This Tuesday marked the unofficial end of the 2016 primary season. Ladies and gentleman, barring some unexpected turn of events the fall matchup for President of the United States will be between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Here’s what else we learned from the April 26 primaries and what it means moving forward:
1. #NeverTrump is #NeverMore
The biggest problem with the “Stop Trump” or “Never Trump” movement was that it had an antagonist but no protagonist. Lots of Republicans may dislike Trump, but they were never given a reason or a rationale to support anyone else. At the end of the day, voters want to be for something. They never got that chance.
2. Trump’s got the momentum, even if the math remains tricky.
Is it possible that Trump ends the primary season short of 1,237? Yes, but it won’t be by many delegates. Moreover, the more he wins, the harder it’s going to be for his opponents to argue that he doesn’t “deserve” the nomination because he didn’t win the majority of pledged delegates. While lots of smarty-pants number crunchers are making the case for how/why Cruz can win on a second or third ballot, most voters have already wrapped their heads around the fact that Trump will be the nominee. That is only going to grow stronger, not weaker as we move forward.
3. The Northeast Corridor was supposed to be “establishment” country.
It’s one thing for Trump to win his home state of New York by 61 percent. It’s another thing for him to CRUSH his opponents up and down I-95. These are the states where nice, safe, moderate establishment candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney win. It’s not where a firebrand with unorthodox policy positions and an even more unconventional campaign style should win. Trump’s success in these blue states should also put to rest any idea that Kasich has ANY shot at winning anything in Cleveland. Kasich lost Montgomery Country, Maryland and Greenwich, Connecticut to Trump. If he can’t win in these establishment strongholds, he’s not winning anywhere.
4. Can Trump and Clinton unify their parties?
Watching the two candidates last night, it’s clear that Clinton is doing all she can to pivot to November, while Trump is still stuck fighting for the GOP nomination. Both, however, have got serious work to do post-primary to heal the rifts and strains created by these tough primary contests. Clinton, as I wrote last week, is finishing the primary season in worse shape than when she started. Polling taken last June by NBC/Wall Street Journal found her with an overall net positive rating among all voters of +4 (44 percent positive to 40 percent negative) and a +77 score among Democrats (84 percent positive to 7 percent negative). The most recent April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, however, had her overall approval ratings deep underwater at -24 (32 percent positive to 56 percent negative), and her ratings among Democrats dropped as well from +77 to +46. Among all Sanders voters, she’s at -1 (40 to 41 percent).
This suggests that Clinton will have some work to do to get Sanders supporters on board the Clinton train this fall. How and when Sanders helps with this is also going to be critically important.
However, the rift on the GOP side is deeper and more complicated for Trump to heal. While 78 percent of Democrats said they could “see themselves supporting” Clinton for President, just 61 percent of Republicans feel similarly about Trump. Among all Republicans, 36 percent said they’d be “dissatisfied” if Trump is the nominee - including 27 percent who said they’d be very dissatisfied. Among Democrats, 27 percent said they’d be dissatisfied with Clinton. Most of the anti-Trump sentiment is concentrated among Kasich voters (73 dissatisfied), college educated GOPers (55 percent dissatisfied) and those in higher income bracket (43 percent dissatisfied). This is why Trump’s attack last night on Hillary for playing the “woman card” is a misguided strategy that only plays into his weaknesses. Talk to GOP strategists, even those who are not Trump fans, and they’ll tell you that Clinton has serious problems with women voters - especially in key swing states. But, her path to victory is going to come in - and from - suburban voters - those who are college educated, higher income and more socially moderate. These are the voters already wary of Trump. Attacking Hillary as a “woman” who is only winning because of her gender is not the way to win them back.