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Does anything change after Wisconsin?

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Voters took to the polls in Wisconsin’s presidential primary Tuesday.
Voters took to the polls in Wisconsin’s presidential primary Tuesday.Darren Hauck

A single phrase comes to mind when reviewing the outcome of Tuesday night's Wisconsin primary: plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les memes — the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bernie Sanders won his sixth consecutive Democratic primary or caucus, which is impressive, but only if you ignore the fact that he picked up only about 12-to-16 delegates over Hillary Clinton, which still leaves him well behind in the race for the Democratic nomination.

The source of Sanders' success in Wisconsin was not much different from his earlier wins this campaign — young people and independents turned out in droves for him and he dominated among white voters and men. That will be a difficult feat to replicate in upcoming primaries in New York, California, Connecticut, and Maryland, which are more demographically diverse and where voting is largely restricted to Democrats. Clinton has, up to this point, dominated in these closed primaries. Sanders continues to show impressive strength in this campaign — and Clinton continues to show real weakness in being unable to put him away — but barring a miracle she's still going to be the Democratic nominee.

The real question for Sanders is how aggressive he'll be in going after Clinton in New York. Over the past few weeks, he's gone back on his earlier pledge to refrain from personal attacks against Clinton, and with the Empire State perhaps his only chance to reverse the inevitable, one can imagine that he might really take the gloves off. Whether such a strategy is worth it is an altogether different question — but to date, there's little indication that Sanders is thinking about anything other than his own political prospects, not those of the party he is seeking to lead.

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On the Republican side, there's a bit more change afoot.

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Wisconsin was always going to be a terrible state for GOP front-runner Donald Trump. The party establishment, the Republican governor, and even the state's ubiquitous talk radio were lined up against him. Demographically, Republican voters in the state are more suburban than low income, which is the opposite of his base of support nationally, and they are more conservative, in general.

This was a good state for Ted Cruz, though few expected him to win the primary by 15 points. There's simply no question that bloom is off the rose for Trump. His poll numbers are sagging. There are reports of low morale among his staff and a candidate who is burned out by the pressures of the campaign trail. Still, with the New York primary coming up in two weeks and a host of northeastern states voting in April, the primary map strongly favors Trump.

But that's not quite what stayed the same Tuesday night. Rather it's that the tumult roiling the Republican Party that is unchanged. If anything, it's worse. With Cruz doing well in Wisconsin, he can suddenly make a much stronger case for being the nominee — particularly if he maintains the momentum from this victory.

What that would mean in practical terms is that, first, the GOP now has two strong contenders for the nomination — neither of whom is remotely electable. So if you're printing up those Paul Ryan for President bumper stickers, you might want to hold off. Second, if Cruz comes out of Wisconsin with the momentum to stop Trump from winning a majority of delegates, it only increases the likelihood of an intraparty food fight at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. That still might be better than Trump becoming the nominee, but let's not kid ourselves; it's going to be a mess for Republicans.

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So even with the Sanders' victory, Clinton still has the edge for the nomination; and on the Republican side, the party continues to careen, full-speed ahead, toward a disaster in Cleveland.


Michael A. Cohen's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.