At this point, the 2016 primaries have offered a bounty of Super and Super-ish Tuesdays. There was the big Southern spectacular on March 1, the Michigan/Mississippi mashup of March 8, and the Florida/Ohio/Illinois/North Carolina/Missouri bonanza on March 15. You could throw in the March 23 Arizona/Utah/Idaho contest or last week's New York primary, though those were arguably less super.
And Tuesday, April 26, was certainly not the most super of the bunch, but it was definitely the Trumpiest. Five states voted — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware — and all five went to Trump. All but one went to Hillary Clinton.
It was not a night of surprises, but one of retrenchment. The party frontrunners came closer to the finish line, and their challengers' odds fell to new lows. Apart from the headline presidential numbers, there were also some major state-level primaries that are fairly revealing about the factional politics of the Democratic party.
Here's who came out ahead tonight, and who fell further behind.
Winner: Donald Trump
Donald Trump has now won 26 states. That includes seven of the 10 biggest states by population. Only 11 remain. Even if he only gets 46 percent of delegates going forward, he'll reach the 1,237 number needed to win the Republican nomination on the first ballot. And with polls showing him up in Indiana and California, the two biggest delegate prizes remaining, clearing 46 percent shouldn't be hard.
The bizarre nature of Trump's candidacy, as well as the refusal of his rivals to drop out, has sometimes obscured this, but at this point, the state of the Republican race is not complicated. Donald Trump is winning. The most likely outcome, by a substantial margin, is that he gets a majority of delegates and is the Republican nominee without a real convention fight.
It's not guaranteed. He could still fall slightly short, enabling a convention full of anti-Trump establishmentarians to pick another contender. The convention could change the rules and deny him the nomination even with a majority of delegates. But it's the most likely option. Denying him the nomination despite a delegate majority would be a drastic move that could severely alienate some of the most committed Republican voters. Even if he falls short of a majority, he'll have more delegates than anyone else and there'll be a lot of pressure to nominate him anyway. In the most likely delegate outcome, he's a huge favorite, and in the less likely outcome, he's still in contention.
Even if the race were shook up substantially, it's hard to see this changing. If John Kasich drops out and Ted Cruz gets all his support? Doesn't matter — Trump won majorities in all five states tonight, over 60 percent of the vote in some. If someone else jumps in? Even if they won every upcoming primary and got every delegate, they'd be far behind Trump come the convention.
Donald Trump is almost definitely going to be the Republican nominee. Let's get used to it.
Winner: Hillary Clinton
A weird thing about the primaries is that the rules change midway through. Early on, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, winning is about managing expectations. It's doesn't matter so much where you literally place in the contests; the states are small, and the number of delegates at stake are few. What matters is how well you do relative to how well you were predicted to do, the idea being that routinely exceeding expectations will establish you as a credible candidate and give you momentum going into the contests that matter on the substance.
Then the rules change, and literally winning starts to matter. That happened on March 1 this year, when big states like Texas first started to vote. By now, this period has been underway for nearly two months; most of the delegate allocation has already happened. No one cares about expectations or momentum. There's just not much left for those factors to influence. By March 1, and certainly by April 26, the main criterion for winning/losing isn't "did you exceed expectations" but "did you literally win more delegates and/or stay on track to win a majority of delegates."
Hillary Clinton didn't defy expectations tonight. In fact, she underperformed. She was expected to win all five states; she lost Rhode Island, and Connecticut was close. Sanders fans can, and will, point to those as surprise wins. But at the end of the day, she demolished Sanders in Pennsylvania and Maryland and will likely pad her lead by about 50 delegates, net.
If that happens, then she'll only need about 34 percent of remaining delegates to get a pledged delegate majority. In California, which boasts nearly half of outstanding delegates on the Democratic side, she is not losing 66 to 34. She is winning.
I suppose it's, like, metaphysically possible for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination. Maybe the superdelegates will all suddenly flip-flop and decide to back him despite losing pledged delegates and the popular vote. Sure, almost all of them openly back Clinton, and would face additional pressure to do so if and when she wins among voters as a whole, but there is no law of physics preventing them from all changing their minds suddenly. Similarly it's not totally impossible that every remaining primary will break 80-20 for Sanders. There is literally no evidence this will happen, but, y'know, what if it did?
But barring Sanders successfully Jedi mind-tricking the entire primary electorate of California and every Democratic official in the country, Clinton is going to win the nomination. Bernie has already lost, he's just walking around not knowing it.
Winner: Democratic establishment
It's easy to forget this amidst the madness of the presidential primary process, but in sensible systems, like those at work in most American states for congressional and statewide offices, members of the relevant parties all just vote at once and then the person with more votes gets the nomination. The counties aren't assigned varying numbers of delegates and then holding their own elections every couple of weeks. It all seems to work pretty well.
And it worked very well for national Democratic leaders in two crucial Senate primaries Tuesday. In Maryland, where the primary basically determines the general election victor, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of the rich white DC suburbs beat out Rep. Donna Edwards of the poorer, black DC suburbs. While little separated the candidates ideologically, the party as a whole trusted Van Hollen vastly more. He's been in the House for 14 years, led the DCCC for two cycles, served as House Democrats' leading voice on budget issues, and was widely considered a likely successor to Nancy Pelosi as a future speaker or minority leader before he opted to try for the Senate.
