NEW YORK — Donald Trump scored a landslide victory in Indiana’s Republican presidential primary Tuesday, dealing a knockout blow to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who abruptly ended his campaign, making the real estate mogul turned insurgent candidate the party’s likely nominee this November.
Just one other Republican remained in the race: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose advisers said he would continue to campaign. But with Kasich mathematically eliminated from amassing a majority of delegates, Trump claimed the mantle of the party’s presumptive nominee — a position endorsed by Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who formally called on the party to unite behind Trump.
“It’s been an unbelievable day and evening and year,” Trump told reporters at an election night event at Trump Tower. “I didn’t expect this.”
The usually rambunctious candidate was relatively low key, as he pointedly thanked Cruz — a fierce rival whom he had trashed just hours before as a “wacko” who “can’t function under pressure.” But after Cruz exited the race, Trump omitted his usual nickname, “Lyin’ Ted,” and instead praised the Texas senator as a “tough competitor” who has an “amazing future” ahead of him.
“I don’t know if he likes me or doesn’t like me, but he is one hell of a competitor,” Trump said.
Surrounded by family, Donald Trump speaks at an election night event May 3 at Trump Tower in New York. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
For Trump, it was a stunning victory in a state that had been projected as favorable to Cruz as recently as two weeks ago. But Trump came into the state with six straight victories, including last week’s sweep of five Northeastern states, including Pennsylvania. It gave him a momentum that Cruz was unable to reverse, despite his unusual move of naming a running mate — former rival Carly Fiorina — in hopes of gaining steam. But the gamble failed.
Based on early returns and exit polls, Trump looked to claim all of Indiana’s 57 delegates, pushing his overall total to well above 1,000. Trump needs 1,237 to clinch the nomination and avoid a contested party convention in Cleveland in July — a total he is expected to lock up by the California primary on June 7, when 172 delegates are up for grabs. Aides said he would continue to campaign in upcoming primary states until he reaches the magic number.
The results called into question the fate of Kasich, who, along with Cruz, had been pressing forward in hopes of pushing Trump into a contested party convention. Also unknown was the impact Trump’s Indiana win would have on the #NeverTrump movement and other outside groups trying to stop the real estate mogul.
At Trump Tower, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, dismissed the #NeverTrump movement as a “passing fad” and predicted the party would soon coalesce behind his boss. “I think most of the people understand that Donald Trump is going to be the nominee whether they like it or not,” Lewandowski said. “He is going to be the Republican nominee.”
Lewandowski called on Kasich to quit the race “for the good of the party” — insisting the party needs to unite behind Trump to make sure a Republican wins the White House. He declined to say if the campaign is taking any steps behind the scenes to make that happen — though he repeatedly insisted Trump will pursue efforts to “unite” the party.
“He’s trying to bring everyone together and make sure there’s one focus,” Lewandowski said. “That focus is ensuring that a Republican takes the White House come January.”
Speaking to reporters, Trump seemed intent on appearing presidential, quickly pivoting to a general election speech in which he laid out the broad themes of his campaign, including creating new jobs and strengthening the military.
And he took aim at Hillary Clinton, his likely Democratic opponent, vowing he would defeat her in November.
“We’re going after Hillary Clinton. She will not be a great president. She will not be a good president. She will be a poor president,” Trump said in his speech, before pointedly linking her to NAFTA, the trade deal signed by President Bill Clinton, the candidate’s husband, which Trump assailed as the worst deal in American history.
Trump noticeably omitted his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a proposal that has been one of the most divisive issues of his candidacy, as well as his plan to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from entering the country amid concerns about radical terrorism.
Instead, Trump spoke of a nation that is “divided in many different ways” and promised to unite it into a country bound by “love.”
“We are going to love each other,” Trump insisted.
And that love would start with Republicans, Trump predicted, repeating his claim that he’s been receiving phone calls from party insiders anxious to join up with his insurgent campaign.
“People that have said the worst things about me, they are calling,” Trump said. They “want to get on the train, the ‘Trump train,’ they call it. … And I think it’s terrific.”