Nothing surprising happened tonight despite the hype over big wins by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the New York primary. By saying this, I’m not trying to disparage the accomplishments of either candidate. They each dominated their respective primaries. But if you have been looking at the enduring trends of this endurance contest of a presidential campaign, you had every reason to expect this result. New York is home turf for Trump and Clinton, a place where each enjoyed overwhelming advantages.
When Trump’s campaign was sputtering under the weight of the candidate’s inability to figure out how much he wanted to punish women who had abortions and his casual endorsement of nuclear war, pundits who should have known better were declaring that if Trump lost Wisconsin then it would absolutely without question finally and unconditionally be the Great Unraveling we have all been promised since last summer. So when Trump was thumped there by Ted Cruz, media narratives emphasized the resurgent hopes of anti-Trump forces and declared New York a must-win state for him. But we knew that Trump was in a commanding delegate position despite his Wisconsin difficulties, just like we knew that Wisconsin was always going to be a difficult state for him. And we knew he held consistently outsized leads in polls of a state where his name adorns structures across the New York metropolitan area. His overwhelming New York triumph under these circumstances tells us less about his resiliency as a candidate than it does about his appeal in his home state. Still, you shouldn’t be surprised if the story again returns to how difficult it will be for establishment Republicans to deny Trump the nomination, even though this was the case even when Trump looked like a loser in Wisconsin.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s victory in a state she represented in the Senate was in the high end of the range predicted in pre-primary polls. Bernie Sanders contested the New York primary with gusto, his Brooklyn accent at times making him appear to be more the New Yorker than Clinton, but his challenge was enormous and the likelihood of success slim. Hillary’s huge hometown advantage compounded the built-in advantage she had in a state as complex and multicultural as New York and the advantage she had by virtue of New York holding a closed primary, shutting out independent voters who have flocked to Sanders elsewhere. You can add it to Texas, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina as the most populous states to vote thus far, all carried by Clinton. She has consistently won states with New York’s population profile.
The media narrative will now return to the inevitability of a Clinton nomination and the difficulty facing those who hope to derail Trump, but it is only circling back to the situation we have seen for a long time. We said back on Super Tuesday that Hillary was winning the nomination while Bernie was shaping the Democratic Party, and that remains true after New York. Sanders faces an end game where he must figure out how to maximize the influence he has already had over the future of the party, and Clinton faces an end game where she must figure out how to successfully reach out to his voters. These interests converge; neither can achieve his or her objective without building bridges to the other, so in the end they are likely to find a way. As for Republicans, they still face the choice of splitting the party by trying to stop Trump or splitting the party by letting him have the nomination. That was the case when Trump appeared to be crumbling in Wisconsin and it remains the case after his enormous win in New York.