The I-95, Northeast corridor primary: Trump and Clinton romp

I feel like I have written this before: Businessman Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will win their parties' nominations for the presidency. Yet, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Bernie Sanders refuse to cry "uncle," and they stay in the race. After last night's Northeast corridor primaries, for any of these latter three candidates to claim a path to victory is now not only implausible, which has been the case for weeks, but laughable.

Trump swept the table, winning all five states that voted yesterday and winning them big. He won Connecticut with 58 percent of the vote, Delaware with 61 percent, Maryland with 54 percent, Rhode Island with 64 percent, and the biggest prize of the night, Pennsylvania, with 57 percent. Remember when his opponents and many prognosticators said Trump had a "ceiling" of about 40 percent, and if the remainder of the GOP electorate could get behind one candidate, he would start losing? Well, Cruz is the de facto anti-Trump candidate, flush with establishment endorsements and donors, and he came in third, behind Kasich in four of the five states last night.

Interestingly, and I am not sure how much this has to do with the regional character of yesterday's contests, but in previous exit polls, as many as 40 percent of GOP voters said they would never support Trump. That number is always a bit artificial, reflecting often bitter primary battles: Most people do unite around the eventual nominee, but it was significantly higher this year than usual and had Republicans worried. Last night, that number dropped to 22 to 26 percent. That said, in Pennsylvania, 58 percent of voters said the primary battle had divided the GOP, while only 39 percent thought the primaries had energized the party. By way of contrast, on the Democratic side, those numbers were reversed with only 24 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats saying the party had been divided by the primaries compared to 71 percent who said the party had been energized by the contest.

Trump more than anyone has captured and channeled the dominant feelings of the GOP electorate. In Maryland yesterday, 51 percent of GOP voters said they were "dissatisfied" with the federal government and another 38 percent said they were "angry." In Pennsylvania, 52 percent said they were dissatisfied, and 40 percent said they were angry. Both groups broke overwhelmingly for Trump who channels anger better than any candidate since Barry Goldwater.  

Trump's victory speech defied predictions he would become more presidential in his discourse. My favorite segment was this: "Honestly, Senator Cruz and Governor Kasich should really get out of the race. They have no path to victory at all. ... We should heal the Republican Party, bring the Republican Party together. And I'm a unifier." Maybe it is different in the world of business, but in politics you do not unite the party by telling other people when to drop out of the race. The rest of his speech began with a 10-minute analysis of the polling data, and only a few nods to issues towards the end of his remarks. Those nods were telling: Just how will the GOP handle a nominee who is ardently opposed to free trade? Or who does not hold the line against gay rights? Or whose thoughts on national security differ from the official GOP stances for 40 years?

Clinton's victory was almost as dominant, winning four of the five states last night and losing to Sanders only in Rhode Island. Her margins were large in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, and only in Connecticut was it close. Given the Democrats' proportional allocation of delegates, it is Sanders who needs to be winning states with 60 percent of the vote but, instead, it was Clinton who crossed that threshold in two states. Instead of eating into her delegate lead, Sanders fell further behind. In Maryland, Clinton won 69 delegates to Sanders' 24. In Pennsylvania, She nabbed 112 delegates and Sanders took 59. To have any chance at catching her, he needed those numbers to be reversed.

Finally, in her victory speech, Clinton struck the kind of gracious tone towards Sanders that may not be sincere but is certainly prudent. "I applaud Sen. Sanders and his supporters …" she began one section, listing a host of issues that he had highlighted. Then, she pivoted to the general election. The line most quoted in the news last night and today was "love trumps hate." It astounds me that someone who has been in public life so long should still have a lousy speech-writing team. People do not love politicians and they certainly do not love her: Her negatives are almost as high as Trump's. (Eight years ago she was only "likeable enough.") I heard that line and I cringed. At least she could have surrounded it with other tropes: Justice trumps bigotry; hope trumps narrowness; results trump bluster. There is something tone deaf about Clinton and her team, and they need to fix that and fix it soon.

Yes, Nate Silver says that it is almost impossible for Trump to beat Clinton. But, there were some troubling numbers last night for the Democrats. In Pennsylvania, she took a little more than 900,000 votes and Trump a little fewer than 900,000. In 2008, Clinton won over 1.2 million votes to Obama's even million. (The GOP contest was essentially done before Pennsylvania each of the last election cycles.) Here is her Achilles heel: While typical battleground states like New Mexico and Colorado and Nevada should fall easily into her column in November on account of the Latino vote, a state like Pennsylvania could become alarmingly close if Trump can maintain the high degree of enthusiasm he generates among white, working class voters. Her kind words about Sanders may mean she and her team understand that his voters like Trump's position on trade more than her record on the issue. Clinton can pivot to the general election, to be sure, but she is ill-advised to run to the center on the core economic issues. 83 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats yesterday said they were "worried" about the state of the economy.

In the days ahead, it will be interesting to see if Cruz and Sanders try and mount one last stand. Their dignity should counsel against it. They lost fair and square at the ballot box. Cruz's triumphs in the delegate selection process, or Sanders' wins in small caucus states, now appear like a small eddy in the bay, now washed out by the tsunami that has come ashore. The choice for the American people is now clear: Trump versus Clinton.

[Michael Sean Winters is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here