For all intents and purposes, Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday with a resounding double-digit win over Bernie Sanders in New York’s primary. From here on, the upcoming Democratic contests will have the air of a coronation procession for Clinton, and a death march for Sanders. The septuagenarian may continue to gripe about superdelegates, but his 280,000-vote loss in New York was a reminder that not everyone was feeling the Bern.
Up until now, Sanders drew rock star crowds as he raged against the machine. Two days before the primary, 28,000 people showed up in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to watch the candidate and to listen to Grizzly Bear. The Wednesday before, a crowd of 27,000 filled Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park for Sanders and Vampire Weekend. Who needed Coachella when you had Bernie, people asked.
But opening acts aren’t the same thing as organization, concerts aren’t elections, and grand gestures don’t necessarily make you a winner. As Clinton pointed out in her victory speech, “it’s not enough to diagnose problems. You have to explain how you actually solve the problems.” Left unsaid was Clinton’s hand in making the messes she was complaining about. But never mind, Clinton clearly conveyed the message that Sanders was not ready for prime time.
In hindsight, Sanders’ jetting to the Vatican just days before the primary looks like showboating, and his ill-prepared interview before the New York Daily News editorial board seems reminiscent of a stoner trying to ace a college biology exam. And Sanders paid for all of it.
On primary day, his appeal was limited to younger voters, single men, the very liberal, those with no religion, and rural New Yorkers—not exactly a winning coalition. In case anyone had forgotten, including Sanders himself, New York is not Vermont.
Clinton’s 16-point victory was impressive, as she came within a point of equaling her 2008 performance against Barack Obama in the New York Democratic primary, and this time it mattered. Clinton resoundingly won among men, women, and minorities, while battling to a draw among white voters. She had stitched together a viable coalition, and that’s what successful politicians do.
Yet, Sanders wasn’t the only casualty in the Democratic Primary. Yesterday marked the end of Clintonism, circa 1992; that is, the impulse to tack to the center while paying homage to law, order, and markets. To win, Clinton had to squirm away from the 1994 crime bill, and hoped the voters would forget about the fact that her husband left the campaign trail in 1992 as Arkansas governor to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a self-lobotomized cop killer.
The world had changed, and time had moved on. Instead of Bill trashing Sister Souljah, Hillary 2.0 paid homage to Rev. Al Sharpton, singing the tax-dodging and race-baiting Reverend’s praises all with little hope of snagging his pre-primary endorsement. But then again, Clinton, unlike Sanders, always knew it was all about the “W.” For Clinton, winning was everything.
The Jewish vote took a hit on Tuesday. According to the exit polls, Jews made up just 12 percent of the electorate. Religious “nones” now outnumbered Jewish voters by more than two to one. To put things in perspective, just eight years earlier the Jews cast 17 percent of Democratic ballots, while in 1980 the figure was 38 percent. The three “Is” of New York politics—Ireland, Israel and Italy—have been supplanted by hot sauce and Hamilton.
Policy-wise, Sanders chastised Israel and its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and met with little open resistance. Even so, Israel continued to matter, as Sanders failed to pick up Manhattan’s Upper West Side while being decimated in Brooklyn’s heavily Jewish neighborhoods.
Starting today, Sanders will no longer be calling the shots. Sure, he may continue to clamor for Clinton to release her speech transcripts, but those calls will continue to fall on deaf ears. Likewise, Sanders will likely take aim at Clinton’s trustworthiness deficit, but in the upcoming Democratic contests, that will make little difference.
The reality is that Sanders’s campaign has run its course, and it’s not just the Deep South that hasn’t gravitated toward him. Polls out of California, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all show Clinton holding comfortable if not insurmountable leads.
Last night, it was clear that Clinton had November on her mind. She turned her gaze and her guns on Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, lambasting them for their positions on abortion, the minimum wage, Muslims, and immigration, with the knowledge that most Sanders supporters will be in her corner come November. Susan Sarandon aside, Clinton is not hated by her own party, and that’s a very big deal.
According to the exit polls, 85 percent of New York Democrats said that they were prepared to vote for Clinton in the fall, and two-thirds indicated that they were either excited or optimistic about her being the Democratic standard bearer. In comparison, the Republican numbers looked like a prelude to civil war, a funeral, or all of the above.
Nearly a quarter of Republicans announced that they would not vote for Trump, while more than 40 percent said the same thing about Cruz. Meanwhile, a staggering 59 percent of New York Republicans said they were scared or concerned by the prospect of a Cruz candidacy. In other words, whoever emerges as the Republican nominee will have a tough road to travel.
To be sure, Clinton’s election is by no means inevitable. Most Americans find her dishonest, and she’s almost as unpopular with the public as Cruz. As for her oratory, Clinton’s speeches sound like a laundry list, and her listening audience often looks like it would rather be somewhere else. Passion and trust are not exactly her hallmark. But with Democrats coalescing behind her, and the Republicans poised for a bloodbath, Clinton remains the one to beat.
Lloyd Green was an alternate delegate to the 1988 Republican National Convention, opposition research counsel to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign, and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.