By David M. Shribman
Executive Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With victories in a string of Eastern states, including the industrial-and-agrarian empire of Pennsylvania, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took giant steps toward their respective presidential nominations Tuesday night. They swept away most of the uncertainty surrounding their drives to their conventions, and they did so convincingly.
They're not all the way there yet, to be sure. Clinton has a commanding lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, but cannot afford to permit the 74-year-old unlikely avatar of the Democratic youth movement to regain the momentum he had only a fortnight ago. For his part, Trump must continue his relentless push, state by state, but especially in the next six days in Indiana, where Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas may be making his last, desperate stand.
The greater drama is in the Republican Party, roiled as it has been for 13 months by a rebellion in its ranks that, now that it is in full flower, has substantially altered those ranks, changing the very definition of what it is to be a Republican and what the party, once the guardian of stability and the repository of steady habits, stands for.
Indeed, Tuesday's results in this state and across the Eastern Seaboard underscored how the American political world has turned upside down -- even though all five states that voted Tuesday voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1992, when Clinton's husband first won the White House.
Wednesday morning, despite the continuing battle between the Sanders and Clinton loyalists, the party of stability is the Democratic Party, which only a generation ago was torn asunder by generational and cultural warfare; was suffering an identity crisis so severe it commissioned study after study to find its political gyroscope; and witnessed established political figures enduring pitiless critiques from outsiders who viewed the governing strictures and prevailing culture of the party as hopelessly outmoded and fatally corrupt.
Today that very description applies, syllable for syllable, to the Republican Party.
And, more startling still, those Democratic rebels -- make no mistake: Clinton was one of them, as anyone who witnessed or has read her Wellesley College commencement address will attest -- comprise something of an establishment of their own. Now "the Clintons" are as powerful a brand, as an important a factor in history, as "the Kennedys" and "the Bushes."
It is true that the major meaning of the Sanders campaign, along with an attack on the campaign-finance system and a withering critique of the wealth gap, was an assault on the party establishment. While the campaign still rages -- Sanders insists he'll continue to fight -- the bitterness between the two camps persists. But it is friendly fire compared with the ballistics within the Republican Party.
Indeed, in a victory statement in Philadelphia, Clinton said of her rival, "There's much more that unites us than divides us," and she cited a string of issues that were more in Sanders' palette than in hers, including the sins of Wall Street.
The Republican nomination is not a settled matter, yet, even if Trump said Tuesday night, "I consider myself the presumptive nominee."
Cruz and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio have undertaken an arranged marriage that is less one of convenience than of necessity. Its honeymoon lasted less than 24 hours, and so an alliance that looked as if it were a vote-diversion agreement -- Kasich would ask his supporters to back Cruz in Indiana, and the Texan would ask his legions to back Kasich in Oregon and New Mexico -- now looks like something different entirely. It is now more akin to a no-fly zone, with Cruz agreeing not to campaign in the Western states and Kasich agreeing not to campaign in Indiana.
In his victory speech Tuesday, Trump said, "The Republican Party needs something much different than that." He described the alliance as "a faulty deal that was defaulted on before it was even started."
The focus of the next week will be on two elements: the GOP party rules and the state of Indiana.
If nothing else, the struggle in Pennsylvania only intensified the importance of both those elements. Trump triumphed in this state, even sweeping the Philadelphia suburbs. And yet he came away with a paltry prize; more than two-thirds of the delegates distributed in this state will be unpledged -- the largest portion of any state to be so distributed. Trump is well positioned to claim many of those unpledged delegates, but the gap between that harvest and his big victory will only add fuel to his fiery commentary.
Now the campaign moves to Indiana, where the Trump forces face a more congenial set of circumstances.
If Trump wins Indiana overall and prevails in each of its congressional districts, he will win every one of the 57 delegates on offer. That's the kind of delegate-distribution scheme the Manhattan businessman believes should be applied nationwide.
Moreover, the unemployment rate is at about the national average, making the state fertile territory for his criticism of trade agreements, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement. The state has lost 113,000 manufacturing jobs since 1994, when NAFTA was implemented, and though all the job losses cannot be attributed to the trade agreement, unemployment remains a sensitive issue in the state.
Other important primaries remain, especially California's, which has a prize of 172 delegates. The GOP contest almost certainly will continue until that confrontation, on June 7, but if Trump continues at this pace he may end the primary and caucus season with the delegate total he needs -- or well within striking distance of the 1,237 required for the nomination.
(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1890). Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.)
Copyright 2016 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and WDRB Media. All rights reserved.