Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night after winning four state primaries, in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota, giving her a majority of elected delegates for the Democratic National Convention.
Clinton won the two largest states to vote June 7: California, the most populous state, and New Jersey, the 11th largest. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders narrowly won the Montana primary, as well as winning the North Dakota caucuses.
The size of Clinton’s victory in California far exceeded the two percentage point margin shown in polls leading up to the vote. This suggested that the intensive media campaign declaring Clinton the presumptive nominee, launched 24 hours before the polls opened, may have had the desired effect of depressing the Sanders vote.
Clinton’s victories in South Dakota and New Mexico, and the close contest in Montana, also suggested a significant decline in the vote for Sanders, who had been expected to win all three states.
Clinton declared victory in the overall contest for the Democratic nomination in a speech delivered just before the polls closed in California.
Her campaign set the tone of the speech with a video introduction that presented Clinton’s nomination as the culmination of nearly two centuries of struggle for women’s rights, going back to the first convention for women’s suffrage at Seneca Falls, New York. “Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone,” Clinton said. “The first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee.”
The New York Times set the tone for the exultation in the media over a Clinton nomination, writing in an editorial posted on its web site: “Mrs. Clinton’s name on the ballot in November would be another milestone in the quest for women’s rights, which, as she noted years ago, are human rights. This achievement is worth cheering by all, regardless of party, because it further opens the door to female leadership in every sphere."
This invocation of gender politics is modeled on the racial politics used to justify the Obama administration, with the claim that the policies of the first African-American president must be progressive, simply because of the race of the occupant of the White House.
In reality, Obama defended the interests of Wall Street just as fervently as his Republican predecessor Bush, bailing out the banks at the expense of the working class, and waging war around the world on behalf of American imperialism. Clinton served for the first four years of the Obama administration and would follow in its reactionary footsteps.
Clinton congratulated Sanders and his supporters on a “vigorous debate,” claiming to agree with the goals of raising incomes, reducing inequality and improving conditions for the poor and working people. But she went on to repeatedly extend an olive branch to Republicans and supporters of the candidates defeated by Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
She denounced Trump, claiming that his signature slogan, “Make America great again,” was “code for let’s take America backwards. Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some, not all.” In other words, she presented Trump’s appeal as a purely racial one, aimed at white men. She avoided any suggestion that the billionaire demagogue was able to gain a hearing because of the deteriorating economic conditions affecting all working people, regardless of race and gender.
In the most significant passage in her speech, Clinton declared, “This election is not, however, about the same old fights between Republicans and Democrats. This election is different. It really is about who we are as a nation.”
This is clearly to be the axis of the Clinton general election campaign: downplaying any critique of the right-wing Republican policies of budget austerity, tax cuts for the wealthy and militarism—which Clinton herself supports—in favor of an “anyone but Trump” scare campaign.
Sanders addressed his supporters late Tuesday night California time, as he prepared to fly back from the West Coast to his home in Burlington, Vermont. His campaign announced that he would travel on to Washington, DC Thursday for a campaign rally there and a meeting at the White House the same day with President Obama, “at Sanders’ request.”
Obama telephoned Sanders Sunday for a private conversation, which press reports suggested involved White House pressure for Sanders to acknowledge a Clinton victory quickly. It included the (stated or unstated) threat that Obama would make a formal endorsement of the former Secretary of State this week, ending his nominal neutrality in the nomination contest.
Also Tuesday night, the political crisis in the Republican Party came to a head over Trump’s incessant and openly racist attacks on the federal judge hearing the civil suit brought against Trump University by former students who claim that the real estate training program was a scam run for Trump’s personal profit.
Trump has blamed legal setbacks, including adverse rulings by Judge Gonzalo Curiel, on the fact that the Indiana-born judge was of Mexican ancestry. “He’s a Mexican,” Trump said in one interview. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
The racist vilification of the judge has provoked criticism of the Republican nominee within his own party, culminating in back-to-back statements by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, disavowing his comments. On Tuesday, Republican Senator Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois publicly withdrew his support for the presidential nominee, citing the attacks on Judge Curiel.
Trump gave a televised speech Tuesday night, ostensibly to thank voters in the Republican primaries held that day, all of which he won in the absence of any remaining opponents. Its real purpose was damage control. Earlier in the day, the Trump campaign released a brief statement claiming that his statements on Judge Curiel had been “misconstrued.” Trump did not refer to the affair in his speech, but his promises not to embarrass the party were clearly aimed at assuring party officials and candidates that he would avoid further controversies of that type.
The speech included an appeal to Sanders supporters, claiming shared opposition to “the terrible trade deals that Bernie was so vehemently against—and he’s right on that.” Trump also professed sympathy for “communities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, and Ohio, whose manufacturing jobs, literally, these jobs have virtually disappeared.”
While Clinton’s victory speech oozed complacency and promised to continue the supposed progress under the Obama administration, Trump presented the condition of the United States as disastrous. “We’re broke. We are $19 trillion in debt,” he said, “going quickly to $21 trillion. Our infrastructure is a disaster. Our schools are failing. Crime is rising. People are scared.”
He combined this indictment with a rant against immigrants, characterizing them as robbers and murderers. This echoed the infamous speech in which he announced his campaign a year ago, when he vilified Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. It sets the tone for an increasingly fascistic turn in the Republican Party.