For weeks, Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders talked up his chances of winning the state of California, netting some of the state's massive trove of delegates and keeping the pressure on the frontrunning Hillary Clinton campaign. But before the Golden State's Democratic voters actually weighed in on Tuesday, the Associated Press announced that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, having gained enough delegates and super delegates to clinch the nomination, and causing the floor to drop out on the Vermont senator's perception of momentum. So, what does presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton need to do now, as Sanders' hopes of winning the nomination have fallen by the wayside?
Update: Bernie Sanders' campaign has argued that the primary is not over, saying that the nominee will not be clear until July.
There's a conventional political wisdom that would suggest this is when a presumptive nominee would transition entirely towards general election campaigning, forgoing any illusion that they're still locked in a viable primary race to focus on the bigger, more crucial campaign ahead. But in this instance, you could definitely make a case for Clinton needing to pump the brakes just a little bit, because as the reality of Sanders' loss starts to dawn on the voters who've supported him for so many months, there's a chance for some volatility.
It's important to remember that at this time during the 2008 primaries, disaffected Clinton supporters were making just as much noise (if not more) about not supporting then-Senator Barack Obama in the general as Sanders supporters are about Clinton now. In other words, intra-party antipathy is nothing new — you might remember the PUMAs.
But at the same time, the disdain didn't evaporate magically — it was dispelled from the top, with Clinton endorsing Obama, campaigning with him, and making it plainly clear she wanted every one of her supporters to back him against Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
It's unclear whether that process will or could play out the same way nowadays, both because it's unclear if Sanders wants it to — even if he endorses her, there's no guarantee that he'd actively campaign for her — and because his core of support skews independent, they may be less prone to appeals to Democratic unity than Clinton's supporters were back in 2008. Regardless of what you might think of her, Sanders is right when he says that she's the preferred candidate of the Democratic establishment, and as such, she likely has a lot more longtime Democratic loyalists in her base than he does.
In short, it's a worthwhile effort to devote some time and attention to right now, because a robust progressive coalition turning out for Clinton in the fall would virtually assure her victory. For Trump to beat her in November would probably require the Obama coalition to decay considerably, as well as independent and centrist-minded voters to side with him against their actual policy interests or prior beliefs. Unlikely as that may be, it can only become more probable if there's a large group of animated, independent voters who feel alienated specifically by Clinton and the Democratic Party apparatus.
Obviously, that doesn't mean she should entirely ignore the day-to-day rigors of the general election, because Republican nominee Donald Trump definitely isn't sitting around waiting. But she's proven already that she can handle both sides of her current political situation at once, campaigning for the California primary with one hand, while delivering white-hot public dissections of Trump with the other. Assuming Trump's campaign continues to be such a clownish side-show, and she's able to keep dryly, effectively poking at him as time goes on, this could actually be a pivotal window of time to sort things out with Sanders and his people.