scorecardresearch Skip to main content
news analysis

Clinton, Trump are the presumptive nominees. Get used to it.

On the Republican side, one candidate just swept several states on the biggest day of nominating contests on the presidential calendar. His Democratic counterpart did the same.

It’s time — and perhaps overdue — to call Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominees of their respective parties.

That title — presumptive nominee — serves as a rite of passage for presidential candidates every four years. It means that unless something major or unforeseen happens, the front-runner has reached a point in which it’s extremely likely they will win the nomination.

One of the reasons for granting this distinction on Trump and Clinton now? Math. They have accumulated more delegates than any other candidates in their parties for the national conventions. Both won the three of four early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.


Not a single candidate with those win records has ever lost his or her party’s nomination in modern presidential political history. In fact, with the Super Tuesday results coming in, Clinton and Trump were already in a better position to be their party’s nominee than George H.W. Bush in 1998, Bill Clinton in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain and Barack Obama in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012.

Later this month, the math of accumulating delegates gets harder for those trailing Trump and Clinton. Twenty-four percent of the Democratic delegates and 30 percent of Republican delegates are now committed to candidates. Trump holds a lead of several hundred delegates. The same can be said about Clinton, who is further boosted by the number of superdelegates who have said they are backing her.

From here, Clinton’s and Trump’s opponents would need to run the table in nearly every other contest. But that’s nearly impossible for another reason: momentum.

In the presidential primary calendar, winning begets winning. And with every victory, momentum for Trump and Clinton only grows. Conversely, their opponents lose their argument to stay in the race.


On the Democratic side, Sanders will likely serve as a protest candidate through the nomination contests, which he has vowed to pursue until the end of the calendar in June. His impressive fund-raising propels him, as does his desire to push Clinton to the left. But since she is now the presumptive nominee, she no longer has an incentive to respond to him. She looks toward the generation election instead.

Meanwhile, Trump’s rivals continue to search for an increasingly slim path to stop his momentum. Republicans will raise the stakes later this month with winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio. But even if Senators Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz won both states, that’s 165 delegates. Early Super Tuesday returns showed Trump with a delegate lead of around that size — and that’s before his victories in Virginia and other states were added to the equation. What’s more, Trump leads in polls of Ohio and Florida. It will be even more difficult for Rubio or Cruz to argue their viability when they can no longer pick up any delegates in a large state’s primary.

In the coming weeks, the presumptive nominees will switch to general election mode. In their victory speeches, Clinton and Trump quickly called for their respective parties to unify behind them — all while attacking each other. Within the next couple months, the conversation on the campaign trail will shift to talk about vice presidential picks and what exit poll data tell us about future swing states.


To be sure, both Clinton and Trump face unprecedented circumstances before taking the stage in Philadelphia and Cleveland to accept the nominations. To start, the FBI is still investigating Clinton’s use of her private email server while she was secretary of state. As for Trump, there is a growing divide between him and his party, and at least two other GOP campaigns are preparing for a contested convention. But unless some new piece of information emerges that fundamentally alters the race, it will be Clinton facing Trump in November. Oh, and maybe even Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, confirmed three weeks ago he is considering jumping into the contest. At the time, Sanders — not Clinton — appeared as if he could win the nomination and face off with Trump this fall.

Bloomberg’s advisers have said they would poll the race after last month’s New Hampshire primary, according to the New York Times. If Bloomberg were to run, he would have to start assembling a campaign team in early March.

The 1944 presidential election was the last time that the Republican and Democratic nominees came from the same state, which also happened to be New York. The last time three major candidates came from the same state? Never.

It would be just the latest twist in an already wild election.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign at