It’s going to be Hillary Clinton’s nomination. But it’s not going to be her party. It looks likely to be her election—but not so likely to be her government.
Tuesday’s vote in New York brings closer a high-risk outcome in November. A Trump nomination in Cleveland means large-scale Republican no-shows at the polls. In 1972, Democrats repelled by their party choice split their tickets, re-electing both Richard Nixon and a Democratic Congress. Ticket-splitting has become rarer since then. Disappointed partisans now stay home, and voters who stay home spread defeat all the way down the ticket.
Hillary Clinton, so often described as a weak candidate, may yet pull a handsome slew of wins into Congress behind her.
But those Democrats will know they owe their success not to the head of their ticket, but to the head of the other ticket. They won’t owe Clinton—and they will be keenly aware of the leftward surge of opinion inside their party that made Clinton’s nomination so arduous and protracted. Hillary Clinton has had to veer left on trade, crime, immigration, energy, charter schools, and tax increases to appease her party activist base. Won’t new Democratic senators feel they have to do the same? Won’t many want to? If Ted Strickland replaces Rob Portman in Ohio, if Russ Feingold defeats Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, if Mark Kirk and Kelly Ayotte and Pat Toomey go down—the emerging Senate will ratify Clinton’s tactical maneuvers in the campaign. And what if the House is lost to the GOP, too? That’s less likely, but not unimaginable.