When you take a step back from it, it feels like the kind of lame humor you might find in a dystopian fantasy film. In a dark future, Donald Trump has become the Republican nominee. And you eat your popcorn and roll your eyes: As if that could ever happen.
But it has happened. And after getting used to the idea over nine long months, it doesn’t even feel that surprising. The once-unthinkable became nearly inevitable, and it happened long before Trump’s decisive victory in Indiana. First Ted Cruz and then John Kasich dropped out of the race, leaving only one man standing: the man that no one in the GOP establishment wanted to win.
On Tuesday night, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus congratulated Trump with a tweet that declared him the presumptive nominee. In an instant, all of the talk about a contested convention disappeared in a thin wisp of smoke. Moderate Republicans couldn’t take Trump out, fellow outsiders couldn’t take him out, and even the man who is arguably the most conservative mainstream Republican in modern history couldn’t get the job done. Trump didn’t just win the nomination; he overcame an unprecedented level of opposition to do so.
For his supporters, including those who will vote for him reluctantly this fall, the hope is that Trump has a little bit of magic left in the bag. In fact, the outcome in November really hinges on one question: Did Trump design this victory, or did he just stumble his way to it? Is he a political genius, or is he as surprised as anyone at how this turned out?
If it’s the former, then Hillary Clinton is in serious trouble. You wouldn’t be able to find more than 10 people nationwide who would have predicted last summer that Trump would be the Republican nominee. Even as late as a month ago, there were still Republicans claiming confidently that he wouldn’t be able to do it. If the pundits are as wrong about Trump’s chances in November as they were about what’s happened so far, we are about to witness one of the most stunning elections in American history.
If, however, Trump ran for president as a lark – a possibility that has some anecdotal evidence behind it – then it’s not clear exactly what we will witness over the next six months. If Trump’s victory was nothing more than an unpredictable confluence of circumstances, then there’s no certainty that he’ll be able to expand his success to a general election.
And of course, there’s the wildcard. Will the Republican Party fully embrace their nominee, or will they run against him in an attempt to protect candidates on the down-ticket? Will anti-Trump conservatives coalesce around a third-party candidate, or will they take advantage of his political momentum to keep Hillary out of the White House?
Put plainly, we’re in uncharted waters. Hold on tight.