The Republican Party has an undisputed nominee. The Democratic Party’s race will likely go to the convention. American politics is strange.
On Tuesday night, hours after calling the GOP front-runner a “pathological liar,” Ted Cruz ended his candidacy, honoring the Republican electorate’s right to sleep in the bed it’s made. Less than an hour later, Bernie Sanders was declared the winner in Indiana.
The victory is an impressive upset for the Sanders campaign. Every major poll showed Clinton winning the Hoosier State, albeit by single-digit margins. The pattern of returns — Clinton taking an early lead that steadily faded as vote counting progressed — suggests that the Democratic front-runner enjoyed a significant advantage in the early vote. The fact that Sanders was able to eclipse that on election day, despite losing over a hundred staffers (and any real shot of winning the nomination) this past week, is a testament to the strength of his support among liberal independents.
According to CNN’s exit poll, self-identified Democrats did rally around their front-runner tonight, backing Clinton 54 to 46 percent. But that wasn’t enough to compensate for Sanders’s 70 to 30 percent advantage among independents. Further aiding the socialist senator’s cause was an unusually young primary electorate, as 46 percent of the vote was cast by those 44 and younger — a demographic that broke for Sanders 68 to 32 percent.
The win will likely buoy the Sanders campaign’s sagging finances and ensure that his political revolution rages against the dying of the light from here to Philadelphia.
“I sense a great deal of momentum,” Sanders told reporters late Tuesday. “I sense some great victories coming and I think that while the path is narrow … I think we can pull off one of the great upsets in the history of the United States.”
At this point, that upset would either involve some terrible misfortune befalling Hillary Clinton or, far more improbably, Democratic superdelegates deciding to override the will of the party’s voters and throw the nomination to a democratic socialist, for electability’s sake.
The Indiana win is another remarkable achievement for Sanders and his movement. It also changes nothing fundamental about the Democratic race. Of the remaining contests, only the votes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Montana are open to independents. A single-digit win in Indiana’s open primary is further confirmation that Sanders is incapable of catching Clinton in pledged delegates — a feat that would require him to win landslides in every remaining state.
But Sanders’s Hoosier State triumph will likely grow the ranks of socialism-curious delegates in Philadelphia, thereby intensifying squabbles over platform positions and process reforms. It may also force Clinton to expend time and energy trying to prevent anything too narratively unpleasant from happening in California on June 7. And it’ll put a little damper in what is otherwise a very good night to be Hillary Clinton.