Chris Christie stood a few feet behind Donald Trump on Tuesday night in Palm Beach as Trump thanked voters and settled the truly open question of whether he disavows the support of David Duke. (He does.) Christie’s instantly famous expression evoked a hostage tape, or a man in the midst of an existential crisis so severe he might soon strip and walk into the ocean. Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham, who joked earlier this week about killing Ted Cruz, reluctantly said on CBS: “We may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz.”
It’s really happening—Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. He scored victories in six of the 11 states up for grabs on Tuesday night, and won by huge margins in places like Alabama and Tennessee but also in Massachusetts, which the networks called for Trump only seconds after polls closed.
Marco Rubio won only Minnesota and, as of this writing, was struggling to get over 20 percent voting thresholds in Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama. If he can’t reach 20 percent, it denies him a vast majority of delegates in those states. Cruz did better, clearing most of the thresholds, but still only won his home state and adjacent Oklahoma. This was supposed to be his big night. A Southern-dominated primary was the best arena for Cruz’s heavily evangelical and conservative campaign, but he didn’t draw too much blood from Trump.
If in some alternate universe Scott Walker had amassed a victory like this on Tuesday night, and following resounding wins in South Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, he’d be crowned the obvious nominee. The traveling press following his opponents would evaporate, and the narrative would shift to the general election. That hasn’t happened with Trump, and for good reason—we’ve never seen an entire party structure turn against its own nominee, so this is uncharted territory. Trump has precious few congressional endorsements, and several conservative groups are throwing millions into a last-ditch effort to stop the real estate mogul.
So we’ll hold back on saying Trump has this completely locked down. But he’s still the overwhelming favorite to become the leader of the Republican Party within the next few weeks, and it’s worth looking at all the ways Trump’s party doesn’t resemble the GOP that’s currently crumbling away.
The GOP is best understood as four different factions: moderates and evangelicals each make up about a third of the Republican base, while Tea Partiers and observant Catholics are each around 15 percent of the GOP. On many issues, Tea Partiers and evangelicals align, as do moderates and observant Catholics, forming a rough 50–50 split in the party.