While it made no headlines, California could be a big winner after the latest round of primaries.
With the recent lopsided victories for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in crucial Eastern states, things suddenly became more exciting for Californians whose voters must now be taken more seriously when the state holds its primary in June.
Though Sen. Bernie Sanders is giving Clinton a legitimate run for her money, he may already have been mathematically eliminated.
However, California could hold the key to whether Trump arrives at the GOP summer convention in Cleveland with the necessary majority to claim victory on the first ballot.
Even though Trump inches ever closer to the nomination, he could still fall short of the 1,237 delegates required to clinch which puts the Golden State in play.
To do so, even without California, he would have to win all the remaining primaries by at least 60%—a difficult task without help from the one remaining opponent with slim and fading prospects to obstruct his path–Sen. Ted Cruz.
Those prospects were dealt a serious blow with Cruz’s failure to win a single state in the latest go-around.
The core of Cruz’s support are the evangelicals who constitute a dwindling percentage of the remaining primary states including California and are far outnumbered by the millions of Trump supporters who seem to prefer his tougher message and more bellicose campaign style.
Notwithstanding Cruz’s premature claims that “this has become a two-man race,” disaffected conservatives could still turn to him in California if the Stop Trump movement can gain momentum here.
However California’s GOP is much more comfortable with likeable, less strident figures such as Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson. Neither Cruz nor Trump fit that description.
One factor could be the large number of Hispanics in the state who might otherwise find a fellow Hispanic appealing were it not for the extreme anti-immigration positions that both Cruz and Trump hold in common. These voters may already be lost to both men.
Still, in California’s closed Republican primary and with historically low voter turnouts in the Hispanic community where voter registration lags and Hispanics have more typically voted Democratic, their impact could be negligible.
Governor John Kasich by winning in his home state in crucial Ohio mainly guaranteed that a bitter floor fight at the July GOP convention is all but inevitable if it was not already.
Kasich has little chance of being nominated.
However the mild Ohioan who, to his credit, has steadfastly refused to get into the mud-slinging swamp with Trump, could be tapped as the Vice Presidential running mate able to best heal the party’s wounds while also hoping to secure that state’s critical electoral votes.
For those reasons he could also be acceptable to Trump whose quirkiness and irascibility may be replaced by a dose of pragmatism as the cost of making peace with the party.
Taking the low road did nothing to help Sen. Marco Rubio who is now vanquished after losing badly in his home state of Florida which devalues his potential as a ticket partner.
Of course this assumes that Trump will feel obliged to make any deals in the face of his party’s wholesale repudiation of his candidacy.
Trump continues to stoke the flames of rebellion by suggesting that rioting could occur if steps are taken to deny him the nomination— a specter that has to be very troubling and another card that he can confidently wield in light of the violence he has failed to discourage at his rallies.
The last time the nation witnessed such ugly disruptions was at the Democratic presidential convention in Chicago in 1968 that resulted in a rout of the Democrats by Richard Nixon.
However, putting a lid on Trump’s unrestrained conduct and hate-filled rants has proven ineffective despite the damage he is doing to his party’s cause.
If the GOP leaders remain adamant in their opposition to him and Trump ultimately makes good on his threat to launch a third party, getting the lion’s share of California’s 172 delegates could still be very meaningful were they to stick with him if he chooses to bolt.
On the other hand if Trump heads the GOP ticket it could jeopardize many Senate and House candidates who will be in deadly fear of having their names associated. Many incumbents who ran on the same ballot with President Obama found this out in 2008 when Democrats suffered their worst turnover of congressional seats in recent history.
The prospect of losing both the White House and possibly the Senate will create enormous pressures to find an alternative to Trump who has little reason to go quietly into that good night.
Such divisiveness can only be welcome news to Camp Hillary which most likely had devised no strategy to defeat a Trump candidacy when all this began.
Nevertheless, Sanders has raised issues in such a way that the Democrats will have to find an antidote to the doubts which he has succeeded in raising about the former first lady’s trustworthiness that has turned off many independents and young voters who have yet to feel the thrill of another Clinton administration.
Though few are likely to transfer their allegiance to an uncontrollable, morally bankrupt candidate, many of them could opt to sit on their hands as much in protest as for lack of enthusiasm.
Or they might be more frightened by the vision of a demagogue in the Oval office than by someone whose avowed leftist sympathies and coziness with the previous and current Establishment are considered suspect.
Regardless, if the general election contest produces the match-up most pundits and political observers are now expecting, a Clinton vs. Trump battle will not be pretty and the outcome either way is bound to send out reverberating shock waves that will be long lasting.