By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate
In the crucial primaries of both political parties last week on Tuesday, the Manhattan magnate Donald J. Trump seized back control of the Republican presidential race in a commanding triumph. He claimed most of the 95 delegates at stake, adding significantly to his current lead over Senator Cruz of Texas and enhancing considerably his prospects of winning the Republican nomination. Cruz went empty-handed, while Governor John Kasich of Ohio, the third candidate, was lucky to come away with a few delegates. All things considered, a miserable performance by Trump’s rivals. In his victory speech, Trump was restrained and focused, and seemed a different candidate – more ‘presidential’. He focused on trade and the economy, as he prepares to campaign in states struggling hard in the manufacturing industry. His new persona seems to be the result of the influence of his new adviser and consultant Paul Manafort.
However, Trump still has a steep climb to clinch the Republican (GOP/Grand Old Party) nomination before the national convention in Cleveland. Senator Ted Cruz’s task has become unsurmountable. He must win 100 % of the remaining delegates to get to 1,237 on the first ballot. That leaves Trump the only candidate with a realistic chance to wrap up the nomination before the convention this summer. But getting there will be difficult undertaking, and one that leaves little room for error. He is expected to do well on the northeastern seaboard, but could stumble or held in later contests in states like Montana and Oregon. Cruz himself insists that the party is headed to a contested convention. One thing is clear – the Republican Party is in a divisive state. In a bizarre and desperate move, Cruz and Kasich have now agreed to coordinate in future primary contests in a last-ditch effort to deny Trump the nomination before the convention. Each candidate would stand aside in certain states, Thus, the Cruz campaign would: “focus its time and resources in Indiana and in turn clear the path for Governor Kasich to compete in Oregon and New Mexico.”
On the Democratic side, former N.Y. Senator Hillary Clinton dealt her rival Senator Bernie Sanders of neighbouring Vermont a powerful punch with an unexpectedly strong win that led her to declare that the Democratic nomination was “in sight”. Sanders was expecting a breakthrough to stop Clinton from surging ahead, but that was exactly what happened. Her decisive victory ended a string of victories – seven out of eight – by Sanders, stopped his momentum and added more delegates than even her campaign had expected. She was slated to win about 30 more delegates than Sanders, out of 247 at stake. She already has a lead of more than 200 pledged delegates in the race. She had exceptionally strong support from African-American and Hispanic voters. Beaming broadly throughout her speech extending thanks for the favorable result, she postulated: “The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight,” considering the enormous mathematical advantage she has in delegates.
The Sanders campaign had hoped that beating Clinton on her home turf would be a golden opportunity “to damage her candidacy and sow doubts about her strength as a general-election nominee” (INYT). Fortunately for her, and unfortunately for Sanders, although his support base as usual was stronger among white males and people under 45, Clinton was dominant among women and Afro-Americans – the two groups that have been her mainstay in many state primaries. The establishment is concerned about Sanders’ very negative attitude in attacking Clinton and dividing the party. Sanders himself is very upbeat and hopes to do well in the five primaries this week (all five states in the northeastern Atlantic seaboard, neighbouring New York) : “we think we have a path to victory.” His campaign will have to dramatically overcome the magnitude of the N.Y. loss – both in the popular vote and in delegates – this Tuesday in Pennsylvania (poll before the N.Y. primary had Clinton leading Sanders 52 % to 39 %), as well as in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The two other states voting this week, Delaware and Maryland, are widely seen as Clinton bastions. The Sanders campaign already has a strong presence in these five states and also Indiana which votes on May 3. In these states, it hopes to make good the loss in N.Y. It remains to be seen whether this emerges as a mirage.
For many political pundits, the Democratic race is virtually already run. The larger question is what are Bernie Sanders’ motives and intentions. In the view of most observers, what Sanders has achieved till date is nothing short of extraordinary. From being a little-known senator from a small state, he is now challenging Hillary Clinton, a person that Gallop called in 2014: “the best known and best liked of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates.” His aura of authenticity has energized millions of young people who have been frustrated and exhausted by institutions and establishments. He has “tapped into a very real populist sentiment of the left.” At the same time, according to NYT columnist, Charles M. Blow: “Clinton’s commanding victory in New York on Tuesday put yet another nail in the coffin of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy”, and “he is (thus) on track to lose the pledged delegate race and therefore the nomination.” At this momentum, Blow’s damning opinion is crystal clear: “Clinton will finish this nomination cycle having won more votes, more states and more pledged delegates than Sanders”. In addition, Clinton has already won six of the nine ‘swing’ states that are crucial in the general election.
Considering all these immutable facts in Clinton’s favor, it would be unforeseen and unimaginable for the Sanders’ campaign to take the fight to the convention and attempt to overturn super-delegates, who overwhelmingly support Clinton, and succeed in this way. This would be tantamount to asking the Democratic establishment to nullify the will of the majority of participants in the nominating process which is akin to direct democracy. It would also be against Sanders’ own principles of taking the high road and demonstrate a thirst for naked political power, throwing caution to the winds. There are indications that the Sanders’ campaign is losing sight of reality and are too readily swayed by his impressive rallies that do not always translate into electoral success. He has a duty to the millions of young people who have put their trust and faith in him, and when the bubble of a possible election bursts, his allegiance to his adopted Democratic Party will also hang in the balance.
Trump has now (perhaps belatedly) recognized the need to bring together a team of professionals to manage his campaign instead of his personal ad hoc approach. The longtime Republican strategist and lobbyist Paul Manafort has already started building bridges to the establishment and there is no longer talk of a “crooked” nominating process. Trump is, therefore, not only beginning to start a more professional phase of his campaign, but is also working to smooth out the negative aspects of his persona. But the offer of an olive branch to the party leadership and a personality turnover may be too little too late. The Trump campaign seems now to pursue a double (if impossible) strategy – denouncing publicly a “corrupt” primary process, while at the same time, privately placating party stalwarts of his true intentions. This “inside-outside” campaign also has the dubious characteristic of distinguishing between negative traits in Trump’s ‘personality’ (which can be allegedly fixed), and the weakness of Clinton’s ‘character’ (which is supposedly irreparable). It is doubtful whether the Republican establishment, or more importantly, the American electorate will accept such psychological mumbo jumbo.
U.S. Presidential Elections 2016 XII After New York: Democratic & Republican Frontrunners Surge Ahead
By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate