Just a few steps from the White House, the latest secret gathering of Republicans seeking an answer to the question of who can still stop Donald Trump reached a demoralising answer for their party on Thursday night: Hillary Clinton.

A bleak mood has swept over the Grand Old Party in the past 24 hours as the multiple implications of Trump’s latest victory in primary elections on Tuesday have slowly sunk in.

The first realisation came quickly, as Marco Rubio’s chastening defeat in his home state of Florida forced him to join Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Chris Christie on the heap of discarded alternatives.

These once-promising candidates were meant to provide the answer to a problem that has dogged the party for a decade – how to appeal to a US electorate that is growing less white and less traditionally conservative.

Instead, the brutal cull of wannabe nominees has led to a final three who could hardly be less suited to this challenge: the achingly conservative Ted Cruz; a 63-year-old former Lehman Brothers executive called John Kasich; and a frontrunner whose calling card is a war on Latino immigration.

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