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This is an all-rules-out-the-window race

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump show

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump show off signs at the entrance to Silverton Casino where candidate Marco Rubio held a campaign event in Las Vegas, on Feb. 23, 2016. Credit: Josh Edelson

Now what?

Those shards of glass you see scattered on the ballroom floor? That’s the Republican establishment.

That sound you hear? That’s the air swooshing out of the room.

That smell you’re picking up? The whiff of desperation.

Donald Trump had another big night. And it’s not just that he had another big night. He had it under a week that saw violence and unrest at multiple campaign rallies and calls from leaders of both major parties for him to tone down his rhetoric.

Like everything else that’s happened in this all-rules-out-the-window race, it did not matter.

Trump won at least three of the five primaries held Tuesday — Florida, North Carolina and Illinois – and was leading narrowly in Missouri with 99 percent of votes counted. His Sunshine State shellacking of Marco Rubio forced the Florida senator to suspend his campaign. Neither Texas Sen. Ted Cruz nor Ohio Gov. John Kasich (despite his home-state victory) has a plausible way to get the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican presidential nomination.

The GOP is in the throes of an existential crisis, and this comes after the party’s much-ballyhooed autopsy of what went wrong in 2012 when Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama. One of the conclusions: Republicans needed to change their message of hostility to immigration. Yeah, that’s working out.

Now they’ve got a candidate on their hands who is uncouth and a bully and unsophisticated about a variety of topics — but one who is speaking about people’s fears and empathizing with those fears in a way that none of his rivals have. Fears about the economy leaving them behind, fears about jobs vanishing overseas, fears about immigrants, fears about terrorism. Fears that the GOP establishment itself has created and nurtured. And they don’t get it.

So now Politico is reporting that conservative GOP operatives will meet on Thursday to discuss running a possible third-party conservative candidate should Trump end up with the nomination.

And the only way he doesn’t get the nod is if the party’s establishment engineers something to steal it from Trump at the party convention in Cleveland, an effort already being analyzed, according to published reports. There is talk, for example, of changing some of the convention rules, like the one that says a candidate must win a majority of delegates in eight states to have his or her name put into nomination. After Tuesday night, Trump is the only candidate with eight.

If you think the party is in disarray now, wait and see how Trump’s supporters react to those kinds of machinations. Hijack the nomination and their anger now would seem like a toddler’s temper tantrum. And they’d have every right to be that kind of mad. And Trump would have every right to make a third-party run.

Establishment voices can rail about the insults and denigrations, his lack of knowledge about some issues, and his general unsuitability to be president. But Trump is winning the blue-collar vote, the evangelical vote, the angry vote, and took nearly 40 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in Florida. He talks about bringing people together and establishment eyes roll.

The truth hurts.

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