Wednesday, March 09, 2016

5 Thoughts on Last Night's Primaries

All right, Mississippi and Michigan have spoken (oh, and Idaho and Hawaii Republicans, though in the latter's case isn't that like nine people?), and I have yet another series of thoughts on how last night's primaries went-who's up, who's down, and who needs to seriously consider getting out of the race?  Let's check in, shall we?

1. Donald on the Rebound

You would have been forgiven if you, in the past week, had thought our long national nightmare was over.  Donald Trump had done poorly on Saturday (it's not Super Saturday-let's not keep renaming random primary days, okay, or at least let's find some new adjectives), and his debate performance coupled with asides about Mussolini, the KKK, and penis size all made him seem roughly as presidential as Bevers on Broad City.  However, there is no denying that last night was a huge victory for the New York magnate.  He won three-out-of-four states (Cruz took Idaho, for those who went to bed by then), and scored major gains in the delegate math.  While he still has a long way to go, he's up in Ohio and Florida, has started to gain major endorsements (I assume literally every powerbroker in the GOP is calling Gov. Rick Scott 24/7 to beg him not to endorse before next week's primary), and his biggest rival on the campaign trail, Ted Cruz, has theoretically already had all of his best states (in the South) pass, with Trump looking better and better in places like New York and California as the map continues.  A contested convention is still in the cards, but honestly-if Trump goes into the convention with a sizable lead, it's hard to imagine the GOP denying him the nomination without inciting a revolt.

2. Ted Cruz Stays Relevant

Ted Cruz is in a position no one could have expected at this point a year ago-the establishment of the GOP, of whom he has a made a repeated mockery of, are now rallying to his side in a last bid hope to take down Trump.  Cruz is in a powerful position if we're discussing a contested convention.  He has enough delegates, or at least is on track to have enough delegates, that he'll be in second (likely not first because Trump seems to be on a steamroll to that spot) but not third (Kasich or Rubio will probably be there), which means that he has enormous leverage against the Republicans were they to try and get a different candidate than Trump at the front.  That pledge he made to support the nominee no-matter-what is looking awfully key here now-Cruz could conceivably say to the establishment that he won't accept anything other than himself as the nominee, and if they try to balk and pick, say, a Paul Ryan, he could threaten to run as Trump's VP.  Cruz is publicly stating that he'd back the frontrunner headed into the Convention, but he's a smart man who realizes that he'll never make it this far again-if there's a shot at the nomination, no matter whom he has to go through or what deals he needs to make, he'll take it.  And at this rate in the primaries, there's little reason to suggest he won't be in a pretty strong position for the next few months.

3. Marco Rubio Needs to Get Out

We'll finish up the trio of thoughts on Republicans and get to the Democrats in a second, but before we go there this was one of the worst nights of Marco Rubio's life, and he's had a lot of them in the past few weeks.  Rubio looks on-track to have won exactly zero delegates last night.  Admittedly, no one was expecting Rubio to take a state like Michigan, but his campaign cannot be precipitated solely on the idea he'll win his home state, because at this point it looks like he won't (Trump is up by double digits, and Cruz, smelling opportunity and seeing the gains he could make by being one-on-one with Trump, likely is going to try and take as many votes from Rubio as is possible in the next few days in the Sunshine State).  Even if Rubio pulled the miracle and won Florida-where does he go from there?  His campaign is dead, the establishment is abandoning him, and unlike John Kasich, he can't claim that his best states are ahead of him (plus, Kasich at least has polls showing he could actually win his home state).

Rubio needs to start thinking about his future, quite frankly.  Look at someone like John Edwards, who was also a first-term senator who decided to forego a run for a second term and made a once championed bid for the presidency.  Edwards ended up becoming largely a footnote, and while I hope that Rubio doesn't enter a Rielle Hunter situation, it's likely he won't even have the advantages afforded to Edwards (where he won his home state and ended up the VP nominee, thus giving himself a decent chance four years later).  Rubio is very young still at only 44, but he's giving up his seat at the table later this year since he isn't running for reelection (something that his rival Ted Cruz doesn't have to worry about), and as a result could risk irrelevancy.  Losing his home state, particularly to someone as bombastic as Donald Trump, could put in jeopardy a run in 2018 for the open gubernatorial mansion or the potentially open Senate seat of Bill Nelson.  Rubio needs to realize he's not going to be president or vice president in 2016-does he ever want to be?  If the answer is yes, he needs to drop out now.

4. Michigan Feels the Bern

It's worth noting, as the Clinton Camp trumpeted repeatedly this morning, that their candidate won more delegates last night than Sen. Sanders.  They will continue to point out that they have more of the popular vote, superdelegates, overall delegate count and that next Tuesday's primaries in North Carolina and Florida have over 300 delegates between them up-for-grabs and Clinton is expected to win the lot of them.  However, the point of the game is winning perceptions, and the perception last night was that Clinton was the loser after being expected to win in Michigan.  This is a major state, the largest one in terms of population that Sanders has won, and showed a few wounds in Clinton's veneer.  Her margin here is the smallest it's been in terms of African-American voters (she still won by 30-points, but nowhere near the landslides she was taking down Sanders by in the South), and I feel like a pivot toward votes on trade is not going to be her strength (free trade is just unpopular with everyone in America right now, regardless of party).  Make no mistake-Clinton wanted this win badly, and she missed, perhaps outright loss she truly expected in her column that didn't materialize.  It also doesn't bode well for her that after next week North Carolina and Florida pose the end of Clinton's Southern run.  While it's likely that she'll have a few strong electoral pockets left (she should do well in places like California, New York, and New Jersey, all of which have pretty sizable delegate counts), she needs a different strategy than just to run up the margins in the South while virtually tying everywhere else-it's going to look bad if Trump ends up taking his nomination before her, which seems increasingly likely to happen.

5. What Happens Next

Next week is crucial (if you're in one of the states voting, it's your civic obligation to get out and vote).  In the Republican Primary, it's quite obvious what's at stake: winner-take-all states.  While much has been made about Ohio and Florida (both home states of Trump's rivals and a combined basket of 165 votes), it's also worth noting that winner-take-all contests in Illinois (69 delegates) and Missouri (52 delegates) are also taking place, and polls show Trump up in all four states.  If he can run the board with all of them, it becomes near impossible to see anyone else taking the nomination, including Cruz.  On the flip side, while Hillary Clinton isn't going to have to worry about losing any of the states entirely next week, if she can't take at least one of Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio, the phrase "regional candidate" is going to be thrown around a lot.  Admittedly, Clinton's in a stronger position than Bernie Sanders is, and in many ways this is a weird reversal of what happened in 2008 where Clinton is now on top but Sanders quite be deterred, but with Pennsylvania, California, and New York still to come she has to prove that she can compete well in states that aren't below the Mason Dixon.

There you have it folks-Sanders, Trump, and Cruz all gained last night, but it does still look like a Trump/Clinton subway election at this point.  Share your predictions for next week in the comments!

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