In the 1970s, an American basketball coach coined a phrase for hope against overwhelming odds, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” On Wednesday, in both the Republican and Democratic contests for the US Presidency, that lady is warming up for her performance.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s four victories and a virtual tie in Missouri should finally end the valiant challenge of the progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Donald Trump’s three wins and another Missouri tie, with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, brings him close to his surprise coronation for the Republicans.
However — for a panicking GOP establishment, political addicts, and a media looking for more drama —Governor John Kasich’s victory in his home state of Ohio maintains the slim alternative of a brokered Republican Convention, if Trump cannot manage a majority of pledged delegates.
It was a relieved Hillary Clinton who took the podium in West Palm Beach, Florida on Tuesday night. Sanders’ upset in the Michigan primary a week earlier had opened the possibility of an unexpected surge repeating Clinton’s defeat to Barack Obama in 2008.
But to pull off the feat, the Vermont Senator had to clear even bigger hurdles in the five contests yesterday, and he could not quite make the leap. Clinton easily won Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. Her victory in Illinois was only 50% to 49%, but that 1% was more than enough to end the narrative of a Sanders wave across the U.S.
So, while hoarse and struggling to capture the moment, the former Secretary of State could turn to her likely showdown with Trump. Already, Clinton is playing her anti-Trump card, saying:
“Our next President has to be ready to face three big tasks: First, can you make positive differences in people’s lives? Second, can you keep us safe? Third, can you bring our country together again?….
When we hear a candidate for President call for the rounding up of 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, when he embraces torture, that doesn’t make him strong, it makes him wrong.”
Clinton enters that contest with a major advantage. The Democratic Party can now unify behind its prospective nominee. To ensure that Sanders’ voters are not outside the camp, it can feature the Senator at the Convention and include some of his positions in their platform.
Meanwhile, their GOP counterparts are on the ledge of the 58th floor of the Trump Tower.
Donald Trump’s success on Tuesday was not complete, but it was close enough to leave his opponents with dead or near-comatose options.
The businessman won big in Florida to knock Senator Marco Rubio, once the Establishment hope, out of the campaign. He also turned back Ted Cruz in Illinois and North Carolina, again denting the Texas senator’s ability to win outside the Southwest, and has the edge of about 2,000 votes in Missouri. Only John Kasich’s backyard triumph in Ohio prevented the fat lady’s aria.
On Wednesday morning, the Republican establishment will take up its last resort of number-counting, looking for a chain of events to prevent Trump winning 1,237 of the GOP’s 2,472 delegates.
However, they will struggle to find hope among the maths and the shape of the primaries to come.
True, Trump only has 621 delegates so far, compared to a total of 702 for Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio. To get to a majority, he needs to win almost 54% of those still to be selected.
But the GOP has unwittingly given the reality TV star a boost with a series of winner-take-all and winner-take-primaries. For example, Trump will likely take the lion’s share of delegates from Missouri with that narrow 2,000-vote margin over Cruz, given bonus delegates for the frontrunner.
There is much more to come, with 64% of delegates in the remaining contests effectively chosen on a winner-take-all basis. Fortunately for the Establishment, New York — where Trump is a prohibitive favorite — is not. However, the frontrunner can look to take-all or take-most prizes in states like Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, and New Jersey. Then there’s the summit of California on June 7, with 172 delegates in a take-most contest.
So the final anti-Trump effort must bring Cruz all 58 Arizona delegates on March 22. Kasich has to prove he is more than a home-state candidate with most of Wisconsin’s 42 delegates on April 5. Then, following New York and a near-inevitable boost for Trump, someone has to defeat him in Maryland (38 delegates) and Pennsylvania (71) on April 26.
Perhaps this is the one election year advising Never Say Never, but there appear to be two prospects of accomplishing each of those tasks: Slim and None.
No wonder that Trump, the anti-Party candidate, could have the bravado to declare, in his own Tuesday night speech looking to November:
“We have to bring our party together. We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party the biggest political story anywhere in the world.”
Scott Lucas is a professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.