- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

Donald Trump has earned enough delegates to wrap up the Republican presidential nomination on the first ballot at the party’s national convention in July, according to a tally kept by The Associated Press, putting to rest holdouts’ hopes of somehow derailing him.

The billionaire businessman has been the presumptive nominee since he chased his last remaining major opponents from the race after the Indiana primary this month, and he has moved quickly to consolidate support within the party.

But he still stopped to take a victory lap while campaigning in North Dakota on Thursday, saying he was honored to carry the Republican banner into November.

The AP tally put Mr. Trump at 1,239 delegates, more than the 1,237 needed to clinch the nomination on a first ballot at the convention in Cleveland.

“Many people said it was going to go into July, and then we had that massive victory in Indiana,” Mr. Trump told reporters in a victory press conference. “So here I’m sitting.”

He said the results are all the more striking given that his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, is still struggling to sew up her party’s nomination against a much weaker field than the Republicans’ 17 candidates.

Head-to-head polling also shows Mr. Trump competitive against Mrs. Clinton, which has emboldened Republicans.

Democrats, meanwhile, are stunned that Republicans would choose Mr. Trump and are convinced voters will revolt.

“Congratulations, GOP: Donald Trump is your nominee,” Mrs. Clinton’s campaign said in an email statement Thursday.

Mr. Trump didn’t just win; he demolished his opponents. His next-closest competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz, amassed 559 delegates, while Sen. Marco Rubio collected 165 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich received 161.

Mr. Rubio left the race in March, while Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich hung on until earlier this month — but neither could gain traction against Mr. Trump.

Jeff Crouere, a Trump delegate from Louisiana, said he was excited that his candidate had reached the milestone, given all the talk about a contested convention.

“Now the reality is he is going into the convention with hundreds of delegates more than he needs,” Mr. Crouere said. “I think it shows how far he has come and how much the party is rallying behind him.”

Mr. Crouere, who hosts a local talk show, said the scenario contrasts with the increasingly nasty campaign on the Democratic side, where Mrs. Clinton has struggled to put away Sen. Bernard Sanders.

“That is the convention that now looks like it could be heated,” he said.

Mr. Trump, too, seemed to enjoy pointing to the acrimony on the Democratic side compared with what has been a glide path for him since his win in Indiana.

“I love watching Hillary and Bernie go at it,” he said Thursday, adding that Mr. Sanders has given him some “great lines.”

Mr. Trump has even suggested he and Mr. Sanders might hold a debate in California, since Mrs. Clinton has backed out of her commitment to debate Mr. Sanders ahead of the June 7 primary there. Mr. Trump said he would be willing if the host network donates at least $10 million of the revenue from the debate to charity — preferably to women’s health causes.

Even as he consolidates Republican voters’ backing, Mr. Trump is facing reluctance among some conservative pundits and even top party leaders.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, this week shot down reports that he was close to endorsing Mr. Trump. Though the two men spoke Wednesday night, Mr. Ryan said they were still hashing out policy details. Mr. Ryan has demanded Mr. Trump prove his conservative credentials to earn the speaker’s backing.

Some party figures, such as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, had been trying to recruit a third-party challenge to Mr. Trump.

Some analysts say Mr. Trump can still be denied the Republican nomination at the convention, arguing that the delegates aren’t bound to vote for him no matter what party rules say.

“The delegates in Cleveland clearly cannot be bound to any specific candidate and therefore anyone can become the nominee for November,” said Sean Parnell, a co-author of the book “Unbound: The Conscience of a Republican Delegate.”

But Republican Party strategist Mike McKenna said it’s now clear that Mr. Trump will be the nominee.

“Even the ‘never Trump‘ crew has shrunk down to 17 people,” Mr. McKenna said. “They’re starting to have their meetings in conference rooms at this point.”

⦁ Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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