Donald Trump crushed the competition in Indiana’s primary, sealing his stranglehold on the Republican nomination. Bernie Sanders eked out a win over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, a victory for the underdog but one that will do little to change his delegate deficit to the former secretary of state.
I jotted down some winners and losers from the night that was. My picks are below.
Donald Trump: For the seventh time in the last 21 days, the real estate mogul dominated a primary race. His win in Indiana, like past victories in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and elsewhere, was complete — spreading across virtually every demographic group. Because of the sweeping nature of that win, Trump was projected to win all 57 Indiana Republican delegates, making his path to 1,237 delegates far easier. Ted Cruz’s decision to leave the race following the Indiana result was a recognition that the math simply stopped adding up for anyone other than Trump after Tuesday night.
Trump’s victory is now complete. Beginning as a punchline — and an asterisk in polling — Trump beat the most crowded (and one of the deepest and most accomplished) Republican fields in modern presidential history. A first time candidate, he systematically dismantled Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio, to name just a few. And, even amid the relentless media coverage of whether Trump had peaked or whether his moment had passed, he led the race virtually wire to wire. He won in the midwest, the west, the south, and the east. He won among very conservative voters and moderate voters. He won and won, and won.
Trump starts the general election — and it starts, effectively, on Wednesday — as a decided underdog to Clinton. But, take nothing away from what Trump has accomplished in this Republican primary. It is, simply put, the single most amazing thing I have seen in my 18 years of covering politics.
Bernie Sanders: The US senator from Vermont needed a win in Indiana to fight back against the creeping narrative (disappointing fundraising, staff layoffs) that he was running out of time in this race. He got it, which he deserves credit for. And he won the groups — young voters, white voters, liberals — where he has shown considerable strength throughout the race. The Indiana win reinforces, again, that Sanders can and should stay in the race all the way through the June 7 votes.
But as always, the math is the math. Delegate projections suggest that Sanders will net three delegates out of Indiana, which is simply not enough for him to catch or even come close to catching Clinton.
Bobby Knight: In the closing days of the Indiana primary, the Indiana University coaching legend was a constant presence by Trump’s side. Trump acknowledged Knight’s aid in the first moments of his victory speech on Tuesday night, and it’s hard not give The General real credit for rallying support to Trump.
Ted Cruz: The Texas Republican made Indiana a do-or-die state. And, he didn’t ‘‘do.’’ You could sense the desperation from Cruz and his senior campaign team in the run-up to the Indiana vote. From the announcement of an alliance with John Kasich, which quickly fizzled, to his decision to name Carly Fiorina as his running mate, it seemed obvious that Cruz was literally throwing things at a wall in hopes one might stick. None did.
Recognizing that he wasn’t going to win, Cruz got out. His political future — Cruz is only 45 years old — weighed heavily on that calculation. Cruz wanted to preserve his status as a top-tier candidate heading into the 2020 election (assuming Clinton beats Trump) and clearly believed that leaving the race as soon as Indiana voted was the right time.
Now the only question is when — and if — Cruz endorses Trump. That, too, will be entirely dependent on how Cruz thinks it will impact his positioning for 2020.
Hillary Clinton: Clinton is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. But, losing Indiana could well be the start of a bad run of states for Clinton — Nebraska, Washington, Oregon are all coming up — that will not allow her to finish the primary race in a final, dominating sprint.
And she will still have to deal with Sanders’s attacks from the left, even while having to counter the Trump fusillade that will be headed in her direction. That’s a tough challenge and one the Clinton campaign would have very much liked to have avoided. Indiana ensured she won’t get that wish.
Mike Pence: The Indiana governor appeared to be dragged kicking and screaming to a Cruz endorsement last Friday. He made clear right from the start that he didn’t really want to do it; he praised Trump as much if not more than he lauded Cruz. Then he spent the weekend trying to clean up that mess, campaigning with Cruz in an attempt to sell the whole thing. No dice. Trump’s sweeping victory showed that at least in this race the Indiana governor didn’t have much juice. Pence has to hope Tuesday is rock bottom for him, politically speaking, in 2016; he faces a contested reelection race in November.
The Stop Trump effort: You can’t beat someone with no one. That’s the lesson the folks hoping to stop Trump have learned (or relearned) over the past six weeks or so. While there was — and is a not-insignificant group of Republicans who wanted to be for anyone other than Trump, Cruz was simply not an appealing enough alternative. Many Republicans are scared of what Trump might do as the GOP nominee, but they viscerally hate Cruz and simply could not bring themselves to be for him. Given that simple calculus, all of the efforts and money that went into stopping Trump never really had a chance at succeeding. That reality was driven home in a final, ringing way in Indiana on Tuesday.
Lovers of positive campaigns: Clinton versus Trump is going to be the nastiest general election in modern presidential history. Trump has already proven — over and over again — that he is willing to get personal in his attacks against Republicans. Can you imagine him dialing it back against Clinton, the Democrat that Republicans love most to hate? No chance.
Clinton, too, has shown not just a willingness to attack her opponent’s vulnerabilities, but a relishing of the back and forth. Trump is an opposition researcher’s dream. although it remains to be seen whether Clinton can land more punches on Trump than the 16 Republican candidates did.
Brace yourself: This is going to be an all-out brawl.