It was baseball legend Yogi Berra who said it ain’t over till it’s over, but a song by the late and great Israeli singer Arik Einstein noted that it might be over nonetheless. Tuesday’s primaries in New York gave the two main frontrunners resounding victories that may have reduced the field vying for the world’s most powerful political position to one of two: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
The most telling indications that a watershed moment had been reached was in the winners’ victory speeches. In his own Trump Tower, with Frank Sinatra crooning New York New York in the background, Trump was suddenly reserved, disciplined and presidential, with none of his usual outbursts and diatribes.
He has discovered, like Ariel Sharon in his advanced years, that restraint is a power that can yield electoral dividends. Not too far away, in an unusually ecstatic party at Times Square, Clinton didn’t even try to conceal her heartfelt relief at having scaled the most serious and perhaps last remaining obstacle that stands in her way. Both candidates appeared to be already thinking of the day after their nomination is confirmed.
New York gave Trump his biggest win ever, far beyond anything he has achieved since he began his crazy presidential run ten months ago. Trump not only passed the 50 percent threshold for the first time, he even made it to a crushing 60 percent of the vote. The New York tycoon left runner up John Kasich desperately clinging to a few delegates in Trump’s hometown of Manhattan, and he literally buried Ted Cruz in a distant third without a single delegate to his name. Cruz found out the hard way that one of the biggest “New York values” that he had scorned was getting even with its detractors: in one Westchester county, Cruz came in fourth, behind the long gone and nearly forgotten candidate Ben Carson.
Trump demolished his competitors across most demographic groups, but especially among males, those with high school diplomas and voters who described themselves as nothing less than “angry” at the federal government. It’s hard to decipher how the relatively few Jewish Republican votes were divided, but Trump may not have done too well with the tribe: Kasich was especially strong in moderate Jewish strongholds in Manhattan’s Upper East and Upper West sides, while Ted Cruz’s best performance of the night was in Hassidic stronghold Borough Park, where he garnered 55 percent of the vote.
The victory brought Trump to within striking distance of the coveted 1,237 delegate majority needed for his first-round nomination at the Republican Convention, but it did not guarantee his entry to the Promised Land just yet.
Trump is likely to do well in the five northeastern states, including Pennsylvania, that hold primaries next Tuesday, but the new Maginot Line of the #neverTrump crowd is Indiana, which votes on May 3. Without a clear cut victory in Indiana, even a victory in California on June 7 may not suffice for Trump to cross the 1,237 threshold: The big question now is whether his opponents will try to stop him even if Trump is only a few delegates short. After his impressive victory in the Empire State, Politico reported, Republicans are now saying for the first time that even a majority that falls a little bit short could suffice to make Trump their candidate.
Clinton’s situation is easier, even though the Democrats’ proportional allocation gave her only 30 or so delegates more than Sanders. But Clinton needs just a little over 40 per cent of the remaining delegates in order to secure a 2,383 majority, and the upcoming primaries will be held in states that are demographically similar to those in which she’s already done well. Sanders on the other hand will have to win no less than 71 percent of the remaining delegates, a mission that seems impossible to everyone involved, with the possible exception, it seems, of Sanders and his own campaign advisers.
This is now the main concern of Clintonites and other senior Democrats: that Sanders will fail to internalize the significance of his massive loss. The Vermont Senator invested more money, time and energy than anyone else in the state in which he was born, and until Tuesday afternoon seemed genuinely convinced that victory was within his grasp. After the results were published he flew home to Vermont to think things over, but his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, sent alarm bells ringing throughout the Democratic Party with an extraordinary interview with MSNBC.
Essentially, Weaver indicated that Sanders may never concede defeat and could very well keep on fighting even if Clinton wins both the battle for delegates and the popular vote. Weaver signaled that Sanders could very well try to convince the so-called uncommitted superdelegates to turn their backs on Clinton based on the dubious assumption that Sanders would do better against the Republicans in November. The scheme sounds delusional, but it does spark concern that an increasingly bitter Sanders could continue to attack Clinton, damaging her image in the process and creating the kind of resentment among his followers that could convince them to stay home in the November elections.
Sanders' main problem is that in New York he once again failed to crack the coalition that gives Clinton her bigger and more influential victories while allowing him to win in lesser battles for fewer delegates. Sanders did win an impressive 67 percent of the votes of people under 29, but he garnered only 39 percent of the female vote, 28 percent of those over 65 and 25 percent of African Americans. In most of the upcoming battlegrounds, especially those with a wealth of delegates, the demographics are similar to those of New York. In the contest for the grand prize in California, Sanders is also trailing Clinton by double digits.
Exit polls put the number of Jewish voters in the Democratic primaries at 12 percent but did not give any information last night on how many votes went to each of the two contenders. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the advance polls, which gave Clinton a 60-40 majority among Jews, were largely accurate. In New York’s 10th Congressional District, the “most Jewish” in America, Clinton won by a 66-34 margin. In Kings County, which includes much of Brooklyn, she won by a 60-40 margin. Clinton also picked up substantial support among ultra-Orthodox who are registered as Democrats but are likely to vote Republican in November.
It’s hard to tell if and how much influence Sanders’ remarks on the need for an “even-handed” U.S. policy in the Middle East may have had on Jewish voters, but the conflict may have nonetheless played a significant role in his defeat. Many trace the roots of Sanders’ emphatic loss to his rambling interview with the Daily News three weeks ago, in which he erroneously claimed that Israel had killed ten thousand Palestinians during the 2014 war in Gaza. Sanders’ mistake, along with other errors and miscalculations, raised concerns that his stamina and powers of concentration may be suffering from the rigorous campaign he’s waged. Together with the increasingly shrill invective he’s aimed at Clinton, it was this incident that may have ultimately sealed Sanders’ fate.
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