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New York values propel Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

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Donald Trump (left) and Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump (left) and Hillary Clinton.

Remember when Bernie Sanders had all the political momentum because he'd won seven straight primaries and caucuses and Donald Trump looked like he was finally starting to pay the price for his inflammatory comments?

You know, last week.

It's a funny thing about political narratives this campaign season; they tend to have short lives.

Last night's New York primary took a sledgehammer to the emerging narrative on both sides of the political aisle and confirmed what we've long known about the 2016 presidential campaign: It's going to be Trump and Clinton in November.

To a large extent, this has been true for several weeks now. Back on March 15, when Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primaries in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, she put a hammerlock on the Democratic nomination. Truth be told, she was never really in danger of losing, but after sweeping five of the biggest states in the country it was all over but the shouting.

The problem is, since then all we've gotten is shouting — and primarily from Bernie Sanders and his supporters. This week in New York, they offered a new litany of complaints: that Clinton was stealing the election because of her advantage in super delegates, that a closed primary in New York disadvantaged Sanders' independent voters, that Clinton's lead comes from the support of "conservative" Southern voters, and even that Clinton is violating campaign finance laws.

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Much of this is sour grapes. Clinton actually leads in both pledged delegates and super delegates. Sanders is certainly disadvantaged by closed primaries, but he's running for the Democratic Party nomination. And Clinton, who regularly beats Sanders among registered Democrats, has suffered as much in open primaries (like New Hampshire and Michigan) as he has in closed ones.

As for Sanders's complaint that front-loaded Southern primaries are why he's losing, the fact is, he's done lousy outreach to black voters — the single most dependable Democratic constituency — who are disproportionately represented among Southern Democratic electorates. If anything, Sanders benefited enormously from the fact that the first two states to vote — Iowa and New Hampshire — are lily white and largely unrepresentative of the Democratic Party as a whole.

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This is the great irony and depressing coda to Sanders's campaign: Once it has become clear that he can't overcome Clinton's delegate lead, he has become a desperate and angry candidate. He's turned his back on his one-time pledge to avoid personal attacks and character assassination and has gone after Clinton in ways that it will make it that much harder to bring his supporters back into the Democratic fold for the fall campaign. Sanders's supporters will almost certainly overwhelmingly vote for Clinton in the fall, but he's not making the reconciliation any easier.

One would hope in the days to come, someone will sit down with Sanders — likely not one of his campaign advisors — and remind him that the real danger to his progressive values is not Hillary Clinton, but the guy with the funny hairdo and the xenophobic political agenda.

Speaking of which, New York was always prime territory for Donald Trump. Aside from being his home state, Trump's populist, economic conservatism simply plays better here than Ted Cruz's uncompromising social conservatism. Plus, there was that whole "New York values" thing. New Yorkers might not agree on much, but when you insult our town, political affiliation takes a backseat to civic pride. Perhaps it then shouldn't come as a surprise that Cruz finished third in New York behind John Kasich, with an embarrassing 15 percent of the vote, while Trump cleaned up with close to 60 percent.

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Looking forward, Trump is, according to polls, ahead in every upcoming primary — Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and California. It's possible that Cruz or Kasich could narrow the gap enough to keep Trump away from the magic number of 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. But if Kasich and Cruz can't beat him in the polls between now and Cleveland, they don't have a very strong case for denying Trump the nomination (not that it will stop them from trying).

Even if Trump doesn't reach 1,237, can anyone seriously argue that Republican voters — you know, the people who get to decide these things — want someone other than him as their nominee?

It's still pretty hard to wrap my head around the notion that Donald Trump is going to be the standard-bearer of the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan, but here we are — and there's an increasingly minimal chance that anything that happens between now and Cleveland is going to keep that from happening.


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