The New York presidential primary was the return of the inevitable.
For weeks the popular press narrative was that the races for the party nominations were getting close. Ted Cruz was mathematically gaining on Donald Trump on the Republican side, and Bernie Sanders was closing the gap with Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. However, the modern presidential primary process is not really a race; it’s more like the NBA playoffs. It will look close, and maybe the scrappy underdog team will win a game or two, but in the end, you know that LeBron is going to win the series, Steph Curry is going to hit critical shots and the finals are going to be the same folks we’ve been talking about all year.
In a similar vein, even after other candidates strung together a couple of victories, New York was that playoff reminder that the election is going to come down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The only question now is when do their challengers decide to sink their heads and walk off the court.
Trump won 89 out of a total 95 potential GOP delegates in the New York contest, with 60.4 percent of the overall vote among Republicans. That leaves him with 845 delegates and a huge lead over everyone else. John Kasich came in a distant second with 25.1 percent of the vote and a win of four delegates, while Ted “New York values” Cruz ended up with zero delegates. Hillary Clinton earned 59 percent of the New York Democratic primary vote and snagged 175 Democratic delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 106 delegates. So, who will drop out first? Here’s a sliding scale.
He’s a Goner
Bernie Sanders, despite a defiant tone all the way up until he lost, is the candidate most likely to drop out of the presidential race after Tuesday’s New York primary. Mind you, he won’t drop out because of New York, but in the end, New York will be viewed as the beginning of the end of his campaign. Sanders literally camped out in the state for weeks prior to the primary; he said (as a pro-Clinton group happily pointed out) that he’d win in New York 27 times in rallies and speeches. He talked fondly of his childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., met with local supporters like Erica Garner and did everything short of burning a Re2pect tattoo onto his forehead.
He hoped that an upset win in a diverse blue state would propel him forward to the mid-Atlantic-conference primaries next Tuesday and dispel the belief that his campaign could win only in relatively small, nondiverse states. The rest of the primary schedule isn’t very friendly to the Vermont senator either, and by most accounts, he’d have to win over 55 percent of the vote from here on out (including some huge blowout wins) to catch, and then beat, Clinton. Best guess, Sanders will hold out until the last primary in June out of respect for his supporters, but it’s possible that he’ll “suspend” his campaign before then.
Livin’ on a Prayer
John Kasich managed to scrounge out four delegates in the New York GOP primary, but he came in a dismal distant second to Trump and still hasn’t managed to win one state outside of his home state of Ohio. He has a total of 147 delegates, which is a pretty horrific showing. To put it into perspective, Marco Rubio quit the race a month ago and he still has 20 more delegates than Kasich has managed to land.
His plan of scoring with moderate New York Republicans never materialized, and not only does he have no numerical path to the nomination going forward, but he doesn’t even look like a viable contested-convention option. His inability to expand his victories to “Kasich friendly” moderate Republicans would make him a foolish choice even after the inevitable Cleveland convention fight. Best guess, his campaign will be “suspended” sometime in the middle of May. Kasich’s campaign is in the red, and there just isn’t enough super PAC money floating around this late in the game for him to campaign in California, let alone crisscross the country for another two months.
Ted Cruz is the least likely candidate to drop out after New York. Why? Because he didn’t actually care too much about winning the state. Once he realized that his “New York values” comment was a killer, the Cruz campaign began to focus on Pennsylvania, Maryland and the rest of the East Coast primaries next week. Cruz has convinced himself and many of his supporters that a backdoor campaign of getting delegates selected in states where Trump has already won a primary is his best way of beating Trump for the nomination, even if that’s the campaign equivalent of asking a woman out at her bachelorette party.
Cruz, however, has demonstrated that there’s really nothing he wouldn’t do to win the job, even if his own party and roughly 50 percent of GOP voters have routinely rejected him. His 559 delegates are impressive, but as long as Trump maintains his lead and Kasich is sucking away other voters, Cruz likely won’t win head-to-head outside of a miracle. Best guess? Cruz won’t be dropping out of the race unless some horrendous scandal forces him to. And even then, he might still hold out, at least until a few rounds of voting at the convention.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.