Only one nominee in the picture.

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Clinton Will Wrap It Up (Again)

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Sometime relatively early Tuesday night -- as soon as the first delegate allocations are determined -- Hillary Clinton will pass the finish line and emerge as the more-official Democratic presidential nominee. She needs only about 25 delegates, and given the party’s proportional allocation rules, she’ll get those even if the polls are wrong and she gets clobbered everywhere.

It isn’t the first or the last time she’s won or will win the 2016 nomination. I’m pretty sure she wrapped it up back last January, when Senator Elizabeth Warren -- the last serious threat -- finally made it clear she wasn’t running. For those squeamish (perhaps with good reason) about declaring a contest over before the voters have spoken, one could argue that she clinched in Iowa because the state should have been a good one for Bernie Sanders. Or in South Carolina, where she showed that black Democrats would overwhelmingly support her.

Or on Super Tuesday on March 1, when she took an overwhelming delegate lead. Or at the very least, on March 15, when she won big in Florida and Ohio and narrowly in three other states, proving her nationwide strength and making it virtually impossible for Sanders to recover in the delegate count.

Clinton has one jump remaining to make it official: the formal vote at the Democratic convention.

This hasn’t been a closely contested fight. After winning big in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands over the weekend, Clinton now leads by about 800 delegates. Yes, that includes superdelegates who have committed to her. It should: Whether one approves of that system or not, they are real, and they overwhelmingly support Clinton.

She’ll probably extend that lead on Tuesday. Even if she loses narrowly in California, where the polls give her a small lead, she’ll gain more by winning a lopsided victory in New Jersey (and in Washington D.C. next Tuesday, the final event) than Sanders will elsewhere. And then she’ll extend it further when most of the remaining neutral superdelegates declare for her soon after.

Yes, technically Sanders could persuade the supers to switch, but there’s no reason to expect that to happen. Clinton will have won far more votes and far more pledged delegates. And while Sanders continues to do a bit better than she does in head-to-head polls against Donald Trump, I suspect that virtually every super sincerely believes Clinton will be the stronger general-election candidate.

Sanders can talk about taking his fight to the convention in Philadelphia in July, but all this means in practical terms is that his convention speech will be about himself instead of an endorsement of Clinton. Clinton has already turned toward the general election, and that will be even easier after Tuesday. She’ll also almost certainly receive endorsements from Barack Obama and Joe Biden, along with a White House visit, soon after the primaries are over.

Sanders says he will fight on anyway. But we can discount that. All candidates claim they are in it until the very end until, well, they aren’t.

The incentives pushing candidates to drop out once they have no chance of winning the nomination are much weaker for protest candidates, and that’s what Sanders has been. He doesn’t have to worry about the party holding anything against him in a future run, since there probably won’t be a future run for the 74-year-old socialist. He doesn’t have to worry, as Clinton did in 2008, about being humiliated when his superdelegates desert him, because he has hardly any to begin with.

My guess all along has been that Sanders will prove to be a team player, and that he will either formally drop out after the primaries are over, or at least wind down his campaign and emphasize attacks on Trump before losing in Philadelphia. But it won’t matter if he keeps on fighting. After Clinton clinches the delegate count and with the primaries over, the news media will properly treat Clinton as the nominee, and Sanders isn’t going to capture very much attention.

  1. And, for that matter, a more reliable president for the party and its agenda. 

  2. Sanders can take fights over the platform to the convention. Even with Clinton firmly in charge, he may be able to force votes over some issues, and might win a few. But any such fights will be scheduled far from prime time, which, except for Sanderss own speech, will be reserved for the messages the Clinton campaign wants to send.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net