Brace yourself: This is going to be an all-out brawl

By Chris Cillizza analysis

Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, won Indiana. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, won Indiana. Photo / AP

Donald Trump crushed the competition in Indiana's primary, sealing his stranglehold on the Republican nomination. Bernie Sanders eked out a win over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, a victory for the underdog but one that will do little to change his delegate deficit to the former Secretary of State.

WINNERS

Donald Trump

For the seventh time in the last 21 days, the real estate mogul dominated a primary race. His win in Indiana, like past victories in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere, was complete - spreading across virtually every demographic group. Because of the sweeping nature of that win, Trump was projected to win all 57 Indiana Republican delegates - making his path to 1237 delegates far easier. Ted Cruz's decision to leave the race following the Indiana result was a recognition that the maths simply stopped adding up for anyone other than Trump after today.

Trump's victory is now complete. Beginning as a punchline - and an asterisk in polling - Trump beat the most crowded (and one of the deepest and most accomplished) Republican fields in modern presidential history. A first time candidate, he systematically dismantled Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio - to name just a few. And, even amid the relentless media coverage of whether Trump had peaked or whether his moment had passed, he led the race virtually wire to wire. He won in the Midwest, the West, the South and the East. He won among very conservative voters and moderate voters. He won and won and won.

Trump starts the general election - and it starts, effectively, tomorrow - as a decided underdog to Clinton.

But, take nothing away from what Trump has accomplished in this Republican primary. It is, simply put, the single most amazing thing I have seen in my 18 years of covering politics.

Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator needed a win in Indiana to fight back against the creeping narrative - disappointing fundraising, staff layoffs - that he was running out of time in this race. He got it. Which he deserves credit for. And, he won the groups - young voters, white voters, liberals - where he has shown considerable strength throughout the race. The Indiana win reinforces, again, that Sanders can - and should - stay in the race all the way through to the June 8 votes.

But, as always, the maths is the maths. Delegate projections suggest that Sanders will net three delegates out of Indiana, which is simply not enough for him to catch or even come close to catching Clinton.

LOSERS

Ted Cruz

The Texas Republican made Indiana a do-or-die state. And, he didn't "do." You could sense the desperation from Cruz and his senior campaign team in the run-up to the Indiana vote. From the announcement of an alliance with John Kasich, which quickly fizzled, to his decision to name Carly Fiorina as his vice-presidential running mate, it seemed obvious that Cruz was literally throwing things at a wall in hopes one might stick. None did.

Recognising that he wasn't going to win, Cruz got out. His political future - Cruz is only 45 - weighed heavily on that calculation. Cruz wanted to preserve his status as a top tier candidate heading into the 2020 election (assuming Clinton beats Trump) and clearly believed that leaving the race as soon as Indiana voted was the right time.

Now the only question is when - and if - Cruz endorses Trump. That, too, will be entirely dependent on how Cruz thinks it will impact upon his positioning for 2020.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost Indiana but is on course for the Democratic nomination. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost Indiana but is on course for the Democratic nomination. Photo / AP

Hillary Clinton

Clinton is - still - going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. But, losing Indiana could well be the start of a bad run of states for Clinton - Nebraska, Washington, Oregon are all coming up - that will not allow her to finish the primary race in a final, dominating sprint.

And she will still have to deal with Sanders' attacks from the left even while having to counter the Trump fusillade that will be headed in her direction. That's a tough challenge and one the Clinton campaign would have very much liked to have avoided. Indiana ensured she won't get that wish.

The Stop Trump effort

You can't beat someone with no one. That's the lesson the folks hoping to stop Trump have learned (or re-learned) over the past six weeks or so. While there was - and is - a not-insignificant group of Republicans who wanted anyone other than Trump, Cruz was simply not an appealing enough alternative. Many Republicans are scared of what Trump might do as the GOP nominee. But they viscerally hate Cruz and simply could not bring themselves to be for him. Given that simple calculus, all of the efforts - and money - that went into stopping Trump never really had a chance at succeeding. That reality was driven home in a final, ringing way in Indiana.

Lovers of positive campaigns

Clinton versus Trump is going to be the nastiest general election in modern presidential history. Period.

Trump has already proven - over and over again - that he is willing to get personal in his attacks against Republicans. Can you imagine him dialing it back against Clinton - the Democrat that Republicans love most to hate? No chance.

Clinton, too, has shown not just a willingness to attack her opponent's vulnerabilities but a relishing of the back and forth. Trump is an opposition researcher's dream although it remains to be seen whether Clinton can land more punches on Trump than the 16 Republican candidates did.

Brace yourself: This is going to be an all-out brawl.

- Washington Post

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