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Winners and losers in the Wisconsin primary

🕐 5 min read

The Wisconsin primary is in the books. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders won solid victories even while Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton remain the clear delegate leaders heading into New York’s primary on April 19.

Below are my winners and losers from Wisconsin.

– – –


– Bernie Sanders: Bernie Sanders is a 74-year-old, avowed socialist from Vermont. When he announced his presidential candidacy last year, no one – up to and including Bernie Sanders – thought he would win one state, much less the 15 he has now won. No, his win in Wisconsin won’t fundamentally alter Sanders’s delegate math problem; to solve that issue, Sanders needs to win big states by very big margins. But, Sanders’s ability to win – and keep winning – in head-to-head match-ups against Clinton means that he has and will continue to have a major voice within the party. What Sanders wants to do with that voice – whether in the two remaining months of the primary process or at the national convention this summer – is the key question he has to decide on. And that Clinton has to worry about.

– Ted Cruz: Give the Texas senator credit: When he needs to win, he wins. If Cruz had lost Wisconsin, pressure would have ramped up on him to bow to the political reality of Trump as the nominee. Now, he can make the case that Wisconsin fundamentally changed the trajectory of the 2016 race (I don’t buy it).

“Tonight is a turning point. It is a rallying cry,” Cruz says in Wisconsin

Cruz gets 18 delegates for winning the statewide vote in Wisconsin and if his margins hold up, he looks well positioned to take the lion’s share of the remaining 24 delegates, importantly keeping most of them from Trump. For Cruz, the rest of the primary calendar is all about two things: (1) Keeping Trump under the 1,237 delegates needed to formally clinch the nomination and (2) Positioning himself as the clear/only Trump alternative. Cruz took a big step in the right direction on both fronts on Tuesday night.

– New York: Not that the state – and especially New York City – need much ego-bolstering, but, holy cow, the next two weeks are going to put the Empire State in the political limelight. That will be something new-ish for New York since the presidential nominations are almost always foregone conclusions before they get to the state. But the Clinton-Sanders fight to lay claim to the title of New York’s favorite Democrat will be epic. And Trump’s attempt to reassert himself as the likely GOP nominee in the state where he has made his name and his fortune should be great theater too. Take it away, Billy!

– Charlie Sykes: Outside of Wisconsin, almost no one had heard of Sykes two weeks ago. But, after his pointed interview with Trump, Sykes suddenly became a known national commodity. (He was doing a sitdown with Chris Matthews on MSNBC on Tuesday night!) Good on you, Charlie!

– Political junkies: An open Republican convention is more likely today than it was yesterday. I – and every other political junkie – never thought we would see one (in either party) in our lifetime. Now, it looks like a 50-50 proposition (or maybe even a bit better). This is me, when thinking of the idea of covering an open convention in Cleveland this summer:


– Donald Trump: Polling done in February showed the real estate mogul with a comfortable lead. He lost convincingly on Tuesday to Cruz. Why? Self-inflicted errors – from being totally unprepared for an interview with Sykes to his fumbling of questions about his stance on abortion. Want a stat that epitomizes Trump’s problems in Wisconsin? More than one in three (35 percent) of Wisconsin Republicans said that the prospect of a Trump presidency “scared” them.

There’s no other way to put it: Trump blew a chance in Wisconsin to take a major symbolic step toward the Republican nomination. The next two weeks will now be filled with questions of whether or not Trump’s hold on the nomination is slipping – not exactly the best run-up to the New York primary. Trump remains a favorite in the Empire State primary – and in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states set to vote in the coming month – but if he comes up short of the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the nominee, Wisconsin will count as a major regret for the billionaire.

– Hillary Clinton: Yes, the former secretary of state has a commanding – and close to insurmountable – delegate lead over Sanders. Even after Wisconsin. And, yes, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Sanders passes Clinton in pledged delegates (never mind her massive superdelegate edge).

BUT (all caps intentional!) Clinton has now lost seven of the last eight votes in this race to Sanders. That’s a remarkable thing when you consider everything I wrote above. Everyone expects – and has long expected – Clinton to be the nominee. The delegate math is close to conclusive for Clinton. And yet, Sanders not only keeps winning but for the third straight month the Vermont socialist outraised Clinton. New York becomes even more important for Clinton now as, if she loses it, the “she’s limping to the nomination” storyline will take over, which is very dangerous to her attempts at building momentum for the general election.

– John Kasich: Remember when Kasich’s claim to relevance in this presidential race was that he was the Republican who could win in the industrial Midwest? The Ohio governor never even got into the conversation in Wisconsin, remarkable given that Cruz isn’t an obvious fit for the state. Kasich will keep on running – he and his campaign have made that abundantly clear over the last 48 hours. And that is obviously his right. But, how do you make a case that you should be the nominee if/when the only state you won in the presidential nomination fight is the one you currently represent?

– Primary night speeches: No Clinton or Trump speeches on a primary night? Color me disappointed. If I need to stay up until all hours to cover these votes, the least the remaining five candidates can do is throw me a bone and give a victory/defeat speech. Come on, man. What are we even doing out there, man?

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