Trump consolidated his hold on the Republican nomination with a clean sweep of the five Northeast states voting on Tuesday, where he outperformed polling and expectations. His path to a majority of delegates, while still uncertain and dependent on the next states up, has never been more clear of obstacles.
Prominent among the obstacles that are falling away are his rivals. If this is what collusion looks like, Trump will take another helping.
Neither Sen. Ted Cruz nor Gov. John Kasich came close to matching Trump’s strength in the five states voting. Cruz’s fade was a particular sting given the dynamics of the race coming into last week’s voting in New York. Kasich’s promise of strength in the Northeast seems like a distant memory.
“The best way to beat the system is to have evenings like this,” Trump said tonight at Trump Tower in Manhattan. “I consider myself the presumptive nominee.”
The awkward alliance announced this week by Cruz and Kasich looks particularly weak in light of these results. All eyes will turn to Indiana, where the stop-Trump forces have marshaled -- though even slowing Trump there may not be enough.
The latest voting can be understood as playing to the regional advantages Trump was always going to have. But the flip side is that now, it’s not just his native New York where his numbers are growing, and that he’s outperforming his polling. Hope that his loss in Wisconsin would carry over into other states turned out to be just that.
The results are strengthening Trump’s arguments for falling in line behind him -- and weakening those of his opponents.
In Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut -- the three biggest states voting today, and the only ones with exit polls -- more than eight in 10 Trump supporters said their votes were mainly “for” Trump, as opposed to against his opponents. Cruz and Kasich demonstrated nowhere near that kind of commitment among their own voters.
In the traditional battleground of Pennsylvania, about two in 10 Republicans said they would never vote for Trump as the nominee. But three in 10 said the same about Kasich -- and slightly more said they would never vote for Cruz.
It sets up a desperate period for the never-Trump movement. A haphazard Kasich-Cruz partnership will need to bear fruit in Indiana, giving Trump’s opponents a scant seven days to mount an effort to block him.
Trump has now won a clear majority of states, to go along with the most votes and the most delegates. His rivals will be desperate to stop him -- but the risks of that rise with every passing Trump win.