Indiana, political experts say, put Donald Trump over the top.
That’s true, to a degree, but it’s not the whole truth.
The whole truth is that the 2016 GOP Indiana presidential primary was the place where Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party died.
Trump’s triumph here and the withdrawal of his top rival, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), from the race means the fight for the GOP nomination is over. The Donald now is fewer than 200 delegates away from becoming the party’s standard bearer at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Within the GOP, Trump now is nearly as inevitable as sunrise and sunset.
His rise is a signal that an era of Republican and conservative domination of the national debate is over. The coalition that Ronald Reagan built has been split, shattered, demolished.
Reagan’s political genius was that he could keep social conservatives, economic conservatives and disaffected, distrustful working-class whites marching together. He pulled those groups together in a way that defined this country’s history and political dialogues for nearly 40 years. Reagan’s shadow loomed over the first Bush presidency, what is likely to be the first Clinton presidency, the second Bush presidency and the Obama presidency.
That shadow has been banished now.
The Reagan era is over.
That much became clear on the day Hoosiers went to the polls.
In the morning, the man who touted himself as Reagan’s heir – Ted Cruz – went on a rant about how unfit Trump was not just to be president but even to consume oxygen others might breathe.
Cruz said Trump was a “narcissist,” “utterly amoral,” a “serial philanderer” and “a pathological liar” – and those were the compliments. It doesn’t appear that The Donald and Lyin’ Ted, to use Trump’s words, will be singing kumbaya or exchanging holiday cards in the near future.
Cruz’s diatribe was a kind of death wail, a primal cry of anguish that the world he and so many other conservatives knew and loved was no more. The Gipper, like Elvis, has left the building.
Donald Trump’s rise has been as much a repudiation of Republican doctrine as it has been anything else, a gleeful romp through the GOP graveyard, a malevolent mauling of the conservative message.
Discerning social conservatives understand that.
That’s why, not long after Cruz withdrew from the race, many social conservatives I know were wrestling with tough questions on social media:
Should we vote for a Democrat in the fall?
Should we just stay home?
Should we give up on politics altogether?
Should we? Should we? Should we?
Their anguish echoed that of a woman I talked with at a Cruz rally a week before the vote that ended his campaign. The woman said she was a Republican and a conservative, but she couldn’t see herself voting for Trump under any circumstances. If The Donald were the GOP nominee, she said she just might vote for a Democrat for the first time in her life.
As she talked, the Cruz supporters packed around her nodded their heads.
They’re likely to vote for Trump just as soon as hell freezes over.
Savvy Democrats understand that.
On primary day, Kip Tew – former Indiana Democratic Party chairman and the chair of Barack Obama’s Indiana campaign in 2008 – talked with me over the air. He barely could contain his enthusiasm for both a Trump candidacy and a fractured Republican Party.
Trump’s rise, Tew said, put Indiana in play for the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
More than that, Tew said, it gave Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg a boost in his battle with incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Pence. He also argued having Trump at the top of the GOP ticket would help Baron Hill, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, in his tussle with Republican candidate Todd Young.
The thing about crack-ups as large and profound as this one is that it’s easier to determine what’s been lost than it is to see what’s been gained.
We know now that, thanks to the voters of Indiana, the old Republican Party – the party of Ronald Reagan and his devotees – is dead.
But the new Republican Party, the GOP that will emerge from this cataclysm?
Well, that’s a story that remains to be told.