Marty Wilson, a Republican political consultant, was at a poolside reception at a GOP gathering in Burlingame over the weekend, analyzing paths forward for Ted Cruz and John Kasich in California. He offered one major caution.
If Donald Trump wins the Indiana primary, Wilson said, “This may be an academic argument.”
On Tuesday, Trump’s overwhelming victory in the Hoosier state – and Cruz’s withdrawal from the race – made it all but certain that California voters will not play a pivotal role in the GOP presidential primary.
Following Cruz’s announcement, Wilson said, “I think we’d have to say that the effort against Trump is on life support.”
The New York businessman will still need to pick up delegates on the final day of voting in five states that include California to amass the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination. But with Cruz out of the way, Trump appeared to have a clear path to that number.
“The California presidential primary is flat on its back,” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. “Back to irrelevancy.”
The California presidential primary is flat on its back. Back to irrelevancy.
Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson.
Whalen said it would be “very difficult for (Trump) to blow it at this point.”
The result in Indiana soaked hopes for a decisive June 7 primary in California, the first in decades. That possibility materialized for Republicans when Trump lost to Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Kasich’s home state in March, and it carried through to the California state party’s convention in Burlingame over the weekend.
Cruz, speaking at the convention on Saturday, said California would decide the primary election, and he promised a “battle on the ground, district by district by district” throughout the state.
On Tuesday, as the U.S. senator from Texas dropped out of the race, he told supporters, “Together, we left it all on the field in Indiana … We gave it everything we got. But the voters chose another path.”
Kasich, who was running a distant third behind Trump and Cruz, said he will remain in the race.
Kasich strategist John Weaver said on Twitter, “until someone has 1237 bound delegates there is no presumptive nominee. CA here we come.”
Rob Stutzman, a political consultant working on an anti-Trump campaign in California, said the effort will proceed despite Cruz’s departure. Kasich, though badly trailing Cruz and Trump in California, was expected to compete in the San Francisco Bay Area and other relatively moderate coastal areas.
“Four weeks is a long time (for Trump) to not slip up,” Stutzman said. “So we’re going to proceed, and we’re going to be ready in case there’s an opportunity for voters to understand they can still reverse the course of it.”
After Tuesday, however, it was unclear who would fund such a campaign.
It was fun while it lasted.
Marty Wilson, Republican political consultant
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter that Trump “will be the presumptive nominee” and that “we all need to unite and focus on defeating” Hillary Clinton.
For California, it was yet another blow.
The last time California’s June election played a decisive role in a presidential primary was in 1972, when the state went for George McGovern as the Democratic nominee.
Grease was hitting Broadway, Pong debuted and the Watergate was about to unfold.
On the Democratic side this year, Hillary Clinton is almost certain to be the nominee. Still, Bernie Sanders’ victory in Indiana on Tuesday promised to throw more energy into his already fervent base of support.
“I wear my ‘Bernie’ button as I walk around town. I walk into any café, I get hugs from strangers: ‘Oh, Bernie. Feel the Bern!’” Jeanie Keltner, a retired English professor at California State University, Sacramento, said Monday. “It’s quite remarkable.”
The 78-year-old Democrat called the election “an amazing happening in my lifetime.”
“It chokes me up, actually,” she said.
For Republicans, the wait has been even longer, going back to when Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller battled here in 1964.
Four years ago, Mitt Romney became the presumptive nominee nearly two months before Californians voted. The race in 2008 was more competitive, when the state moved its primary up to February. But in voting earlier, the state’s significance was unclear. Hillary Clinton, despite carrying California, did not win the nomination that year. On the Republican side, John McCain did.
This year, California’s flirtation with relevancy had been building for weeks.
Trump, Cruz and Kasich all addressed delegates at the state convention, which drew national attention. Trump was planning to open offices throughout the state, and the Cruz campaign was touting an organization it had been developing in California since last year.
Even if the race had reached California, however, Trump had opened a wide lead among likely Republican voters in the state.
With Cruz bowing out, Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant in Sacramento, offered a reality check for the state: “It’s over. It was over a week ago.”
Said Wilson: “It was fun while it lasted.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:20 p.m. Wednesday to clarify the timing of the Watergate scandal.