The primary election cycle is a death by a thousand cuts. The latest slice will come Tuesday night when the polls close in New York. There is a tendency to imagine the boy who cried wolf when you hear how this next primary “will be do or die for Candidate X” after having been sold that same line when Michigan, Ohio, and various Southern states voted earlier this year. As critical as New York’s outcome will prove this Tuesday, it takes nothing away from the previous battlegrounds. Each outcome has reset the game board and offered new parameters that these hopeful remaining five combatants will have to navigate to reach the end.
Ted Cruz effectively ended his campaign when he uttered his infamous “New York values” comment at a prior debate. This line will be etched upon his career’s gravestone. This is his Dukakis tank, his Kerry swift boat, his Biden plagiarism. For a man with all the charm of a greased ferret, this may be a blessing in disguise considering the rising contingent of people who believe, with tongue firmly in cheek, that he is the Zodiac Killer. All this to say, he’s done. New York is going to bury him, running a distant third behind Kasich. Trump will win in a landslide in his home state and act like this was a mandate and not obligatory of every candidate. Well, every candidate with exception of Marco Rubio who was crushed in his home state of Florida. Even Kasich could hold onto Ohio.
And while we’re on the subject… I’m beginning to think this is all just an elaborate Make a Wish fulfillment for John Kasich. He needs 133% of remaining delegates to get the nomination. I’ll let you math scholars crunch those figures. Like the mousy, yet good-natured, girl-next-door troupe from romantic comedies, he expects that America will comes to their senses in the third act of the film and realize he was the one we were looking for all along. But America knows what it likes and it’s got the hots for the sleazy rich debutant with lots of hair, piles of make-up and a filthy mouth. In a word, Trump.
If the GOP decides to “lose with Cruz” despite knowing that either Clinton or Sanders will run the table on him, it will be a desperate attempt to salvage down-ticket Senate and House seats. In doing this, they run the risk of alienating and losing at least one third of their base if they humble Trump in July and deny the popular vote. Looking at the problem in reverse with Trump as the nominee is no better an option, as he carries with him a well-earned 70% unfavorable polling throughout the nation.
The frontrunner on the Democratic side is not particularly popular either. While Hillary Clinton has always struggled with appearing personable with audiences, part of it stems from an inherent misogynistic double-standard. If she is forceful, she is considered a shrieking harpy. If she is strong on defense, she is a neo-con. If she takes a more patient and meditative tone, she is too soft. If she is winning, she is cheating. If she is successful, she is corrupt. These qualities are not all-or-nothing binary options, nothing ever is. Clinton resides in a gray middle ground, but that’s the point. So do all humans, yes, even Holy Sanders. While I support always holding leaders to increasingly higher moral bars, I am reluctant to allow Bernie Sanders to be the gatekeeper of what is and isn’t acceptable.
It was glaringly obvious at the last debate in New York that Sanders is not comfortable outside of issues regarding finances, hence his rabid, dismissive and petulant demeanor throughout. If he cannot make the case that Clinton’s finances are a deal breaker then his goose is cooked. And it is cooked of his own recipe. He has doggedly chased after her on the issue of corruption, insinuating at a near McCarthy level of guilty until proven innocent, that her paid speeches would influence her governing. When pressed to cite a single example, Sanders balked. When you get asked to put up or shut up and you can’t produce, people don’t forget. New York will prove this Brooklyn native’s Waterloo.
And like Waterloo, it is a foregone conclusion. The Sanders camp is already cushioning the blow, stating that bringing the race within single digits would be a galvanizing moral victory. Unfortunately, moral victories do not net delegates. Sanders has taken the pulpit after both wins and losses claiming that “we have the momentum going forward”. Momentum may carry an object through freefall but it does not bring you to a finish line without complimentary victories, no matter how many Millennials flood your Facebook wall with affectionate memes.
Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic strategist, put it in blunt terms. “He can get young people and liberal whites,” he conceded of Sanders, “but the question is, how many?” This has been Sanders’s silent dilemma throughout the campaign. He all but wrote off the Southern vote, as they had him, and touted victories in caucus-heavy Caucasian-friendly states like Minnesota, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Maine, where the voting demographic is predominately white. This is not to diminish his victories or the import of the aforementioned states. His is a potent and wildly popular campaign with an ambitious and admirable agenda but a New York loss will prove that he does not have the legs to run the distance across a diverse playing field.
But then again, I did pick Marco Rubio to be the frontrunner when this whole began so I have been wrong before…