On Tuesday, Donald Trump crushed the last of his Republican opposition, sending Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich to the locker room. By the time he gave his victory speech from Manhattan, Trump had been honored by the RNC as the presumptive nominee. After spending millions of dollars to stop this very moment from becoming a reality, the NeverTrump movement confronted their ultimate failure. In a whirlwind campaign that historians will be studying for years, a man best known as the host of Celebrity Apprentice defeated governors, senators, brain surgeons, and one of the most powerful families in politics to become the Republican nominee for president.
Watch any news broadcast this week, read any paper, click on any political website, and you’ll find the same question: How did Donald Trump execute a hostile takeover of the GOP with such ease?
But by asking this question, the pundit class is proceeding on a false premise. Yes, the extraordinary rise of Trump deserves to be dissected and studied. Yes, he has manipulated the mainstream media using a species of psychological magic that America – nay, the world – has never witnessed before. And yes, he overcame a Republican establishment that would give anything right about now for a time machine.
But if Republican leaders had such a machine and they took the premise of the pundits seriously, they would only travel back in time to last summer. Instead of ignoring Trump for the first couple of months, they would go after him mercilessly from the first day of his campaign. They would beg all of the no-chance candidates to sit it out, thus giving a select group of hopefuls the opportunity to stand out. And it’s possible that they would, by following this playbook, be able to change the course of history.
More likely, though, they would only hasten Trump’s victory.
Trump deserves all the credit in the world for what he accomplished, but the seeds for his victory were planted long before he threw his name into the ring. After eight long years of failed presidential candidates, inept Republican lawmakers, and outright betrayal, conservative voters came into this primary season angry, discouraged, and determined to send a message to the GOP.
Just look at the only two men who ever represented even the slightest challenge to Trump: Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Carson’s stay atop the polls was brief but significant, and Cruz turned out to be the last (realistic) candidate standing. Both of them outsiders. If there are still Republicans who think that there was some avenue they might have taken to make Jeb, Marco, or any of the other traditional candidates on the ticket, they are delusional. They may or may not have been able to stop Trump, but this was never going to be the year for an establishment nominee.
This was the year that the voters took back the Republican Party. And whether you agree with the decision they made or not, this has been an extraordinary moment in American democracy.
Now let’s go forward and make some real history.