Tonight is likely the turning point where, if we open our eyes to see it, we can see the general election match up between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
I did not think Sanders would still be fighting Clinton to close to a draw in states like Illinois. But Clinton will win either 4 of 5 or 5 of 5 states tonight, all big states, three of them major swing states. More importantly, Clinton’s edge in pledged delegates is now close to overwhelming. The Democrats don’t have winner take all primaries. So it’s not possible catch up with wins in a string of big states. Even if Sanders won every remaining state by a narrow margin, he’d probably still lose.
The situation on the Republican side is more sobering. Donald Trump lost Ohio, which is after all the state of sitting Governor John Kasich. But he’s winning everywhere else. And in some states he’s winning with huge margins. Whatever other ways you want to slice the numbers, Trump has won states in every region of the country, usually by sizable margins. In almost any other primary cycle this would be more than enough to end the contest and have the party unify around its chosen nominee. But Trump has so divided the party that that has not and likely will not happen. And because of that it will actually be a challenge for Trump to get a majority of the delegates. He definitely can do it, especially with big winner take all states coming. But it’s no sure thing.
Having said all that, I’m skeptical of all this talk about brokered conventions or any talk of denying Trump the nomination if he’s close to a majority and has far more delegates than anyone else. I’m not saying it won’t happen. I make no predictions. But I don’t think modern American political parties overrule their voters in choosing a presidential nominee. They can. They certainly have big incentives. But there is an immense structural, bureaucratic and legitimacy inertia against doing so. The signs I see from key Republican elected officials – as opposed to activists and operatives and pundits – look more like a slow, pained accommodation.
But now we’ll start to find out. Every Republican, elected and not, will now have to pick sides. All the excuses to keep an open mind or see how things play out – to kick the can down the road – are now exhausted. I am really not sure how it plays out. But the more I watch this play out the more I think the current Republican party – by which I mean the Republican coalition that we’ve known for almost four decades – will not survive this crisis. The Republican party won’t go anywhere. The R-D two party system has survived for 150 years with a number different versions of each party operating under those labels. But I’m skeptical that we go back. And when there’s a break down in one party’s coalition that almost always destabilizes the other party too.