Wednesday, March 02, 2016

5 Thoughts on the Super Tuesday Primaries

Super Tuesday results are in, and where there's a primary, there's a five-thoughts that I need to be sending your way, so let's do this thing, shall we?

1. Hillary Clinton is the Nominee

We'll start out not with the Republicans, because they get enough of the press lately, but instead head into the Democratic territory of Clinton v. Sanders, and while Sanders did admirably (picking up four states, including Colorado which has a pretty high Latino population), he couldn't catch up with the former Secretary of State as she won the South in record numbers, beating Barack Obama's position with African-Americans in some cases.  That's an enormous advantage as Clinton goes into the next two weeks with states like Mississippi, Florida, and North Carolina all on the docket, and it is looking more and more likely that if Sanders can't lock up a large state like Michigan in the next week or so there will probably be calls for the Vermont senator to drop out of the race.  I don't really see that happening (Sanders always felt more like he was running a movement rather than a bid to be #45), but you can tell that Clinton is thinking this one is in the bag as she slowly pivots to Donald Trump on the stump and has all but given up on attacking Sanders, whose supporters she knows she'll soon need to lock-down and bring to her side in the general.  Clinton's position feels a lot like John Kerry at this point in 2004, and I suspect she might start trotting out major endorsements in the next two weeks from the likes of Obama, Biden, Reid, Pelosi, or Gore in hopes of pushing Sanders out of the race so that the money/support can start getting behind her candidacy exclusively.  Bernie probably won't listen (if the GOP side of things is any indication), but he probably should because the math simply doesn't work for him if he can't start finding a realistic path in the next fourteen days.

2. Donald Trump is Close to Being the Nominee

While Hillary Clinton had a major night last night (still nothing that felt as energetic as South Carolina, though), Donald Trump had the best evening of his short political career.  Trump dominated, winning seven states from across the country (his lack of a geographic deficit seems absolutely staggering).  While Cruz and Rubio both won states (Rubio won my beloved Minnesota, a likely historical footnote that is going to look really good for us, in my opinion, considering the alternatives) Trump is the only one that still seems on-track to hit 1237, especially as he continues to fight heartily for upcoming winner-take-all states like Florida.  While it's still hard to believe that Donald Trump is the actual nominee (half the time I keep thinking that he'll just randomly admit this was for a reality television show whose ratings were, admittedly, yuge), but if Trump were anyone other than Trump, looking at these numbers it'd be hard to see how you could convince the GOP that he shouldn't be the nominee.  Trump is very near where Mitt Romney was in 2012 at this point, and we had all basically assigned the Massachusetts governor as the inevitable nominee-it seems not that far-fetched to assume Trump should have that mantle as well.

3. The Contested Convention is Now the GOP's Only Alternative

For those still holding out hope that Donald Trump will not be the nominee, it's hard to pinpoint after last night whom it should be.  While Ted Cruz did well in his home state of Texas and Oklahoma, and set the bar pretty high for his opponents to win their respective home states, he got trounced in the rest of the South by Trump and the rest of the electoral map is pretty much anathema for the Texas senator-there's no real way he can get to 1237.  Increasingly this feels like the case for Marco Rubio, who will have to show off electoral moxie that doesn't seem possible both with John Kasich in the race grabbing critical support in Midwestern states as well as with his indeterminate amount of campaign skills, as he can't find the right tenor against Trump and Cruz.  And Kasich doesn't really have a path to victory, but wants to put Ohio and perhaps Michigan into his corner before he slides out of the race.  That means that the only potential option for the GOP is all three of them together, and so calls for anyone to get out of the race (even Ben Carson, whose supporters could almost all go to Trump or Cruz  or Donald Duck at this point...honestly-who is still voting for Ben Carson?) may be premature as the more splintering the better.  This isn't to say that if Trump goes into the convention with 1200 or so votes that he won't win-it's hard to imagine the GOP rebuking such a commanding margin, but it's the only thing they have left to cling toward.  It should be noted that if Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich, highly different politicians who likely can't hit a majority without all three of their bases of support, are sent to the convention and a nominee is selected it will surely not be any of them as the candidate, but a compromise like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney, but at this point the GOP establishment is looking for any solution they can get their hands on because...

