Trump vs. Clinton: It’s on

Skeptics didn’t believe Donald Trump would run. Then he ran, and they didn’t believe he would make it past the early primaries. Now Trump is, as Republican national chairman Reince Priebus tweeted, “the presumptive nominee” of his party.

Trump crushed Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary, and his strongest opponent, saying “our path has been foreclosed,” quit the race. Long shot John Kasich’s campaign will fight on “as long as it remains possible,” without explaining how that can be plausible.

But with Cruz dispatched, Clinton is the target. “We’re going after Hillary Clinton. She will not be a great president. She will be a poor president,” Trump told a victory rally at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

By Trump standards, his speech was low key. But in an interview with The Washington Post a short while earlier, Trump indicated he won’t be dialing back his scorched-earth tactics against Clinton.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters at Jackie O's Production Brewery and Tap Room in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. A senior adviser to a prominent senator endorsed her candidacy on Tuesday. Photo Credit: AP / Paul Sancya

“Her past is really the thing, rather than what she plans to do in the future,” Trump said. “Her past has a lot of problems, to put it bluntly.”

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Clinton’s pollster, Joel Benenson, said of Trump’s expected attacks: “When he does this, we’ll be aggressive.” Her campaign manager, John Podesta, said, “While Donald Trump seeks to bully and divide Americans, Hillary Clinton will unite us to create an economy that works for everyone.” He also called Trump the presumptive GOP nominee.

Sanders has a pulse

It doesn’t change the dynamics of the overall Democratic race, but Bernie Sanders won what he hailed as a “great upset victory” in Indiana over Clinton and told The Associated Press he expects “more victories in the weeks to come.”

The Vermont senator said “the Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over. They’re wrong.” He said he’s “in this campaign to win and we are going to fight until the last vote is cast.” That means Clinton still has a fight on two fronts ahead, even as she has shifted attention to Trump.

A rare moment came when he addressed supporters, and his speech was interrupted with the news that he may have won Indiana. Sanders smiled and said: "I think we don't know, Let's hold off, we're not sure."

Kasich giving up the ghost

He's due to address reporters Wednesday afternoon. 

The numbers:

See state-by-state results to date of both parties' primaries by clicking here.

See how close the front runners have come to locking up their nominations, by checking our delegate tracker here.

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Trump on the grassy knoll

Cruz’s final day as a candidate may have been his most bizarre, with Trump suggesting his father was somehow tied to the assassin of President John F. Kennedy — a conspiracy theory ripped from the wackily imaginative pages of the National Enquirer.

“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being, you know, shot,” Trump said in a phone interview with Fox News (Video here). “Nobody even brings it up, I mean they don’t even talk about that. That was reported and nobody talks about it.”

The Enquirer story is based on a photo that the paper claims — without proof — shows Rafael Cruz standing nearby as Oswald hands out pro-Fidel Castro leaflets in New Orleans. The supermarket tab, owned by Trump pal David Pecker, previously accused Cruz of extramarital affairs.

Cruz responded. “Now, let’s be clear, this is nuts,” he said. “And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard,” he added sarcastically.

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Cruz’s final shot

Cruz went on at a news conference to throw the kitchen sink at Trump, calling him “a pathological liar” who is “proud of being a serial philanderer,” “utterly amoral” and a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” (Video here.)

He said Trump would be a president who “talks about how great it is to commit adultery, how proud he is. Describes his battles with venereal disease as his own personal Vietnam.”

The VD line was a step beyond what Trump actually has said. Twice on the Howard Stern show in the 1990s, Trump discussed avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating as “my personal Vietnam.”

Buries Cruz, then praises him

In his victory speech, Trump saluted Cruz as “one hell of a competitor” and said “he has got an amazing future.”

Only two hours earlier, reacting on Twitter to Cruz’s epic morning tirade, Trump said: “Wow, Lyin’ Ted Cruz really went wacko today.”

Cruz did not mention Trump in his exit speech. When he finished speaking, he accidentally elbowed his wife in the face during a group hug. (Video here.)

Last straw

Mark Salter — for decades a senior adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate — announced via Twitter he will support Hillary Clinton over Trump.

“The GOP is going to nominate for President a guy who reads the National Enquirer and thinks it’s on the level. I’m with her,” said one tweet. In a follow up, he said, “And I’ll have lots of company. She might not be a good president. But ... neither is she a conspiracy nut with mob ties.”

The takeaway: Trump and truthlessness

Trump isn’t the only politician who makes stuff up, but what’s unusual is how frequently he goes there, able to bluff without an average person’s shame or dread of being caught, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. This much is true: It keeps the spotlight on him.

Where Cruz went wrong

As the Texas senator’s chances faded to black, autopsies were already underway. A primary mistake, writes GOP strategist Rick Wilson in The Daily Beast, is that Cruz spent far too long kissing up to Trump instead of taking him on.

Cruz even made a pilgrimage to Trump Tower in July and said, “I enjoy Donald. He is one of a kind.”

Cruz also may have hurt himself in Indiana by tacking to Trump’s right on social issues, such as the transgender bathroom-use controversy. A sizable number of the state’s Republicans reject the socially conservative agenda, says an analysis by Adam Wren, a writer for Indianapolis Monthly, in Politico.

Clinton’s reservations

Clinton said she wasn’t thinking of her husband, Bill, when she remarked on her “experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak.”

The reference, Clinton told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, was to her 2000 Senate campaign. She saw her original opponent, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and eventual GOP foe, former Rep. Rick Lazio, as “candidates who think they’re going to score points by being either negative about women in general or about me in particular.”

Trump trickle-down

Democratic strategists say a Trump-led GOP ballot could flip a net 30 House seats their way, including two toss-ups on Long Island, writes Newsday’s Tom Brune.

Rep. Ben Lujan (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign, said of the Republicans, “We’re making sure their field is tied to Donald Trump and that Donald Trump is tied to them.” Lujan’s counterpart, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said it’s too early to make predictions.

What else is happening:

  • If Clinton’s lead in Florida polls holds up, it looks nearly impossible for Republicans to put together enough pieces of the Electoral College map to win, says The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza....
  • Trump is widely mocked on Twitter for his vow to "win bigly," which you can be sure will now find its way into both ironic and clueless usage.
  • Clinton told MSNBC that running against Trump means “We’re going to have a tough campaign against a candidate who will literally say or do anything”...
  • In another of his info-mercials hosted by Joe Scarborough, Trump Wednesday said Clinton should 'suffer' due to e-mail questions, but his meaning was unclear.
  • A coal executive facing prison time for violating safety standards at a mine where 29 workers died joined protesters outside a Clinton event in West Virginia...
  • Ed Rollins, who managed Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign, has signed on with a pro-Trump super PAC, Politico reports... But on L.I. in March, Rollins called Trump a narcicissist who loses his cool when attacked...
  • Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine is an early favorite among Capitol Hill Democrats and party donors to be Clinton’s running mate, CNN says...
  • If you click on tedcruz.com you'll find a picture of Clinton with the caption, "Next president of the United States of America!!!" But the suspended campaign's bona fide official website has no such thing.