It’s now or never for #NeverTrump, or so the media narrative will suggest over the next week.
And there is no doubt that the moment to defeat the Republican front-runner has become urgent. After Donald Trump won all five of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states in Tuesday's so-called Acela primary, the time remaining to slow the Trump express before next Tuesday’s Indiana primary is dwindling.
While Trump’s standing in the race for the GOP nomination has never been stronger, demographics have proven more important than momentum in this race, and opportunities to deny him the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot at the party convention in Cleveland still exist.
First comes Indiana, which will award 30 of its 57 delegates to the statewide winner of its primary, while allocating the remaining 27 delegates to the winners of its nine congressional districts.
Trump has led in recent polls in Indiana and may gain a modest boost there from news of his victories on Tuesday. But the state’s deeply conservative Republican electorate figures to be a more natural fit for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has already notched big wins in other Midwestern states, including Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Indiana primary will be the first test of the alliance between Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich against Trump -- a hastily assembled effort by the two trailing campaigns to divide up some of the remaining states in order to try to block the front-runner from steamrolling them.
In his victory speech at Trump Tower in New York City on Tuesday night, an unusually placid Trump dismissed the Cruz-Kasich collusion effort as hopeless.
“It shows weakness, it shows ineffectiveness, it shows failure to campaign,” Trump said, his microphone cracking in and out. “The Republican Party needs something much different than that.”
The Cruz-Kasich pact got off to a rocky start on Monday. But with the Kasich campaign pulling its resources out of Indiana, Cruz will finally be able to test the claim his campaign has long espoused -- that he would easily to defeat Trump, if the Republican race became a one-on-one fight.
Cruz, knowing that the Acela primary would be a bloodbath, spent Tuesday night hunkered down, hundreds of miles from the East Coast, at a rally in Knightstown, Indiana, at the Hoosier Gym -- the hallowed basketball venue that the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” made famous.
The symbolism of Cruz’s appearance was clear, as the Texas senator moves to cast himself as the last remaining underdog in the GOP race who has any shot of defeating Trump at the convention in July.
Tim Miller, an adviser to the anti-Trump “Our Principles PAC,” leaned on the “Hoosiers” symbolism, citing the movie’s plain-spoken and sanguine coach, played by Gene Hackman, to make his case that there is still life in the #NeverTrump movement.
“As Norman Dale would say, 'God wants us on the floor,'” Miller said. “Like the trees in Michigan, the hoop is just the right height in Indiana, and Hoosiers will see Donald Trump for the fraud he is.”
Regardless of what happens in Indiana, however, the anti-Trump forces are determined to carry their efforts through the last day of voting on June 7. That's when the last five states will hold primaries, including California, which offers the biggest prize of the whole nominating contest: 172 delegates, most of which will be awarded at the congressional district level.
Anti-Trump forces point to reports of infighting within Trump’s campaign as reason to believe that the front-runner remains vulnerable to the somewhat coordinated effort to derail him. And it is clear that the fight to deny Trump the nomination will go all the way to California, where there are enough delegates, in theory, to block him from getting to 1,237 in Cleveland.
One plan being considered by the Cruz and Kasich campaigns, a source involved in the discussions told HuffPost, would be to divide up California’s congressional districts between the two camps to spend their resources accordingly.
“You could do it broadly and say Kasich takes, say, north LA up to Oregon border, and Cruz does the opposite,” the source said.
It may sound like a far-fetched plan, considering the longstanding difficulties that the anti-Trump forces have encountered so far, not to mention Trump's apparent strength in California, as well as in other upcoming states.
But in a Republican presidential campaign that has already seen its share of unusual twists, it may be a mistake to conclude that it’s already over, when there are so many delegates still up for grabs and people still working to thwart Trump.
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.