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
4. The Democrats Are Starting the "GOP is Trump" Campaign

I kind of figured they'd wait a week or two, but with Trump having a commanding lead and Republicans who are soon to face primaries and a base in the general that won't want them to abandon their nominee, the Democrats have blue-state Republicans in a unique situation right now.  Witness Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is running a campaign against Sen. John McCain in Arizona, skewer McCain for saying he would support Trump "no matter what."  It's a wildly effective ad, and it's likely going to be one you see a lot of if Trump is the nominee.  While I doubt that anti-Trump Republicans that are otherwise Yellow Dogs won't split their ticket (it's easy to imagine, say, a lot of Clinton/McCain voters in 2016) it's also likely that we'll see a number of new independents, swing-vote moderates or people who don't want to support a man who is also supporting the guy they can't stand.  This is particularly damning in places like North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida, which have potentially close Senate races that have very large minority populations.  Considering Trump's rhetoric regarding immigration and David Duke, it's not hard to see the Democrats getting even more support for Clinton in African-American and Latino-American households than they did in 2012, which would be critical in states like these in terms of congressional races.  The DSCC and DCCC are likely trying to get a few last minute candidates into the race to take advantage of such a situation, and that appears to be working.  Witness a state like Iowa, where Sen. Chuck Grassley was once expected to cruise to reelection, but in the face of both a controversial bid to stop President Obama from appointing a Supreme Court nominee and (I suspect more so, though they aren't admitting it as much in public) the idea that Trump could weigh down even a senator as storied as Grassley, former Lt. Governor Patty Judge is now looking into the race and would be a top-tier candidate.  While the likes of Grassley won't go down without a fight, the more candidates the DSCC and DCCC get lined up now, the more likely it is that they could take advantage of a wave come November if Trump is in fact a Goldwater or a Mondale in the waiting.

5. Trump is a Wild Card

However, don't expect opportunity to make way for complacency, as the likes of someone like David Axelrod has gotten out and said that Democrats should not just assume that Trump will go quietly into the night, and it appears, based on her attacks last night, Hillary Clinton doesn't think so either.  It's worth noting that while Democrats are joyous over the idea of Trump's candidacy bringing them a huge amount of congressional seats, and Republicans are trying to find any loophole in order to stop him, there are still historical markers that favor the New York Republican.  After all, no non-incumbent Democrat has succeeded another Democrat since Martin van Buren, over 150 years ago.  Unpopularity for President Obama or a major reveal in the Clinton email scandal could be a huge hit for the Democrats' chances.  And Trump has proven stunningly teflon, time and again coming through scandals that would slay literally any other politician.  Admittedly I think that it will be different if he's up against Hillary Clinton, and quite frankly it feels like she's probably the only candidate who can stop him (anecdotally I have talked to multiple die-hard or luke-warm Republicans who have stated point-blank they couldn't cast a ballot for Trump and would either go Clinton, third party, or stay home on Election Day, and while I think a campaign can temper some of that, it feels like strong enough sentiment that Trump will have a disadvantage no Republican has faced since Goldwater), but Trump adds a voice that hasn't been seen before in a general election.  He will likely attack Clinton in ways unexpected and galling (going after Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs to the former Secretary of State's face is something surely Rubio and Jeb Bush would have skipped out on-it seems doubtful Trump will do so), and Clinton may struggle to get a foothold into something that will get under Trump's skin.  She's got the upper-hand, and Democrats should be nothing but giddy about the prospects of a wave when they by-all-pragmatism shouldn't be receiving one, but they shouldn't let hubris catch them napping.

Those are my thoughts on last night, a wonderful night for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, less so anyone else.  What are your thoughts?  Did you vote yesterday?  And does anyone else think all caucuses should be abolished in favor of primaries because they're idiotic?  If so, share your comments below!

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