After the first of this year’s many “Super Tuesdays,” the cover of The Economist magazine featured a staring contest between a blue-faced Hillary Clinton and a red-faced Donald Trump—along with a declaration that “Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee; the man most likely to face her in November on the Republican ticket is Donald Trump.”
That was not quite right in the immediate aftermath of the March 1 “Super Tuesday” primaries and caucuses, when much of the media was angling to shut down unfinished races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. And it seemed even less right as ensuing contests gave victories to the candidates who were still seeking to displace Trump and Clinton—especially after Clinton’s insurgent challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, won an upset victory in the March 8 Michigan primary.
The results from the March 15 primaries in five delegate-rich states gave those who see a Clinton-Trump race as inevitable more material to work with.
Trump and Clinton had terrific nights, winning most of the contests on their respective sides of the ballots. Clinton won big in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, pulled narrowly ahead in her native Illinois, and was essentially tied with Sanders in Missouri—with 49.6 percent for Clinton to 49.4 for Sanders. Trump did just about as well, winning with ease in Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina, essentially tying in Missouri (with Texas Senator Ted Cruz), and losing to Governor John Kasich in Ohio.
But, while it is easier now to speculate about a Clinton-Trump contest, that race has not yet begun. The GOP establishment is still trying to trip up Trump, the Bernie Sanders insurgency will continue to challenge Clinton, and Democratic primaries and caucuses will see more upsets of expectations.
Translation: The 2016 primaries and caucuses on both sides of the partisan aisle have clear front-runners. Those front-runners are in stronger positions than before, and they are training their rhetorical fire on each other.
But the races are ongoing.
Republicans understand this; and there is still a good deal of talk about how best to prevent a Trump takeover. Democrats should also understand this; as the majority of the delegates who will decide the identity of the party’s nominee have yet to be chosen.
“Tomorrow, the political establishment will say once again that Bernie can’t win,” said Dan Cantor, the national director of the Working Families Party, which backs Sanders. “That’s nothing new. They’ve been singing that tune since before the primary even started. But every single week, Bernie’s support gets stronger and stronger. Tonight, Bernie’s North Carolina performance was 15 points better than his South Carolina performance last month, and 5 points better than his Virginia performance two weeks ago. This is a close race, and it will be contested in every state. The fact of the matter is that the first half of the primary schedule favored Clinton. The second half will favor Bernie. The only question is whether it will be enough. We intend to do everything we can to make sure it is.”