New York mogul and presidential aspirant Donald Trump continued a swing through the West Coast this weekend, prompting large crowds to turn out both for him and against him.
His campaign of bluster, showmanship, rudeness, and jubilation has prompted the GOP establishment to gape in wonder at Mr. Trump’s electoral success and gasp, "How?"
Mainstream Republicans have thrown the kitchen sink at Trump, who has artfully dodged. In just the last two weeks, Trump has pulled ahead in suburbs, exurbs, rural areas, and cities compared to votes preceding April 19.
From #NeverTrump to Mitt Romney's anti-Trump plea to whole conservative magazines being devoted to derailing the brassy mogul’s once-quixotic campaign – none of it has stuck against Teflon Trump.
His closest competitor, Ted Cruz, has been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright. The prospects of a contested convention are fading fast, and, after all, could only confirm Trump’s central campaign point – that the system is rigged against regular folks.
“Trump is ... close to winning this thing fair and square,” wrote political blogger Chris Cillizza this week in The Washington Post. “You don’t have to like that reality. But you do have to accept it.”
Some have likened that "acceptance" to the last stage of grieving.
After all, Trump may yet jettison the Republican Party’s hopes, perhaps beyond this election cycle.
Analysts have twisted logic like pretzels to see how Trump can overtake the vaunted 35 percent barrier of his likely voters. In a Real Clear Politics poll average, Trump trails likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 7.3 points.
Yet in part due to the contested primary, he has garnered over 25 million primary votes, 10 million more than Mitt Romney earned in 2012. GOP turnout has spiked by more than 300 percent in some states since the last go-round. And Trump has won just about everywhere: the South, the Northeast, the Midwest, the Mountain West.
Has his support from all corners of America finally impressed the party establishment?
From around the country this week, there was a growing sense of falling-in-line among party chieftains and stalwarts.
Former presidential contender Rick Perry once took some of the toughest shots against Trump, calling him a “barking carnival act” featuring “a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense” that could set the Republican party on the path to perdition.
But this week, when asked on “The View” whether he’d support Trump in the general election, the former governor of Texas answered, “I will.”
The problem for the party establishment all along has been the optics of their opposition.
GOP voters have flocked to Trump in droves, but the idea that “the party decides,” as the Monitor’s Peter Grier pointed out on Friday, has only fueled the candidate’s popularity.
At a speech in California on Friday, Trump said, “There has to be unity in our party,” before adding in an aside that he wouldn't need unity to win against Hillary Clinton.
Although a historic candidate in terms of gender equality, Mrs. Clinton still faces questions about her handling of classified information as secretary of State, as well as problems attracting of Millennial women (though Trump might fare no better).
At the same time, Trump has made fleeting efforts to appear more like a statesman than a showman.
Though many panned his foreign policy speech this week, one who didn’t was a former nemesis, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who said he saw glimmers of a reasonable, realistic, and strong shift in American worldview, less tied to party ideology and more to Main Street interests.
Senator Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump “very thoughtful” on foreign policy, and said Trump did the country a service by "challeng[ing] the foreign policy establishment … in Washington" – though he stopped short of endorsing Trump for president.
Such philosophical warmth from a Washington heavyweight underlines the slow, but discernible, shift within the Republican Party.
What many analysts overlook, argues Will Rahn in a piece for CBS News, is that Trump would “probably be the most moderate nominee in decades."
He continues, "border walls and Muslim bans aside, Trump really most closely resembles an old-school northeastern centrist Republican" who is "pro-business, pro-military, pro-America."
But caution on the part of Republicans would be wise, argues Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at The New York Times: While Trump holds many centrist opinions, he argues, his anti-woman and anti-minority rhetoric has burned too many bridges and alienated too many potential voters.
"The fact that so many Republican voters can’t seem to see this … may be a sign of cultural isolation," writes Mr. Douthat. "They can’t quite grasp how powerful that alienation is for the people who experience it, and how impossible it will be for Trump to overcome."