Shortly after Trump won every delegate in the Indiana primary on Tuesday night, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz abandoned his campaign and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, declared the New York real estate tycoon the presumptive nominee. This left Ohio Gov. John Kasich still in the race but out in the cold. Kasich may insist on fighting on through the June 7 California primary just to give anti-Trump voters a choice, but it appears there are not that many anti-Trump voters left in the GOP.
Trump's conquest of the Republican Party is nearly complete. This has left an awful lot of conservative Republicans in a state of shock. Instead of the ideologically pure candidate they have longed for since Ronald Reagan rode off into the sunset, primary voters have given them a standard-bearer who is soft on gays and Planned Parenthood, all over the map on foreign policy and eager to wield the power of government to enforce his quirky ideas.
Conservatives have only themselves to blame for their predicament. For years they have happily ridden the wave of anger and paranoia churned up by talk radio and other right-wing media. When Trump came along and offered himself as the avatar of that unhinged rage, they waited too long to stop him from stealing their base. And they made a bad calculation. They reckoned that if they could get a true conservative in a position to go one-on-one with Trump, all the forces of the right would coalesce and defeat the usurper. Instead, conservatives learned a couple of hard lessons.
The first is that so-called movement conservatives — people who truly believe in a purist philosophy of small government, low taxes, unfettered capitalism, moral rectitude and a robustly assertive international policy — are a minority, even among Republicans. The people drawn to Trump may be devoted to Jesus and Rush Limbaugh and may distrust government and hate the IRS, but they also want their Social Security and Medicare protected. They are tired of foreign wars, they hate Wall Street wheeler-dealers and they really do not care that Trump has a proudly public history of philandering.
The second thing they learned is that a purist conservative will not automatically win the hearts and minds of Republican voters — at least if that person is Ted Cruz. People vote with their gut as much as with their brain and, in their gut, a lot of Republican voters felt queasy when they looked at Cruz. Smarmy, obsequious, self-righteous, calculated, creepy — whatever the precise assessment, most voters just did not like Ted Cruz. His victory in Wisconsin was a high water mark. After that, the more people saw of Cruz, the more they voted for Trump.