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How the political world has turned upside down

David Shribman

With victories in a string of Eastern states, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took giant steps toward their respective presidential nominations Tuesday night. They swept away most of the uncertainty surrounding their drives to their conventions, and they did so convincingly.

They’re not all the way there yet, to be sure. Clinton has a commanding lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont but cannot afford to permit the 74-year-old unlikely avatar of the Democratic youth movement to regain the momentum he had only a fortnight ago.

But the greater drama is in the Republican Party, roiled as it has been for 13 months by a rebellion in its ranks that, now that it is in full flower, has substantially altered those ranks, changing the very definition of what it is to be a Republican and what the party stands for. Tuesday’s results across the Eastern seaboard underscored how the American political world has turned upside down.

Wednesday morning, despite the continuing battle between the Sanders and Clinton loyalists, the party of stability is the Democratic Party, which only a generation ago was torn asunder by generational and cultural warfare; was suffering an identity crisis so severe it commissioned study after study to find its political gyroscope; and witnessed established political figures enduring pitiless critiques from outsiders who viewed the governing strictures and prevailing culture of the party as hopelessly outmoded and fatally corrupt.

Today that very description applies, syllable to syllable, to the Republican Party.

The Republican nomination is not a settled matter, yet, even if Trump said Tuesday night, “I consider myself the presumptive nominee.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have undertaken an arranged marriage that is less one of convenience than of necessity. Its honeymoon lasted less than 24 hours, and so an alliance that looked as if it were a vote- diversion agreement — Kasich would ask his supporters to back Cruz in Indiana, and the Texan would ask his legions to back Kasich in Oregon in New Mexico — now looks like something different entirely. It is now more akin to a no-fly zone, with Cruz agreeing not to campaign in the western states and Kasich agreeing not to campaign in Indiana.

In his victory speech Tuesday, Trump said “the Republican Party needs something much different from that.” He described the alliance as “a faulty deal that was defaulted on before it even started.”

The focus of the next week will be on two elements: the GOP party rules and the state of Indiana.

If Trump wins Indiana overall and prevails in each of its congressional districts, he will win every one of the 57 delegates on offer. That’s the kind of delegate-distribution scheme the Manhattan businessman believes should be applied nationwide.

Moreover, the unemployment rate is at about the national average, making the state fertile territory for his criticism of trade agreements, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement. The state has lost 113,000 manufacturing jobs since 1994, when NAFTA was implemented. And though all the job losses cannot be attributed to the trade agreement, unemployment remains a sensitive issue in the state.

Other important primaries remain, especially California’s, which has a prize of 172 delegates. The GOP contest almost certainly will continue until that confrontation, on June 7, but if Trump continues at this pace he may end the primary and caucus season with the delegate total he needs — or well within striking distance of the 1,237 required for the nomination.

David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.