Donald Trump, the flamboyant businessman and TV star, comfortably won at least three of five Republican primary states Tuesday, further cementing his claim to the party’s nomination for president.
He’s also the likely winner of a fourth primary — Missouri’s. Trump led Sen. Ted Cruz Wednesday morning by less than 2,000 votes, with virtually all the ballots counted.
But Trump won clear victories in North Carolina and Illinois — and crushed Sen. Marco Rubio in Rubio’s home state of Florida.
Rubio said he would suspend his campaign.
“This was an amazing evening,” Trump told cheering supporters at an evening news conference in Florida. “This was a great evening.”
The New Yorker’s sweep was not complete — he lost Ohio to the state’s governor, John Kasich. A loss in his home state would have doomed Kasich’s candidacy, too.
Instead, Kasich may now be the only remaining hope of a desperate Republican establishment, which distrusts Trump and dislikes Cruz. But Kasich’s chances of capturing the nomination depend solely on winning a contested convention — a “quadruple bank shot,” said Marvin Overby, a political science professor at the University of Missouri.
That’s because Trump tightened his grip on the delegate math Tuesday. He now holds roughly half the delegates needed to win the nomination. If he wins a little more than 50 percent of the delegates remaining, he’ll be the nominee.
Trump is likely to accumulate those delegates even if he doesn’t win all of the upcoming contests. And 10 states are winner-take-all, increasing Trump’s chances to close out his opponents before the convention.
Cruz stumbled Tuesday. He now needs about two-thirds of the outstanding delegates to win outright, a hurdle that gets more difficult if Kasich stays in the race until the convention.
Cruz did his best Thursday night to make the race a two-person contest with Trump. “America now has a clear choice,” Cruz told supporters in Houston.
Trump’s status as the GOP’s presumptive nominee marks one of the most astonishing campaigns in American political history. It’s been 64 years since U.S. voters picked someone with no political experience to run for president — and that candidate, Dwight Eisenhower, had served as a supreme allied commander in World War II.
Trump, by contrast, has been far better known as a television show host and real estate developer. Yet he’s racked up primary wins across the nation, successfully promoting a message aimed at voters deeply angry at Washington and the political establishment.
“I’ve been telling students, he’s not the kind of person that we nominate for president,” Overby said. “We’re having to update, I guess. Re-evaluate that. And we may have to re-evaluate that for the general election, too.”
Yet prevailing in a general election will be a much bigger challenge than winning the nomination. Republicans remain deeply split over Trump, and several of the party’s national leaders — dismayed by Trump’s boisterous rhetoric and scenes of violence at his campaign events — have examined ways to stop Trump’s momentum, or mount a third-party campaign in the fall.
But most outside analysts now think those efforts will be futile. For better or worse, the Republican party’s chance to regain the White House rests in the hands of the most unusual candidate in memory.
Tuesday, Trump seemed to understand the challenge ahead.
“We have to bring our party together,” he said Tuesday. “We have a great opportunity.”
Here’s how the states voted Tuesday.
Trump’s closest contest came in Missouri, with the outcome in doubt late in the night.
Cruz invested time and money in Missouri, hoping to attract votes from social and religious conservatives in the state. He advertised on television stations and barnstormed the state, including a Kansas City stop Saturday.
Trump also stopped in Kansas City that day, drawing hundreds of protesters — and thousands of supporters. Scenes of police officers using pepper spray dominated Sunday’s newspapers and television broadcasts, but they did not appear to significantly affect Trump’s vote in the state.
Fifty-two delegates were at stake Tuesday, but the exact allocation won’t be known until today.
Trump won 46 percent of the Florida vote, defeating favorite son Rubio, who won 27 percent. Trump won all of the state’s 99 convention delegates.
Shortly after 7:15 p.m., Rubio said he would suspend his campaign.
“The fact that I’ve even come this far is evidence of how special America truly is,” he told a disappointed audience in Florida.
He urged supporters to avoid campaigns based on anger and fear, a not-so-thinly veiled shot at Trump.
But the outcome in the Sunshine State wasn’t a surprise. Trump led public opinion polls in the state for months.
Exit polls showed Trump enjoyed an overwhelming advantage with older voters, precisely the voters who make up much of the state’s electorate. Trump was also popular along the state’s panhandle, where voters have more in common with Alabama and Mississippi residents than voters in southern Florida.
Trump canceled a campaign rally in Chicago last Friday, prompting clashes between supporters and demonstrators. Yet here, too, the fracas seemed to have little impact on the race. With the latest returns Tuesday, Trump had 40 percent of the GOP vote in Illinois, with Cruz at 29 percent and Kasich 20 percent.
Sixty-nine delegates were at stake, to be awarded proportionally.
Trump’s message opposing free trade agreements with other nations had particular resonance in this state, which has been decimated by foreign competition in furniture making and textiles. He captured 41 percent of the vote, with Cruz taking 37 percent, with 80 percent of precincts reporting.
Trump is expected to win at least 27 of the state’s 72 convention delegates, according to the Associated Press. Cruz will take at least 24 delegates, according to projections, with Kasich winning seven and Rubio four.
Kasich will take all of the state’s 66 convention delegates. He defeated Trump by a 10-point margin, in part because of a large number of crossover votes from Democrats and independents in the state.
“I have to thank the people of Ohio. I love you,” Kasich said.