Even as we in the commentariat dig into the entrails of Super Tuesday voting — for example, asking how many left-handed, 24-year-old Lutherans caucused in Minnesota and how they voted — we should not overlook the larger significance of this year’s pivotal moment.
We witnessed history in the making this Super Tuesday: For the first time in the American story, a woman nearly wrapped up the presidential nomination of a major political party, and on the other side, a total renegade came close to clinching the presidential nomination of the opposing party. Historians will long remember these days.
Bernie Sanders still has a mathematical possibility of wresting the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, of course, but her victories in seven states Tuesday has made his path incredibly steep. Sanders’ best reason for going forward in other states is not to win the crown but to gain ever greater influence for the Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.
The close parallels between Clinton’s victory speech and his on Tuesday night illustrated just how much he has already brought her in his direction; think now of how much bargaining power he may eventually exercise over the Democratic platform and convention.
But among most Democrats, the night truly belonged to Clinton. After a stumbling start to her campaign in Iowa and especially New Hampshire, she has won a series of stunningly large victories — by a dozen points or more — that are truly impressive. Win or lose in November, Clinton is now leaving footprints in the sand for generations of future women.
On the other side, Donald Trump on Super Tuesday won a series of convincing victories that have brought him closer to winning the nomination of his party than any business leader since Wendell Willkie. That was in 1940 when Willkie stormed the Republican convention; he went on to lose to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general but was well-remembered for the bipartisan help he gave to FDR as war came.
No business leader has captured the imagination of voters since. Mitt Romney was a CEO, too, but he won the GOP nomination in 2012 because he had been a successful governor, not because of his corporate experience. Indeed, his corporate leadership was a matter of controversy rather than strength.
Even Willkie was no Trump — he was chief of a utilities company, which is akin to running as an accountant. Trump is the exact opposite, gleefully breaking all conventionalities with his bombast, narcissism and seeming indifference to the intricacies of running a powerful, complex government.
Yet here is Trump with 10 victories in the first 15 states to vote. It remains hard to imagine him as the nominee of the Republican Party, but it is even harder to see who will beat him now. Historians may one day ask who has shaped the political landscape of America more: the first woman nominee of a party or the first celebrity CEO to seize the reins of a party.
Clinton and Trump haven’t won their crowns yet, but after Super Tuesday, they should certainly feel the weight of responsibility bearing down upon them. And one hopes that in their quiet moments, they are examining their souls and asking not only how they can make history — but more importantly, how they can bend its arc toward a better world.