The Indiana primary holds a special place in the hearts of presidential primary obsessives. In 1968, after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy famously delivered a speech in Indianapolis, where he was campaigning, calling for nonviolence and reconciliation. Kennedy won the state by double digits a month later.
That's … nothing like the 2016 primary. This time there was less lofty speechifying about the future of racial justice in America and a lot more talking about Donald Trump's experience with venereal disease. But Indiana was still a crucial turning point in the race, firmly establishing each party's nominee and all but eliminating the path to victory for their rivals — so much so that one of them realized it and dropped out.
Here's who finished the night up and who finished behind.
Winner: Donald Trump
The Republican primaries and caucuses after tonight have only 445 delegates between them. If Donald Trump winds up winning every congressional district and getting all of Indiana's 57 delegates, he'll be at 1,049. To make it to 1,237 — the magic number he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot — he'll only need to win 188 delegates, or a mere 43 percent of those remaining.
Even if Ted Cruz had stayed in the race, that wouldn't have been hard at all. If Connecticut, New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania are any indication, he'll win New Jersey handily, and New Jersey is winner-take-all. So that's 51 votes right there. And then there's California, by far the biggest prize remaining. It hands out three delegates for the winner of each of its 53 congressional districts, plus 10 delegates for winning statewide. That leads to some weird phenomena, like the Republican faculty members of UC Berkeley (all seven of them) effectively getting their own set of delegates over in CA-13.
But Trump is winning the state by a huge margin — 28 points in the HuffPost Pollster average — and a recent poll doing a breakdown across 10 regions found that Trump was winning every single one. Even if Trump won only 42 of the 53 districts, along with the state as a whole and New Jersey, that'd be enough to lock up the nomination right there. And there are a bunch of other states he could gain delegates in along the way.
And then Ted Cruz dropped out. Even if John Kasich sticks it out, that makes the odds of Trump losing a delegate majority all but insurmountable. It'd take a truly bizarre surge in support for a candidate no one likes to stop him. And so even Reince Priebus is accepting the campaign is over.
Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. You can whine about it, you can bemoan it, but that's the way it is. It'll become official in a month, but this was the night it became inevitable. Only Hillary Clinton can stop him now.
Video: Donald Trump compliments Ted Cruz during his victory speech
Winner: Hillary Clinton
Yeah, she lost Indiana. But Clinton can get away with some mediocre showings in late primaries and still win the nomination. Going into tonight, Clinton had 1,664 delegates to Bernie Sanders's 1,371. You need 2,026 for a majority of pledged delegates, and there are 1,016 left. So Clinton just needed 36 percent of remaining delegates to win a pledged delegate majority. Sanders needed 65 percent. Every contest where he gets less than that, he loses.
And he definitely got less than that in Indiana. As of this writing, with the race just called, Sanders is up 52.2 percent to 47.8 percent. That's about 13 points short of where he needs to be. It's a nice upset (Clinton was ahead by 8 points in polling) but upsets aren't worth anything unless they come with a huge delegate majority. And in all likelihood, Indiana's delegates will be split roughly down the middle.
It's still metaphysically possible for Sanders to win the nomination. But assuming he gets, say, 43 delegates out of 83 tonight, he'll still need 66 percent of delegates going forward. And that means getting a landslide in California, by far the biggest contest remaining. Currently, Clinton is beating him there by 10 points; supposing that he's underestimated by 13 points, as he was in Indiana, that's still only a 3-point victory, nowhere near enough for a pledged delegate majority.
The race is over. The general election will be Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump.
Winner: National Republican Senatorial Committee
This was really, really overshadowed by the presidential race, but there was also a Senate primary in Indiana! It pitted Rep. Marlin Stutzman — one of the most stalwart conservatives in the House and a member of the Freedom Caucus, who was endorsed by Club for Growth — against Rep. Todd Young, a more establishment-friendly pick.
The NRSC didn't officially endorse, but it did weigh in on Young's behalf in a dispute over ballot access signatures, and he's clearly the better candidate if Republicans want to keep control of the Senate. Recent polling has him beating former Rep. Baron Hill, the Democratic nominee, 48 to 30; Stutzman only led by 39 to 36, indicating that Hill could've potentially gained the seat.
Now that Young has won, the seat is likely safe for Republicans, which ought to have NRSC chair Roger Wicker breathing a sigh of relief.
It just feels too cruel to put Ted Cruz's sad, dropped-out face here.
And in any case, he was never going to win. He was always on a kamikaze mission on behalf of the #NeverTrump movement, to deny Trump a delegate convention and force a contested convention that would be highly unlikely to pick Cruz, a candidate the Republican electorate considered and rejected.
That mission is over. The suicide pilot is dead, but the plane missed the aircraft carrier. Cruz didn't just fail, #NeverTrump as a whole failed.
You saw this in the straight-up despair evident among prominent anti-Trump conservatives Tuesday night:
If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 3, 2016
This must feel like the moment after the Roundheads decapitated Charles I. "Holy sh*t did we just do that???"— Jay Cost (@JayCostTWS) May 4, 2016
I don’t want to congratulate Hillary Clinton on winning the Presidency tonight, but she just did.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 3, 2016
Some were even declaring that the nomination of a racist demagogue marked the end of America, a strange claim to make about a country that was an apartheid state for the first 200 or so years of its existence:
America, July 4, 1776 - May 3, 2016.— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) May 3, 2016
So now it's decision time. Do conservatives vote for Clinton, like RedState's Ben Howe? Do they vote for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson? Do they try to throw together another third-party candidacy, despite the fact that it's basically too late to get on the Texas ballot? Or do they suck it up and admit that Trump's anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim demagoguery is the natural extension of the past 20 years of GOP rhetoric on immigration and national security, that his tax plan is the kind of giant supply-side cut that Republicans since Reagan have backed, and that he's overall a pretty good exemplar of the same values expressed by Ted Cruz?
My money is that most will opt for the latter. But so many have come out so definitively against Trump, even as the GOP nominee, that pivoting that way will be tough.
Loser: Bernie Sanders
The Democratic race isn't as officially over as the GOP one, but it's effectively sealed up all the same. Short of totally unexpected, unprecedented 66-point landslides in every future contest, Sanders would need a massive exodus of superdelegates to his side to have a shot at the nomination. Given that nearly every superdelegate backs Clinton — and Sanders almost certainly won't have the pledged delegate majority or popular vote majority necessary to argue they're obligated to switch to backing him — that's a notion so farcical as to be not worth seriously considering.
Don't expect Sanders to actually drop out until after California. A lot of upcoming contests — West Virginia, Oregon, Kentucky — seem like places he could conceivably do fairly well, enabling him to keep fundraising, registering voters, and maintaining supporter enthusiasm, even if he wins by much worse than he should. But expect his campaign to start making nods to reconciliation, and preparing for his inevitable convention speech enthusiastically backing Clinton and calling for party unity.