Voters in five states stretching from the mid-Atlantic to the Northeast went to the polls today. At the presidential level, Donald Trump crushed his two remaining competitors while Hillary Clinton looked well positioned to extend her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders.
This was an an absolutely sweeping across-the-board victory for the real estate mogul. From a delegate perspective, this may wind up being Trump's single best day of the primary process. His massive wins in Connecticut and Maryland help him run up the delegate score. His big margin in Pennsylvania should be a persuasive argument for the 54 unbound delegates the state sends to the Republican National Convention. And what's clear is that Trump is getting stronger and stronger as the race moves to Indiana on May 4, a state that the anti-Trump forces now must win in order to blunt his momentum heading into the critical California primary on June 8. If Trump wins, the race will be all but over.
The simple fact is this: Trump just keeps winning and, increasingly, winning across all subgroups and demographics within the GOP. He still isn't a numeric lock to get to the 1237 delegates he needs. But man oh man is he sitting pretty right now.
Five more states came off the table - including big delegate prizes in Pennsylvania and Maryland - and Clinton remains in a commanding delegate position over Sanders. Clinton and her team are reluctant to call the race over for fear of angering Sanders supporters. And the race will keep going all the way to California in early June. But, for all intents and purposes, this one is over. To quote MSNBC's Rachel Maddow: "She has effectively put this out of reach."
In her victory speech, Clinton praised Sanders and his supporters and savaged Republicans as deeply out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans. Expect more and more of that in the coming days as Clinton continues her primary pivot and begins to focus full time on Trump.
I am somewhat baffled as to why the Texas Senator continues to get something of a pass from the party (and the media) for finishing not second behind Trump but third behind Trump and John Kasich in a bunch of these mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states. Remember that Cruz is the de facto establishment candidate. And that Kasich has won a total of one state and has fewer delegates than Marco Rubio, who left the race in March. Soooo ... If I might quote that great philosopher Ric Flair: If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man. I'd even be open to modifying that Flair-ism to: If you want to be the man, you have to come in second to the man.
My point is that if Cruz is the only true viable alternative to Trump - and he is - then why the heck is he not only getting blown out by The Donald but losing to Kasich? Momentum matters to Cruz. And, as of today, Cruz will be at a dead stop. Look for him to pull out all the stops he has to get re-started.
It's not a question of if Sanders loses now, it's a question of when he decides to leave the race - and what he wants as a parting gift. Presumably that will be some major influence over the party platform at the convention (unlikely) and/or a prominent speaking role at that convention (likely). The thing to watch now is whether Sanders tempers his rhetoric against Clinton, a tacit acknowledgement that the maths is close to conclusive, or whether he keeps going at her hammer and tongs. His most ardent supporters -- are there any other kind when it comes to Sanders? -- won't want him to pull any punches. How much does he listen to them? And how much should he?