After last night’s Indiana primary, it’s official: the GOP is the Party of Trump. We progressives knew the GOP’s voters better than the party’s leaders did…. (More)

“After months of sneering dismissals and expensive but impotent attacks”

Yesterday Donald Trump essentially clinched the Republican nomination by routing Ted Cruz in Indiana:

Donald J. Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee on Tuesday with a landslide win in Indiana that drove his principal opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, from the race and cleared the way for the polarizing, populist outsider to take control of the party.

After months of sneering dismissals and expensive but impotent attacks from Republicans fearful of his candidacy, Mr. Trump is now positioned to clinch the required number of delegates for the nomination by the last day of voting on June 7. Facing only a feeble challenge from Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Mr. Trump is all but certain to roll into the Republican convention in July with the party establishment’s official but uneasy embrace.

Perhaps ironically, that came on the same day that Trump outrageously accused Cruz’s father of involvement in the JFK assassination. More on that below.

“They’re scared of him”

First the good news for Democrats. The New York TimesNate Cohn explains why Hillary Clinton is a significant favorite over Donald Trump in November:

Yes, it’s still a long way until Election Day. And Mr. Trump has already upended the conventional wisdom many times. But this is when early horse-race polls start to give a rough sense of the November election, and Mr. Trump trails Mrs. Clinton by around 10 percentage points in early general election surveys, both nationally and in key battleground states.

He even trails in some polls of several states where Mitt Romney won in 2012, like North Carolina, Arizona, Missouri and Utah.

Could Mr. Trump overtake Mrs. Clinton? Sure. Mrs. Clinton is very unpopular herself. Her polling lead is a snapshot in time, before the barrage of attack ads that are sure to come her way. There have been 10-point shifts over the general election season before, even if it’s uncommon. But there isn’t much of a precedent for huge swings in races with candidates as well known as Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. A majority of Americans may not like her, but they say they’re scared of him. To have a chance, he’ll need to change that.

The key demographic will likely be women. Women may not be overly fond of Clinton, but an overwhelming majority of them loathe Trump and a PolitiFact review of recent polls found that Clinton likely to win women voters by an historic 19-point margin. And women are a majority of the electorate.

“I’m watching a 160-year-old political party commit suicide”

After his win yesterday, the New York Times’ editorial board scathingly declared the GOP the Party of Trump:

Shortly after the Republican race was called, Mr. Cruz announced that he was ending his campaign, leaving Gov. John Kasich as the sole rival to Mr. Trump in the G.O.P. contest.

That the Never-Trumpers had hoped to fall back on Mr. Cruz, perhaps the most reviled politician in his party, was a measure of their panic about the prospect now before them. With Mr. Trump’s success, “I’m watching a 160-year-old political party commit suicide,” said Henry Olsen, an elections analyst with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

The Times op-ed offers an overview of the political malfeasance that led to this point, but Business Insider’s Josh Barro says this is unlikely to be a one-election disaster:

His nomination could signal the death of orthodox conservatism as one of the two main forces in American public policy, since he is running away with the nomination despite being exposed as a nonconservative.

Trump is the candidate who finally figured out how to exploit the fact that much of the Republican voter base does not share the policy preferences of the Republican donor class, and that it is therefore possible to win the nomination without being saddled with their unpopular policy preferences.

He will not be the last candidate to understand this.

Worse, Barro argues, a single defeat won’t fix the problem because each leg of the GOP’s traditional stool will offer a different, wrong reason for their debacle:

Ted Cruz and his allies will say that the loss was the predictable result of failure to nominate a true conservative. Faced with two essentially similar candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, conservatives chose to stay home. To win in 2020, they will say, Republicans must abandon moderation and the desire for “deals” and nominate a stalwart, no-compromise conservative like Cruz.

Establishment Republicans will say the problem is that the party let the clowns take over, and must return power to the adults in the room like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, instead of toxic candidates like Trump and Cruz. They will not address the problem that orthodox Republican policy prescriptions are unconvincing even to voters in the Republican primary, let alone the general electorate.

