NEW YORK -- In one sense, Donald Trump merely held serve by mounting a blowout win in his home state of New York on Tuesday. But unlike in tennis, he’ll have the advantage in the next round of the Republican primaries, too.
The five Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that hold primary contests next Tuesday -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- all appear to be fertile ground for the Republican front-runner. Trump is thus poised to further turn the tide that had been prevailing against him before Tuesday’s New York win, boosting his chances of eventually picking up the 1,237 delegates required to clinch the GOP nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention in Cleveland in July.
Trump was exceeding expectations in New York on Tuesday night, easily topping the 50 percent threshold statewide, in what may be his most massive win of the campaign so far.
In his victory speech at Trump Tower in Manhattan, one of the only regions of the state where Trump was not running well ahead of his GOP opponents, he showed off the influence of Paul Manafort -- the newly hired, deeply experienced operative now managing Trump’s delegate allocation efforts.
Instead of referring in his usual manner to “Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” Trump called his top GOP opponent by his less-memorable official title of “Senator” -- a low bar for rhetorical civility, yes, but nonetheless a show of restraint and statesmanship by Trump’s standards.
“I really want to thank my team, my team is amazing,” Trump said. “It’s actually a team of unity, and it’s evolving.”
In conjunction with Cruz’s disappointing third-place showing, behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the night marked a defeat for the overall movement to deny Trump the nomination.
Cruz’s campaign sought to downplay the importance of a respectable showing in New York in the days leading up to the primary. Still, Cruz campaigned in the state vigorously, hoping to build on the string of victories he’d accumulated over the previous few weeks, highlighted by his big win in the April 5 Wisconsin primary.
It was all for naught.
In stark contrast to the run-and-gun approach to campaigning that brought Trump success in early primaries and caucuses, but also trouble from time to time, he ran a relatively disciplined campaign in New York, emphasizing his longstanding ties to the city and state and limiting his appearances in contentious TV interviews.
Cruz, on the other hand, appeared hamstrung by his pre-Iowa caucus attack on Trump for harboring “New York values.” The line appeared benign in the context of a Republican primary fight at a time when few people thought the New York primary would be meaningful. But it came back to haunt Cruz on this potentially pivotal day.
Kasich’s second-place showing in New York figures to provide the long-shot Ohioan with a small boost heading into the round of voting in East Coast states harboring relatively large swaths of moderate Republican voters. That dynamic, in turn, could throw another wrench into Cruz’s plans.
Looking ahead to May, however, Cruz does have opportunities to notch victories in the Midwest -- a region where he has done well thus far -- via the Indiana and Nebraska primaries.
But even so, Trump has his own delegate-rich targets on the last day of primary voting -- June 7 -- in New Jersey, a winner take all state, and in California, which allocates delegates by congressional district in a system that could see the ideologically nebulous New Yorker racking up big margins in some of the least- hospitable U.S. terrain for Republicans generally.
“We don’t have much of a race anymore,” Trump said in his victory speech Tuesday. “Based on what I’m seeing on television, Sen. Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated.”
It was wishful thinking. There is no scenario in which Trump will have the nomination locked up before the final day of voting. But after his massive win in New York, the chances that Trump will prevail in the end have increased substantially.