It’s virtually official: Come November, Americans will be choosing between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump. For the past month, I have predicted this outcome but last night’s results made it a virtual certainty.
If Sen. Bernie Sanders was to have shot at the Democratic nomination, he needed to win a couple of states big, say Illinois and Missouri, take Ohio narrowly, and keep it close in Florida and North Carolina. The opposite happened. Missouri is still too close to call, with only a thousand votes separating the candidates. Clinton won Illinois narrowly and Ohio and North Carolina handily. The margin in Ohio was especially revealing. After losing a close contest in Michigan to Sanders last week, Clinton won in neighboring Ohio by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. If those numbers were reversed, Sanders might claim a shot at the nomination, but they weren’t. And, in the largest prize of the night, Florida, Clinton thumped Sanders, winning almost two-to-one, with 66 percent of the vote.
Sanders needed to close the gap in the number of pledged delegates won by each candidate. Instead, Clinton widened her lead among pledged delegates to some 300. This has the added benefit of confirming her overwhelming lead in super delegates. Originally conceived as a means of keeping the party from ever nominating a crank, super delegates could in theory, but never in fact, award the nomination to someone who got far fewer votes. The super delegates now function the way the electoral college does, translating a narrow victory into a much larger victory, conferring a greater sense of legitimacy on the final winner than would be justified by merely looking at the vote totals.
Sanders’ campaign is not over, however. Clinton won in Ohio and Illinois in large part by campaigning on the issues that Sanders has championed. She is not today where she was when the race began. Her campaign speeches this past week were not about her resume, they were about using “clawbacks” to retrieve money from corporations that get big tax breaks to build a factory or locate their corporate offices in a given place, and then decamp after a few years when they get a better offer. She has been more skeptical about free trade and the effects of globalization, at least publicly. Clinton has begun talking less about her past jobs and more about the need for more jobs for struggling working class voters. Sanders has shifted the party Clinton is set to lead. And, if Clinton is smart, and no one has ever said she was stupid, she will recognize that in the general election, the way to win is NOT to run to the center, at least not on economic issues, but to stand right where she is now, right (better to say left) where Sanders has moved her.
The Republicans do not really have super delegates, but they could surely use some! But, I do not think it would matter at this point. Sen. Marco Rubio finally gave a real concession speech, after repeatedly trying to turn second and third place finishes into a moral victory. Ohio Gov. John Kasich won his home state, but his result did not reverberate into nearby Illinois. There is no path that gets Kasich to the 1237 delegates needed for a win at the convention, indeed, if he won every single delegate to be elected in every remaining contest, he would come up short.
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That leaves Sen. Ted Cruz. Like Sanders, if Cruz had won Missouri and North Carolina last night, and been close in the other states, he might reasonably claim the status of being the only person with a shot at beating Donald Trump. But, while Missouri remains too close to call on the GOP side too, Cruz lost everywhere else, coming in third in Ohio and Florida. Even if he wins Missouri, and the 12 delegates that go to the statewide winner, Trump appears poised to pick up more delegates from the state because he won more congressional districts. So, Cruz unreasonably claimed the status of being the only person with a shot at beating Trump.
When you look at the numbers, it is possible, actually probable, that Trump will enter the convention in Cleveland in July just shy of the magic number of 1237 pledged delegates to secure the nomination on the first ballot. Say, for the sake of argument, the anti-Trump combined ranks behind Cruz, which seems improbable, or some other person, like Mitt Romney. I think that is unlikely, but how else to deny Trump the nomination? And, if Trump came up short, having won more states, more delegates, and more total votes than anyone else, do you think he would say, “Well, I won more votes than anyone, but, I see that the rules allow this other person to snatch the nomination from me, and I pledge to support that person.” Of course he wouldn’t. He would pull his delegates out of the convention and mount a third party candidacy, which is almost always fatal to a party. (The exception was 1948, when the Dixiecrats left the Democratic convention after the adoption of a civil rights plank, and Harry Truman nonetheless went on to win in November. Ted Cruz (or Mitt Romney or whomever else might be the GOP standard bearer if they did manage to keep Trump from the crown) is no Harry Truman.
In a democracy, the person who gets the most votes wins. Yes, the selection of delegates is complicated and the two political parties, which have been the vehicle by which we conduct our democracy for two hundred years, are not themselves very democratic in their methods. But, Trump gets to pick who will serve as his delegates from the several states. It will take more than a nice reception or a persuasive argument to get them to abandon him.
The most startling thing about last night’s wins for Trump is that they came after several days of severe scrutiny, after endless images of people shoving and hitting other people at his rallies, and his utter unwillingness to take any responsibility for the dark tenor of his campaign. His voters were not deterred by the videos that were only lacking the blackshirts to conjure up images of the 1920s and the Piazza Venezia. They want to keep their anger boiling. And, you can see the GOP establishment, instead of licking its wounds, already beginning to lash out, not just at Trump, but at his supporters. Matt Yglesias at Vox tracks the revolting things being said about white working class voters in that flagship of establishment thought, the National Review.
Do not underestimate Trump. Let’s all hope that Clinton’s team does not underestimate Trump. He has figured out how to run for president on the strength of earned media and he dominates any news cycle he wants. He has touched a chord with voters who have been ignored for a long time. What is kookie to some of us, like campaigning with Sarah Palin, works for his supporters. He is rewriting the rules of how a candidate conducts an interview, enters a debate, delivers a stump speech, &c. Democrats who think November will be easy should have a talk with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. And, come November, in this anti-establishment year, only Trump will be waving the ant-establishment flag. The Democrats, and all of us who care about the future of the country, have our work cut out for us between now and November.