Yes, Donald Trump in effect clinched the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday night that is now his to lose. But Sen. Bernie Sanders also won the Indiana primary, in defiance of the all-but-settled narrative that his race is over.
Sanders’ numerical path to the nomination is all but blocked. Indiana is a small state, overwhelmingly white, unlikely to turn Democratic in a general election — in other words, a state like ones where the senator has performed well in the past.
So his victory is not large enough to overturn the endgame of the race.
But what does it mean that Democratic primary voters continue to come out for Sanders — when he has laid off campaign staff and himself acknowledged the exceptionally narrow path to the nomination? On a night when Trump won big once again and his strongest opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, dropped out of the race, and GOP chairman Reince Priebus all but named Trump the standardbearer, what does it mean that Hillary Clinton has not been able to decisively shake her opponent loose?
In a preview of the kind of argument that we might see in the general election, Trump slammed Clinton and her husband Tuesday night on the “single worst trade deal ever done” — NAFTA — and her recent comment about putting miners and coal companies “out of business.” Trump, by contrast, would keep businesses, coal and otherwise, right where they are. How? “We’re not gonna let companies leave,” he said.
Though they might question his methods, rationale, and lack of specifics, many Democrats might agree with Trump on principle here — on the abandonment of working-class voters to the interests of corporate America. Besides the steadfast Never Hillary crowd, it is these voters who continue to cast ballots for Sanders, looking for a leftist alternative to the presumptive nominee.
These forces have put Clinton in an impossible position. Entertain complicated, sometimes tortured positions — as she did with that coal miner comment, appealing to clean energy advocates, while the comment itself was part of a larger hedged disquisition on the difficulties of a changing economy — and she’s criticized as untrustworthy or unwilling to take a stand. Stay where she is and she is out of touch.
Thus, the slow and long slog of the Democratic nomination, which looks as if it will continue competitively well past the Republican race, dreams of contested conventions in Cleveland notwithstanding. Sanders, defiant on Tuesday night, gave reporters his usual stump speech and bluntly decried the media’s assessment that his race is over.
Concerning superdelegates whom he urges to switch to his side, though they had been supporting Clinton all year long, he said “Well, the world has changed in the last year.”
He’s certainly correct there, now that we have a Republican candidate for America’s highest office who in the last presidential race was spreading rumors about birth certificates and has never held office beyond a corner one inherited from his father. If Clinton comes through to face him as expected, she must hope that the world has not changed enough to make her frontrunner status disappear.