all that means -- is a sign of a serious dysfunction in the political system. So it’s time to go to work and figure out what has gone wrong and how to fix it.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net