Trump, Clinton Victories Convey Aura of Inevitability
Primary voters in five Northeastern states handed presidential combatants Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton key wins Tuesday, giving them an aura of inevitability and leaving competitors worried about how they might alter the front-runners’ fortunes.
Trump’s hurtling five-state sweep through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island, especially in the wake of the real estate mogul’s triumph in New York last week, was a muscular rebuke to the stop-Trump drive, led by GOP candidates John Kasich and Ted Cruz. Exit polling conducted Tuesday showed a swell of voter acceptance of Trump as an acceptable nominee, including among self-identified “very conservative” as well as evangelical voters.
Clinton had almost as good of a night, picking up more wins than Bernie Sanders.
News organizations called all five states for Trump within 30 minutes after the polls closed – a victory that should net him around 100 delegates when the counts are finalized. However, analysts believe Trump will be hunting for at least 250 more delegates even as his celebratory boasts Tuesday oozed confidence. Indeed, he went so far as to declare, “I consider myself the presumptive nominee.”
His rationale: “When a boxer knocks out another boxer, you don’t have to wait for a decision. That’s what happened tonight."
Kasich, Ohio’s popular governor, and Cruz remain targets of Trump’s colorful and personal put-downs, especially after the pair of rivals briefly attempted to forge an alliance this week to block the businessman’s momentum toward the 1,237 delegates needed to lock up the nomination. Indiana’s winner-take-all May 3 primary, with 57 delegates, may offer the also-rans more receptive terrain for warnings that Trump is a dangerous choice for the party.
Cruz, conceding a good night for Trump minutes before the polls closed, insisted he remains a strong contender as the GOP contest shifts away from the Northeast and heads west. “Can the state of Indiana stop the media’s chosen Republican candidate?” he asked his supporters at his headquarters in Knightstown, Ind.
Trump’s chances in the Hoosier State next month and in California June 7 (172 delegates) could shape the final laps of an unprecedented and unpredictable GOP race. The New Yorker leads in both states, according to RealClearPolitics polling averages.
The never-Trump effort depends on a contested convention and delegates’ willingness to turn to another candidate who has captured fewer popular votes. But Tuesday’s outcome bolstered Trump’s math and his messaging war with the Republican National Committee. He says the establishment is shielding a byzantine and “rigged” delegate allocation system. Trump insists he can nab the nomination outright, or get close enough by the summer convention to steer unbound delegates into his column. In a recent NBC/WSJ poll, 62 percent of Republicans said if no candidate has a delegate majority, the candidate with the most votes should win.
In Democratic primaries, Clinton handily defeated challenger Bernie Sanders in Maryland (95 delegates), Delaware (21), and delegate-prized Pennsylvania (189). Her coalition of women, and non-white voters propelled the former first lady in those three states.
Sanders captured the Rhode Island primary, with 24 delegates, according to media projections from incomplete returns. Connecticut, which had been too close to call for much of Tuesday night, finally went Clinton’s way late, though her margin was narrow.
Clinton has effectively shut down Sanders’ realistic pathways to the nomination. Once again, the Democratic rivals will share delegates proportionally, leaving the Sanders unable to close the yawning gap, despite his victories in 16 primaries and caucuses since February.
The former secretary of state’s lead in polls running up to Tuesday’s primaries, especially in the wake of her double-digit rout of Sanders in New York, forced the Vermont senator and his advisers to confront questions about the rationale for him remaining in the race through June.
Sanders casts himself as a guardian of Americans’ right to participate and to speak out about a favored policy agenda. He insists he has no intention of being a spoiler, and points to polls that show him ahead of Clinton when people are asked which Democratic candidate has the best chance to defeat Trump or any GOP nominee.
Sanders on Tuesday evening reminded his supporters during a rally in West Virginia, where 29 delegates are in play May 10, that independent voters, who back his candidacy in state after state, are important this fall.
“The elections are not closed primaries,” he said. “Three million people in New York state could not vote [April 19] because they were independents. Those folks all over the country will be voting in November for the next president of the United States.”
Sanders repeated his vow to give all voters who support his agenda a chance to champion a “movement” shaped by promises of political reform, expanded government, and fixes for income inequality. He believes Clinton badly needs the Sanders coalition to win the general election.
The self-professed democratic socialist, who single-handedly built a loyal following of younger voters and independents (and has out-raised Clinton’s money machine month after month), seeks to mold the Democratic Party platform to keep “political revolution” in the forefront.
“We are going to keep fighting hard for every vote and for every delegate,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told supporters in a fundraising email before polls closed. “Not just because that’s the only way to win this nomination, but because we believe the power of our progressive agenda would energize the kind of high voter turnout needed to stop Trump.”
Sanders’ team expects to meet Wednesday to assess the candidate’s options, while Clinton continues to train her attacks on Trump while telling her progressive critics that defeating the GOP nominee is the unifying goal they all share.
During her victory speech in Philadelphia, where Clinton said she expects to officially accept the party’s nomination in July, she made a glancing swipe at Trump (“love trumps hate”) but sought to speak directly to factions of the coalition she hopes to inspire in the fall. She championed “a strong progressive tradition” and applauded Sanders for challenging America to clean up money in politics and close the gap in incomes.
“We will unify our party to win this election and build an America where we can all rise together,” Clinton said.
RCP Elections Analyst David Byler contributed to this report.