There are a lot of ways to interpret the latest round of primaries and caucuses Tuesday night. Every candidate got at least one victory. Well, every candidate except poor John Kasich.
The Republicans now take a two-week break before their next primary contest, in Wisconsin, so anxious observers will have to live with these results as the “state of the race” for a while. So let’s try and figure out what happened.
Trump had a decidedly OK night. It wasn’t "yuge" or "tremendous" or "really incredible." It was just fine.
Trump captured the winner-take-all state of Arizona, where the Republican Party politics were basically tailor-made for his immigrant-bashing style. That means he gets all the Grand Canyon State’s 59 delegates, and now has about 60% of what he needs to clinch the nomination.
Not bad, right? Unfortunately for Trump, his performance was much less impressive in the night’s other big GOP contest: Utah. For the first time in the Republican presidential nominating contests, Trump looks poised to come in dead last once all the votes are counted. He will not receive a single delegate from the Beehive State.
Why did Trump do so poorly in Utah? Well, as Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins pointed out last week heading into the primary, Mormon voters really don’t like Trump. In addition, supporters of his chief opponent there, Ted Cruz, took advantage of the state’s prudish politics to run a relatively nasty, slut-shaming campaign against Trump’s wife, former model Melania Trump.
For his part, instead of defending his wife’s career choices and autonomy, Trump responded by threatening to “spill the beans” about Cruz’s own wife.
Classy guy, that Donald Trump. He finished the night with a wider delegate lead, but still not enough to forestall the possibility of a contested GOP convention.
If Trump’s night was just OK, Cruz’s night was pretty good. He passed a critical threshold in the Utah caucuses that effectively made the state a winner-take-all contest. He will receive all 40 of Utah’s delegates. In addition, the anti-establishment senator woke up to the news that he now has the endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Hey, remember that guy?
Unfortunately for Cruz, he trails Trump in delegates by even more than he did before. Not great for the candidate whose stated plan is to try to beat Trump before the convention. In addition, Cruz now faces a primary calendar full of Midwestern and Northeastern states that are less inclined to vote for his brand of conservatism.
I guess John Kasich is fine? I don’t know, whatever, he’s clearly just going to stick around and make us all talk about him for a while. Something, something, contested convention, establishment’s last hope, electability, Republicans can’t win without Ohio. Happy, John?
Sanders also had a decidedly mixed night. The candidate continued his streak of dropping states outside the Rust Belt with large minority populations, losing Arizona to Hillary Clinton by almost 20 points. The good news: He won the Idaho and Utah caucuses by almost 50 points each. Those are some of his best margins since his home state of Vermont gave him 86% of the vote.
His win was, once again, bolstered by young supporters. Voters in one small Idaho college town told Fusion that the lines were so long to get into the caucus, Democratic Party officials actually let people vote by "proxy"—having someone else vote for them so not everyone had to crowd in. This is good news for Sanders, who will now turn his attention to similar caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington State this weekend.
Clinton did well enough in Arizona to make sure that the lead she has over Sanders will stay more or less the same once all the delegates are awarded. And she remains the favorite to win the nomination. But her chances of locking it up early look slim. Four of the next five contests on the Democratic side are caucuses, which tend to favor Sanders. What’s more, the one non-caucus state on the list is Wisconsin, a Midwestern state with a strong union culture and socialist history, all good signs for Sanders. It may not be until the New York primary on April 19 that Clinton gets to start increasing her delegate lead again, while her opponent continues to rake in enough cash to keep his outsider campaign alive.