6 days that made Donald Trump the GOP nominee

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 will go down in history as the day that, officially, Donald Trump finally vanquished the last of his rivals and became the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

But Wednesday wasn’t the day that truly made Donald Trump. Along the way — and much to my chagrin as a vociferous critic of his — there have been six key moments, turning points if you will, that have truly made Donald Trump the nominee.

Donald Trump celebrates his Indiana primary win Tuesday night in New York. Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Donald Trump celebrates his Indiana primary win Tuesday night in New York. Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Moment 1: June 16, 2015 – Trump Roars Into the Race

Trump has been flirting with a run for president since at least 1988. He was always treated as a perennial joke with no punchline. He’d never run. If he did, he’d never win.

But on June 16, 2015, he smacked the country with a dose of reality and declared he was in it for real. In that moment, in one statement, he gave a purpose to his campaign and told us all what it would be about. “We are going to make our country great again,” Trump said.

Sounds simple, but successful campaigns have to be about something.

This also became his first opportunity to talk about immigration, the wall he wants to build, and it happened to be the day he uttered his now famous quip, “I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Moment 2: July 18, 2015 – Trump Says John McCain Isn’t a Hero

Most people assumed that Trump’s attack on Sen. John McCain would backfire. It didn’t. His comments, which suggested that McCain was not a war hero because he was captured, may have horrified many, but it was specifically because the target of his comment was McCain that it didn’t hurt him. It actually helped him.

McCain has come to represent everything many Republicans hate about politics. Moderate, uninspiring, career politicians we are told we have to vote for, but we don’t want to. To many, he betrayed the base on campaign finance, immigration, the environment and many other issues.

That festering resentment for what McCain represented meant that Trump’s comments about him actually helped rather than hurt him.

Moment 3: Sept. 16, 2015 – Fiorina Dominates the Debate Stage

The debate in Simi Valley, California, was a bloodbath for Donald, and the one dishing out the pain was Carly Fiorina.

So why did this moment help Trump become the nominee? Because Fiorina was never a real threat to win the nomination, and she represented more interest in “outsider” candidates. Her momentum was never going to hold, and when it evaporated, it naturally drifted over to the other outsider candidates, eventually consolidating around Trump.

By thoroughly destroying everyone on the stage and making them look like unqualified, small, helpless career politicians, she did Donald a favor, particularly once she faded away.

Moment 4: Feb. 6, 2016 – Marco Rubio’s Debate Disaster

Ted Cruz may have won Iowa, but he wasn’t the real threat to Donald Trump’s eventual coronation. Marco Rubio was. Rubio had finished a very strong third place — much stronger than polling had indicated — and the momentum from Iowa was translating to New Hampshire.

Before the Saturday debate, Rubio had nearly eclipsed Trump in the internal RNC tracking poll.

Then, Chris Christie ripped Rubio‚Äôs face off on national TV. Rubio’s repetitive, robotic statements that “Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing” made him look like a malfunctioning android. Rubio imploded, Bush and Kasich rebounded, and the opportunity for a clear establishment candidate evaporated.

If Rubio could have consolidated his hold on the establishment wing with a win in New Hampshire, Donald would have been denied the Granite State, and the race would have been entirely different.

Moment 5: March 6, 2016 – Romney Goes Nuclear

Mitt Romney’s incomprehensible decision to attack Donald Trump in a major national speech did more for Trump than just about anything in this race. It signaled that the moderate establishment was on one side, and Trump was on the other, and after decades of frustration within the GOP, that only drove more people to Trump.

Moment 6: April 27, 2016 – Ted Cruz Picks A Vice President

This is the moment the race ended. It signaled the moment when Cruz’s campaign went from a tactical, grassroots-oriented machine to a desperate, last-ditch, try-anything-to-win farce.

Cruz had already been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright before he announced Fiorina as his running mate. The move smacked of desperation and, coupled with “the deal” made with Kasich around the same time, made Cruz’s campaign look like a pathetic joke.

And that was the moment — the final moment — that put to rest any hope that a contested convention could stop Trump.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.