The Indiana primary has changed the race for president in ways nobody anticipated. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders comfortably beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and business mogul Donald Trump beat Ted Cruz so soundly that the Texas senator dropped out of the presidential race altogether. Now we’ll have to wait until June for the Trump-vs.-Clinton matchup to begin in earnest, which might actually be better for the country.
Cruz lost by almost 15 points in a state that was “demographically” friendly to him. His departure leaves Trump as the “presumptive” Republican nominee, according to a tweet by Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus. (Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who remains in the GOP race, doesn’t poll high enough to deserve pressure to drop out.)
Despite running against the deepest field of Republican candidates in 40 years, offending every single demographic that can vote and essentially figuring out the campaign process on the fly, Trump will be the standard-bearer for his party in the fall presidential elections.
While polls showed Clinton with a 5- to 7-point lead heading into Indiana, Sanders, determined to fight until the Democratic convention, didn’t back down. Sanders barnstormed through the state Clinton won in the 2008 primary, using his usual combination of mostly white, young voters and independents (who can vote in the open Indiana primary) to pull off another victory.
This doesn’t actually change the math all that much in the Democratic contest, but it does place an additional narrative burden on the Clinton campaign in the coming days. Most of the 24-hour-cable networks began noting Trump’s victory over 15 Republican rivals while Clinton still “struggles” to finally put Sanders down for the count. Of course, narrative isn’t votes or delegates, and Clinton still has a lead in both over Sanders.
Tuesday night’s results leave us with a few questions that may be answered in the coming weeks. First, will Cruz eventually come around to endorsing Trump as so many other former Republican candidates have, or will he sit on his hands for weeks? On Monday, Trump suggested that Cruz’s dad was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination. It’s hard to imagine that the Texas senator will just turn around and become a team guy.
Will Sanders be emboldened enough by his Indiana win to try to peel off superdelegates in order to have a contested convention with Clinton? Will Kasich become more aggressive toward Trump now that he’s the only other Republican left in the race? Will Carly Fiorina start writing her new political memoir, 6 Days a Vice President?
Given that the party primaries will all be over by June 7, we should know the answers to each of these questions in a little over a month.
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.