REPUBLICAN RECKONING

GOP, Welcome Your New Trump Overlord

No more Lyin’ Ted—with the path to the nomination clear, both Trump and the GOP know the fun and games are over. So what do they do now?

05.04.16 5:00 AM ET

On the night he got everything he said he wanted, Donald Trump looked miserable.

He entered the lobby of Trump Tower through the hallway, wearing a blue suit and royal blue tie. His wife, Melania, and his three older children, Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr., and their respective spouses were by his side. He had just won Indiana and with that, effectively, the Republican presidential nomination itself, but he was acting like a loser.

He spoke quietly and slowly. His eyes squinted more than usual. It seemed as though the gravity of the position he now finds himself in—leader of the Republican Party, rival to Hillary Clinton, possible president of the United States—was weighing directly on his face, which was, in the patriotic red, white, and blue light, a pale shade of orange.

The fun and games were finally over for Trump, and he knew it.

No longer the insurgent outsider, he’s now faced with a choice. He can continue to be himself, peddling conspiracy theories and insulting every foe with the sophistication of a preteen mean girl. Or he can start acting like a statesman and risk losing the people who love him the way he is.

Three hundred twenty-two days ago, Trump was standing right here, dressed the same except for his red tie, a row of American flags at his back, and the sound of possibility escaping through his Queens accent.

“This is beyond anybody’s expectations,” he said then. “I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again.”

At the time, it felt like the stuff of a reality television producer’s fever dream.

Trump was a real estate developer, New York tabloid fixture, and national TV star who seemed more like a real life Monopoly game piece than a potential political leader. He’d once shaved Vince McMahon’s head onstage at WrestleMania.

No one, not even Trump himself, seemed to believe the nomination—never mind the presidency—was achievable. Jeb Bush had raised a $100 million! Ted Cruz was an evangelical savior with libertarian flair! Marco Rubio was the next Barack Obama!

But Trump likes a fight, and he reveled in his position as the underdog. Onstage at rallies, he’d get up and recite poll numbers, and then direct the crowd to look back and boo at the press, whom he classified as dishonest naysayers.

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The Republican field would swell to 17 candidates—Trump; Bush; Cruz; Rubio; John Kasich; Ben Carson; Chris Christie; Carly Fiorina; Mike Huckabee; Lindsey Graham; Jim Gilmore; Rand Paul; Bobby Jindal; George Pataki; Scott Walker; Rick Santorum; and Rick Perry. Trump would winnow it down to just two, defying the conventional wisdom of Beltway know-it-alls who said ’round the clock on cable news that it’d never happen, and the Republican establishment forces who couldn’t bring themselves to believe—until now—that their voters could really reject everything the establishment believed they wanted.

Just a few weeks ago, a contested convention in Cleveland this July seemed an inevitability. Now, with Ted Cruz out of the race and only also-ran John Kasich remaining, it is more likely to be a coronation, with the #NeverTrump forces looking like traitors to the Republican Party who care more about purity than stopping another Democratic administration.

After the Indiana primary was called for Trump on Tuesday night, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, tweeted: “.@realDonaldTrump will be presumptive @GOP nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton.”

The nomination all but sealed, Trump walked up to the lectern at Trump Tower to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” With all the enthusiasm of a hungover camp counselor, he said, “We’re gonna make America great again. We’re gonna make America great.”

Even when he directed his focus toward his new nemesis, Clinton, he had trouble sounding into it. “We’re going after Hillary Clinton,” he said. “She will not be a great president. She will not be a good president. She will be a poor president.”

For a moment, Trump turned introspective.

“I have to tell you that I’ve competed all my life,” he said, “competitive person. All my life, I’ve been in competitions—different competitions, whether it’s sports, or business, or now, for 10 months, politics. And I have to tell you that I have met some of the most incredible competitors that I have ever competed against right here in the Republican Party.”

At the end of the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, after Robert Redford’s character, Jim McKay, has been elected to the United States Senate against all odds, he panics. He grabs his strategist, Marvin Lucas, and forces him out of the fawning crowd for a moment alone. “What do we do now?” McKay asks Lucas. “What do we do now?”

The crowd rushes into the room before Lucas can process the question.

Trump appeared to feel the crowd closing in on him Tuesday night. What does he do now?