Edwards, by contrast, came to power by beating a generally liked Democratic incumbent in a primary and has always been widely loathed by the party establishment. Despite her potential to become the second black woman elected to the US Senate in American history, only four out of 46 members in the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed her. Politico's Rachael Bade reports that many of the CBC's members thought Edwards was "not an easy colleague to work with."
Many Maryland Democrats, like former gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, accused her of failing at basic duties like constituent service. SEIU's Baltimore affiliate, which helped her win her House primary, turned against her after she ignored their pleas to defend a unionized hospital and fell down at helping union member constituents. Establishment Democrats, as Vox's Andrew Prokop explains, thought Edwards was just fundamentally awful at basic political tasks, and also kind of a jerk. Van Hollen, by contrast, is widely trusted and believed to be an excellent legislative tactician. Him winning lets the establishment breathe a big sigh of relief.
An arguably even bigger win came in Pennsylvania, where incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) looks vulnerable in a presidential election year where Hillary Clinton is all but certain to win the state. The obvious Democratic candidate was former Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired three-star admiral who was the nominee in 2010 and lost by only two points in a Republican wave year. He's got the name recognition, the experience, and the competitive numbers; what's not to like?
Well, everything. Everyone in the Democratic establishment loathes Sestak, much like they loathe Edwards. Part of this is the hard-to-confirm but widely circulated belief that Sestak is a giant asshole who's difficult to work with:
Hunch: pieces re: the awesomeness of Sestak might say otherwise if writers had on-the-record quotes from ppl who've worked w/ Sestak. #PASen— Greg Greene (@ggreeneva) April 26, 2016
My bias, I admit, but I judge pols a bit by how they treat staff. By that standard, Sestak one of the biggest assholes in American politics— Dana Houle (@DanaHoule) April 27, 2016
As Vox's Dara Lind explains, there's also the more concrete grievance that Sestak went forward with a 2010 primary challenge against Arlen Specter right after Specter took a giant risk and defected to the Democrats in 2009, giving them a filibuster-proof majority in time to pass Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.
In any case, the party establishment united behind Katie McGinty, the former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf. McGinty is — on paper and probably overall — a significantly weaker candidate than Sestak. She's never held elected office. The last time she ran, in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, she got fourth place out of four and less than 8 percent of the vote. She has very low name recognition and has consistently polled worse against Toomey than Sestak has.
No matter: Former Gov. Ed Rendell signed on as McGinty's campaign chair, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed her, Wolf endorsed her — everyone who matters endorsed her. And so, despite trailing for most of the race, McGinty beat Sestak for the nomination. That might hurt Democrats' odds in November. But it's a remarkable case of the establishment reversing voters' pre-existing preferences through an overwhelming show of force.
Loser: Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders isn't giving up yet. He's still making gestures that superdelegates should bail him out, that he'll fight to the convention:
Sanders says he does well with independents and some Rs - "a point that I hope the delegates to the Democratic convention fully understand."— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) April 27, 2016
But you can feel him coming to terms with his inevitable defeat. His statements on tonight's primaries weren't in any state voting; he'd already moved onto West Virginia. He lingered on how far his campaign has come in an almost wistful, nostalgic way:
. @BernieSanders says a lot has happened since started the campaign a year ago. 16 primary wins, and going to win in WV, 1200 delegates.— Kennie Bass (@KennieBassWCHS) April 27, 2016
And talked up just how unstoppable the Clintons are:
On Sunday, he characterized his path to the nomination as "not easy." His senior strategist Tad Devine told the New York Times that while Sanders will stay in the race to the end of the primaries, it will have to "reassess" if Tuesday night's primaries went poorly (as they did).
These are not things you say if you're planning on salting the Earth and fighting all the way to the convention against all odds. They're things you say if you're steeling yourself to withdraw when the voting is done and start convincing your supporters to support your opponent.
That's smart of Sanders. It could hurt his standing in the Senate caucus to extend the race unnecessarily and ensure a contentious, ugly convention. At worst, it could compel future majority leader Chuck Schumer to strip him of the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, should Democrats retake the Senate this fall. And it risks alienating his supporters from the party when they could stay and help push it to the left instead. It sets him up to lead a revolution down ballot even after he loses.
The Sanders campaign is basically over and just going through the motions, and Bernie Sanders is finally acknowledging it.
Loser: Cruz/Kasich pact
Ted Cruz and John Kasich are really bad at being in an alliance with each other. Shortly after the campaigns signaled that Cruz was pulling out of Oregon and New Mexico and Kasich from Indiana, this happened:
Kasich, asked whom his supporters in Indiana should vote for: "I've never told them not to vote for me. They ought to vote for me."— Thomas Kaplan (@thomaskaplan) April 25, 2016
Cruz tells IN crowd that Kasich is pulling out of Indiana. But he conveniently has not told tell them about his end of deal so far.— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) April 25, 2016
Now, the campaigns themselves insist that the deal only applies to resource allocation, not who they're telling supporters to vote for. They want the deal to be effective, but not that effective:
We're not telling voters who to vote for in IN, only where we are going to spend resources to ultimately defeat Hillary. They get it.— John Weaver (@JWGOP) April 25, 2016
It's all a rather hapless show. And it looks more hapless when you look at tonight's totals. Trump won a majority in all five states. In none of them would a united Cruz/Kasich front have won. In Rhode Island and Delaware, Trump got over 60 percent. Now, these are Northeastern states unusually favorable to Trump. But the two most recent polls in California put him at 49 percent, easily in striking range of an outright majority. A united front cannot stop him.