The good news for Donald Trump continued Tuesday night. He’s closer to the nomination. But he’s not there yet.
Trump was long expected to win in the primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island, so pulling off that sweep wasn’t anything special. But across all five states, Trump’s margins were large, well over 50 percent everywhere. He’ll wind up with more delegates than he was projected to get; Nate Silver, at the political website FiveThirtyEight, says Trump “basically made up all the ground he lost in WI and CO.”
It’s also encouraging for him. Trump right now leads the polls in Indiana and California, the two key states remaining. Until last week in New York, however, Trump usually underperformed his early polling numbers; once the full campaign showed in each state, his opponents generally took most or all of the undecided vote, and sometimes some of his. But that’s not what happened in New York, or (overall) in the five states Tuesday night. Perhaps it’s only a regional effect, but it’s at least a bit of evidence that Trump may do as well or better than he’s currently polling.
That said: Unless he beats current projections elsewhere, Trump still needs to do well in Indiana and California in order to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination. If he falls short, then he’s still going to need to pick up support from the small number of unbound delegates.
I’m hearing plenty of pundits talk about how Trump’s sweep Tuesday and last week will make that easy. Trump himself said as much in his press conference: How can the party oppose a candidate winning by so much?
But remember: A Trump who doesn’t get to 1,237 after the final primaries on June 7 won’t be the triumphant one emerging from today’s contests. He’ll be the candidate who fell short, having lost in several states over the final weeks.
Nor am I convinced that current polling in which Republicans believe the delegate leader should become the nominee will matter much. That’s still perhaps an abstract question, but after June 7 the question will be only whether to nominate Trump or not. And again, that wouldn’t be the triumphant dominant Trump, but one who fell short. It’s hard to predict what effect that would have on the polls.
The other thing to watch for, in addition to Indiana on May 3, will be whether the Republican Party begins to rally behind him. After some success in February and March, including three governor endorsements in the last month, only one Republican in the House of Representatives has endorsed him. No senators. It’s really been an impressive showing of anti-Trump sentiment against the normal inclination to climb on the bandwagon. We’ll see whether that changes now — or after Indiana if Trump does well there. The answer will tell us whether Trump has any chance to unify the bulk of the party at all. And that will tell us whether Trump will be a very weak general election candidate, or a historically awful one.