WASHINGTON (AP) — The nicknames. The outrage. The rallies — and the protests.
The moments history will probably remember from the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are a procession of rule-breaking clashes, followed by a slow-motion victory assured Thursday by a candidate no one — including himself — was sure would succeed.
In the AP’s delegate count, Donald Trump surpassed the number needed to give him the nomination. That essentially closed out a raucous race on a quiet note, as a small number of unbound delegates put him over the top by telling AP they had decided to support him.
Trump dominated the GOP race from the moment a gilded escalator delivered the tycoon into the mosh pit of 2016 presidential politics. That there were ever 16 other candidates seems like a footnote now; only four or so lasted long enough to become real threats, individually and collectively, to Trump’s march to the nomination. The rest were casualties from a seemingly bygone political era when candidates tried to “act presidential,” avoided insulting groups of voters and pretended they were men and women of the people.
Here’s a look back at memorable turns in the contest:
THE ESCALATOR RIDE
Trump’s descent from his penthouse into the basement of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy on June 16 was a spectacle that foreshadowed the many ways he would break the political rules.
For example: Play down your wealth so average Americans can relate to you. Mitt Romney stumbled over this one in 2012. Trump, who’s spent a lifetime branding himself as an American ideal of wealth, didn’t bother. He’s spent the year bragging about how rich he is and not pretending to have ever identified with the struggling Americans he wants to lead. This was the moment Trump framed himself not as a candidate people can relate to over a kitchen table, but as an aspirational figure who will “make America great again.”
THE WALL AND MUSLIMS
Trump hasn’t mentioned many specifics about his policy proposals or how he’d pay for them, but he’s been clear about how he’d solve a pair of American “problems” involving people not from the U.S.
On illegal immigration: Trump says he’d build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico — and make Mexico pay for it. Good luck with that, Mexican leaders have responded (in less polite terms). Trump says he’ll also throw out all 11 million people in the U.S. illegally.
His solution to the threat of attacks by Islamic radicals? Ban Muslims from entering the United States for an indefinite period.
THE RALLIES, THE PROTESTS
They’re big, exciting and sometimes scary spectacles. Most important, Trump notes, they’re not boring. “Are we having fun?” he asks. The crowd roars, every time.
But what Trump calls “lovefests” have been marred by fights, injuries and arrests. Inside the hall, the former reality star fuels the energy by dividing the crowd into good and bad — supporters, good; protesters and journalists, bad. Or as he puts it, “baaaaad.”
He scans the hall for trouble — appearing eager to find it — and sometimes he gets it, in the form of protesters who sneak into the venue and interrupt him. He said at one point that he’d like to punch a protester in the face. Then it really happened — a white Trump supporter in North Carolina punched a black protester in the face.
Outside venues, there’s been something other than love in the air. Fistfights broke out among protesters who filled a Trump rally at the University of Chicago, prompting him to cancel the event. And this week in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a riot broke out at a Trump event among supporters and people protesting the candidate’s position on immigration.
Trump displayed a gift for identifying supposed weaknesses of his rivals and turning them into nicknames that stuck. The mild-mannered Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, never could shake Trump’s characterization of him as “low energy” and “weak.” Sen. Ted Cruz became “Lyin’ Ted,” which didn’t make the widely disliked senator any more palatable. Trump’s branding of Sen. Marco Rubio, the eager young Latino star of the GOP, particularly stung. The Florida senator became “Little Marco” and went on to lose his home state’s GOP primary.
Now, with those rivals gone, Trump is talking about “Crooked Hillary” Clinton and “Crazy Bernie” Sanders.
THE GOP’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT
Ignore him. Talk about your own public policy plans. Take him out.
And finally, talk to him.
The Republican Party that emerged from Romney’s 2012 loss to President Barack Obama vowed to appeal to Latinos and women as a matter of survival. They had no idea how to rid the presidential field of Trump, who was alienating these groups anew by proposing to deport people here illegally and remarking on the physical appearance of women.
The fact that he was spending his own money — at least $43 million of it in the end — meant the party had zero leverage over the billionaire who refused, then promised, then wavered on whether to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee if that person was not him.
As the late-night shows bubbled that the Trump jokes were virtually writing themselves, Republicans fretted. GOP leaders widely denounced him. In the hallways of Congress, Republicans went to elaborate lengths to avoid commenting. And still Trump surged. Only now, with Trump’s hold on the nomination inevitable, is he reaching out to the very Washington establishment he’s panned.
Republicans are increasingly giving Trump a chance — even if that’s because they view almost anyone as preferable to Hillary Clinton. Also, there is no other choice — a desperate and late effort to derail Trump from the nomination fizzled.
For many — including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has yet to endorse Trump — it’s a close call.
THE SLO-MO VICTORY
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over.”
That was Trump’s reaction to his sweep April 26 of five state contests that he said rendered his only remaining opponents, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, irrelevant. But it wasn’t quite over.
In practical terms, Trump effectively won control of the race on May 3, when he defeated his rivals with 53 percent of the vote in Indiana — inspiring Cruz and Kasich to quit. That’s what made clear that an extraordinary fight over delegates at the July convention — once seen as almost certain to happen — would be avoided.
After Trump’s win in an empty field Tuesday in Washington state, he still was 28 delegates short of the 1,237 needed to secure the prize. The AP’s count of GOP delegates Thursday found he had reached the magic number, 1,237.
Technically, it still isn’t over until the delegates vote at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer. But it’s settled, and sooner than almost anyone could have imagined only weeks ago.
Follow Laurie Kellman at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman