The answer to the question in the title is “yes.” For all but about two weeks of the past four years, she has been the inevitable 2016 Democratic nominee. For about a week after the Iowa caucuses, and three days after the Michigan primary, she was evitable, but these were outlying moments. The Hillary train has long been headed to the White House, and the bumps on the way haven’t really done that much to stop her.With a clean sweep of five states that contain about 20% of the country’s population, Clinton is virtually assured of the nomination. Sanders has a mathematical chance of winning, but it is not a big one. A lot of things that have never happened before would have to happen for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination—and they are an order of magnitude less probable than any of the things that have never happened before that have happened so far during the 2016 election cycle.
And Hillary’s five-state victory was not even the best thing that happened to her campaign yesterday. It is now clear that her general election opponent will be either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, with Trump the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination.
This is good news for Clinton generally. But even better for her is the fact that, in all-but-securing the nomination, Trump has yet to win a single state outright, with more than 50% of the Republican primary vote. The fact that John Kasich won in Ohio keeps him in the race and will continue to split the “Not Trump” vote into two camps.
In fact, so far, Trump has managed to carry only 37% of voters in Republican primaries. Only two other nominees in modern history have carried such a small percent of voters in their own party: George McGovern in 1972 (25%) and Walter Mondale in 1984 (38%).—the losers of the two most lopsided electoral landslides in the post-WWII Era.
We have every reason to believe that 2016 will be no different with Trump as the nominee. In exit poll last night, two out of three “Not Trump” voters indicated that they would vote for a third-party candidate in a Clinton-Trump contest. Trump may not even win his own party’s vote in November, but he will definitely energize Democrats and Independents to vote against him.
This does not mean that the road ahead for Clinton will lack bumps. Inevitability comes with its own set of political liabilities, including the danger of complacent supporters, the intense glare of the media spotlight, and the certainty of focused attacks of the other side. And it is always possible for inevitable candidates to lose. Just ask Thomas Dewey.
But these are good problems to have at this stage of the game. Inevitability doesn’t always produce victory, but it usually does. For one thing, it makes fundraising a lot easier, as the largest donors don’t give money to the person they want to win; they give it to the person they think will win so that that person will be in their debt. I predict that Clinton will have her best fundraising week ever over the next few days.
But the presidency is Hillary Clinton’s to lose. She has never been more inevitable than, after last night, she always was.