The last man standing between Donald Trump and the Republican presidential nomination has dropped out of the race, setting the stage for a stunning political ascendancy that would have been dismissed by many as utter fantasy just a year ago.
Ohio Governor John Kasich announced on Wednesday that he is suspending his presidential campaign. The move came a day after Mr. Trump won a crushing victory in the Indiana primary, all but forcing his closest rival, Ted Cruz, to also leave the race.
In a short statement in Ohio – the only state whose primary he managed to win – Mr. Kasich praised his family and supporters, who fought to present him to voters as a voice of moderation in an often combative, shrill primary election.
"As I suspend my campaign today, I have renewed faith … that the Lord will show me the way forward and fulfill the purpose of my life," Mr. Kasich said.
That leaves Mr. Trump – a man whose presidency was once the subject of a joke on The Simpsons – as the presumptive Republican Party nominee. His rise – defeating more than a dozen big-name candidates despite having never run for political office before in his life – is one of the most flabbergasting stories in the Republican Party's modern history. When he first announced his candidacy last summer, a slew of politicians, columnists and many within the party dismissed it as hopeless grandstanding.
Now, GOP leaders face the prospect of heading into a general election with a candidate who not only has a lower favourability rating than any candidate in more than 30 years, but one who has alienated many of the Republican Party's biggest names. Within hours of Mr. Kasich dropping out of the race, news broke that both George W. Bush and his father – the only two living Republican presidents – will likely not participate in the general election in support of Mr. Trump.
"If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed and we will deserve it," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who also mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the nomination.
The extent to which many in the GOP will boycott Mr. Trump's campaign on principle is especially troubling for the party, given that most polls already show the Republican candidate trailing badly against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Should enough well-known Republicans refuse to hit the campaign trail on his behalf – or, worse, should one of those Republicans launch an independent campaign of their own – Mr. Trump's loyal, vocal base may not be big enough to save him.
Nonetheless, the party's leadership appears resigned to Mr. Trump. On Tuesday night, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus all but confirmed that Mr. Trump will be the party's nominee and urged conservatives to stand behind the New York businessman – or, more accurately, to stand against the prospect of a Clinton presidency.
Mr. Kasich's exit brings to an end a primary contest that began with almost 20 would-be nominees. It is still unclear how many of those failed candidates will line up in support of Mr. Trump, especially given some of the statements they have made about him in the past. Indeed, when Ms. Clinton unleashed her first attack ad against the now-presumptive Republican nominee, it consisted mostly of damning statements made by fellow Republicans such as Marco Rubio – who, viewers are reminded, once called Mr. Trump "the most vulgar person ever to aspire to the presidency."
Of all the candidates who dropped out, Mr. Kasich is perhaps best positioned to play a role in Mr. Trump's general election campaign. Trying to present himself as a serious, pragmatic conservative, he largely avoided name-calling and personal attacks during the primary season. He also polls particularly well against Ms. Clinton in several key swing states, making him a potentially valuable asset to the polarizing Trump campaign. However, Mr. Kasich has said on numerous occasions that he has no interest in the position of vice-president on anyone's ticket.