The choice for both parties in the March 15 presidential primaries — held in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina, and Missouri — was between chaos and conclusion. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had the potential to all but wrap up their parties' nominations. Of course, even if Trump had swept every state, the GOP elite would still be brainstorming ways to deny him the nomination, but their schemes would've gotten farther-fetched and more cartoonishly villainous.
The other choice was a confused result, with uneven outcomes across the five states that keep everyone in the race, and leave all of them with an at least theoretically imaginable path for their party's nomination. This mad carnival would keep going indefinitely, stalking us all to our graves.
Democrats got the former, more or less, and Republicans a bit of the latter. Here's who ended the night closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, and who remained mired in darkness.
Winner: Hillary Clinton
So Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee.
Sorry Bernie fans, them's the breaks. According to estimates by my colleague Andrew Prokop, she'll only need about 42 percent of the delegates in every contest going forward to get a majority of pledged delegates.
In other words, Bernie Sanders would need to beat her by 16-plus percent, on average, in upcoming delegate splits. He'd need to start demolishing her — and not just in races where he's likely to do well (like the caucuses in Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and Idaho), but in Clinton's home state of New York, in Connecticut, and among the heavily black primary electorate of Maryland. There's just no sign he has anywhere near the amount of support to make that happen.
The delegate math is the most important victory for Clinton, but she got a moral victory by denying Sanders a major upset in Ohio. On the cusp of Bernie's come-from-behind victory in Michigan last week, it looked like he might pull off similar upsets in nearby Rust Belt states.
Even if he wound up falling behind in the delegate count, winning a major state would've given him momentum and motivated his supporters to keep donating and volunteering. And it would've been just embarrassing for Clinton to beat Barack Obama handily in Ohio but lose to Bernie Sanders of all people.
Sanders didn't get his upsets. Illinois hasn't been called yet but it's close enough that the delegates will be split. And he lost Ohio by a lot, and lost by landslides in the South. Missouri is also close, with Sanders narrowly ahead, but that again is more a draw than a victory.
It's unlikely Sanders will drop out anytime soon. The immediate future looks bright for him, with a lot of caucuses and small non-Southern rural states, both categories where he's done well. And he has a highly motivated supporter base that isn't ready to quit anytime soon.
But if he can't even win Ohio, there's no chance he'll win New York. And there's definitely no chance he'll win by double-digits. At this point, Clinton has racked up a delegate lead that is practically impossible to overcome. The campaign will go on, but we already know the winner.
Winner: Donald Trump
Clinton won in another way too: She wants to face Donald Trump in the general, and Super 2sday made that a lot likelier.
Yes, Trump lost Ohio to the state's home governor. Big whoop. He more than made up for that loss by winning every single other state, getting a whopping 99 delegates from Florida alone, and likely most of Illinois's delegates because of its congressional district-based winner-take-all delegate allocation mechanism. And he knocked out Marco Rubio — and his Super PACs' negative ads — for good.
Victory isn't ensured yet. But it's looking likely at this point, especially because many of the biggest states remaining — New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania — are exactly the kind of East Coast states where Trump has done well so far. New York's also, of course, his home state. And California — which uses a strange system where delegates are allocated by congressional district — has historically been a hotbed of anti-immigration backlash among conservatives, a very promising sign for Trump.
If Trump gets about 200 delegates tonight (a conservative projection), he'll be at 673 delegates, with only 1,037 remaining. He'll need to win 54 percent of delegates from here on out. And given that he has the potential to win a number of winner-take-all states in the future, that's doable.
Trump isn't the presumptive nominee. The party elite consensus against him is very strong, and could deny him the nomination at the convention even if he wins a majority of delegates. But if his name weren't "Trump," we'd probably be declaring the race over at this point.
Winner: John Kasich's campaign consultants
It is mathematically impossible for John Kasich to get a majority of delegates.
Going into tonight, he had 63 delegates. Tonight he'll get 66 delegates from his home state of Ohio, which is winner-take-all, but zero in Florida (which is winner-take-all, and Trump won) or in Missouri (which assigns by congressional district, and Kasich won none). He'll probably get about 9 from North Carolina, which is purely proportional; he might win some congressional districts in Illinois too.
So let's suppose Kasich gets about 80 delegates tonight. That gets him to 143 — and there are only 1,037 more delegates to be assigned after tonight. Even if he wins literally all of them he still wouldn't have a majority.
But he could still win at the convention, right? Maybe — but I wouldn't count on it. Trump already had over 400 more delegates than Kasich going into tonight, and his wins in Illinois, North Carolina, and Florida added to that lead. Trump will likely be over 500 delegates ahead of Kasich when the dust is cleared.
So Kasich would need to not just win a plurality of delegates going forward if he wants to have a plurality at the convention. He'd need to win most delegates in future primaries. And again, this isn't to get a majority of delegates at the convention. It's just to get more than Trump. And depending how Ted Cruz does, even a Kasich who did the impossible and won a majority of delegates from here on out might wind up in second place delegate-wise.
You could maybe see a Kasich who won a plurality of delegates getting selected at a brokered convention. But it's almost impossible for me to imagine the convention deciding to nominate a candidate that the primary voters considered and rejected. It'd be a big, clear message to the GOP rank-and-file that they don't matter and the party's leaders don't care at all what they think. The consequences for turnout could be disastrous.
But Kasich isn't dropping out. Delegate math aside, he had a big win in his home state on a night where Trump otherwise swept and where Rubio lost his home turf and dropped out of the race — leaving Kasich as the sole remaining establishment contender. It'd be weird to give up at this point, as quixotic as his quest is.
Kasich staying in may or may not be good news for GOP insiders; it could minimize Trump's share of delegates in proportional states by giving voters another option, or it could increase Trump's odds of winning winner-take-all states by splitting the anti-Trump vote with Ted Cruz. And it's probably not good news for Kasich, who, again, is almost certainly not going to be the nominee.
You know who it is good for? John Kasich campaign consultants John Weaver and Fred Davis. To be clear, Weaver and Davis aren't good at winning elections. They tend to work for candidates who position themselves to lose the GOP primary by being too moderate, like John McCain in 2000 or Jon Huntsman in 2012 (Weaver was involved in McCain's 2008 run but left before McCain started winning stuff). But they're very good at getting candidates to pay them anyway. And the longer Kasich stays in the race, the more they get paid, and the more they can use the race to burnish their resumes going forward.
Congrats, John and Fred. Buy yourselves a properly cooked steak.
Loser: Marco Rubio
It's really hard to overstate how screwed Marco Rubio is.
I'm not even talking about his failed presidential campaign. That's over, his humiliation is complete. But he also has no political career to speak of after this. He's retiring from his Senate seat, and while he could theoretically jump back in that race, two GOP congress members and Florida's lieutenant governor are already running, making a late entry awkward to say the least.
He could run for governor in 2016, but he's very unpopular at home now. He only has a 12 point net approval rating among Republicans, and a negative 24 percent approval rating across all voters. Floridians really hate him! So do many of the people who helped him make it this far. GOP leader Tony DiMatteo, who worked on Rubio's Senate campaign, voted for Trump, calling Rubio "extremely not loyal."
So he can't stay senator — and he hates the Senate anyway. He can't become governor. He's not going to be president in 2017. And he's set himself quite poorly for another run in 2020 — why him and not Ted Cruz, who actually won states? Maybe Rubio will stage a comeback (stranger things have happened in politics) but at the moment it looks like his life in politics is over.
Loser: Bernie Sanders
Sanders lost for all the reasons Clinton won, more or less. He now faces an almost impossibly hard road to the nomination, entailing landslide victories in unfavorable states like New York. The main question he has to answer is how to keep his grassroots engaged after he loses.
But the specifics of tonight's loss also served to debunk a favorite Sanders supporter talking point: that while Clinton does well in Republican-leaning states, Sanders wins blue states. The implicit argument was about electability: if Democrats in blue states like Sanders, they'll turn out in bigger numbers for him than for Clinton, whereas Democratic turnout in, say, Mississippi, basically doesn't matter for the presidential race.
Well, Clinton won Ohio and Florida, the two swingiest of swing states. Under the logic of the red state/blue state pro-Sanders argument, this would suggest that Clinton, not Sanders, is the candidate best positioned to win purple states.