Trump and his fans will say that the Republican establishment sabotaged Trump by withholding their support, hoping they could quash his insurgency by manufacturing a wide loss to Hillary Clinton. They will not go away quietly.

“Ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason”

The GOP’s deeper problem is that its leaders and its voters have vastly different ideas of ‘conservatism,’ as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait explains:

Virtually the entire Republican apparatus will follow Trump sooner or later, because without the voters, they have no power. And those voters have revealed things about the nature of the party that many Republicans prefer to deny. Whatever abstract arguments for conservative policy – and these arguments exist, and a great many people subscribe to them earnestly – on the ground, Republican politics boils down to ethno-nationalistic passions ungoverned by reason. Once a figure has been accepted as a friendly member of their tribe, there is no level of absurdity to which he can stoop that would discredit him. And since reason cannot penetrate the crude tribalism that animates Republicans, it follows that nothing President Obama could have proposed on economic stimulus, health care, or deficits could have avoided the paroxysms of rage that faced him.

The paranoid mendacity of Joe McCarthy, the racial pandering of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George Bush, the jingoism and anti-intellectualism of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin – all these forces have embodied the essence of American conservative politics as it is actually practiced (rather than as conservative intellectuals like to imagine it). Trump has finally turned that which was always there against itself.

In short, progressive critics understood GOP voters better than GOP leaders did. Whatever the leaders’ stated reasons for advocating policies that favored wealthy, white, heterosexual, Christian men … for the wealthier-than-most, white, heterosexual, Christian-esque men whose votes put Trump in the GOP driver’s seat, the GOP’s policies were always about identity politics.

“Many of the most egregious examples of Trump’s false claims have a strong racial and ethnic component”

Thus, it’s not really ironic that Trump locked up the GOP nod on the same day he peddled the ridiculous Rafael Cruz-Lee Harvey Oswald conspiracy theory. He’s built his campaign on such rubbish, as MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlan explains:

As Donald Trump reminded the world Tuesday morning, the Republican Party is on the verge of nominating a conspiracy theorist who regularly uses debunked Internet and tabloid rumors to smear his enemies.
[…]
Even by normal political standards, Trump’s relationship with the truth is abusive: Politifact named his entire campaign its 2015 “Lie of the Year.”

The GOP presidential front-runner, whether by choice or by nature, appears fundamentally unable to distinguish between credible sources and chain e-mails.
[…]
Trump has an online fan base of white nationalists, whom he sometimes retweets to his millions of followers. It’s important to note that many of the most egregious examples of Trump’s false claims have a strong racial and ethnic component.

Tuesday’s JFK story was a perfect example: A smear whose effect was to make Ted Cruz and his Cuban-born father appear strange, foreign, and untrustworthy. There are many others.

Sarlan catalogues Trump’s white-fringe lies, from birtherism to Mexican rapists to U.S. Muslims celebrating 9/11 to faked crime statistics to celebrating what would have been a war crime, except it never happened:

Trump regularly regales his audience with a horrific tale about famed World War I-era General John Pershing subduing Muslim rebels in the Philippines by executing dozens of prisoners with bullets dipped in pig blood. Consuming pork is forbidden in Islam and the implication was that the blood would defile the bodies.

“He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood,” Trump said at a rally in South Carolina in February. “And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the fiftieth person he said ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, okay?”

Historians said there was zero record of any of this mass execution ever happening, although there are accounts of soldiers burying fallen insurgents with pigs. The history was also completely wrong: Violence continued in the region long after the supposed story took place.

Snopes’ David Mikkelson debunked the Pershing myth in detail, but that won’t matter to Trump or his backers … because they think (wrongly) Snopes is run by liberal Democrats.

Absurdities like that are why 2008 John McCain aide Mark Salter is publicly backing Hillary Clinton:

Democrats must still work hard through November. But running against the Party of Trump will make our work easier.

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Photo Credit: Alex Brandon (AP)

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Good day and good nuts