Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beware the Electoral Ides of March

Today marks perhaps the most important day of the presidential campaign since the South Carolina primaries.  When the Palmetto State cast its ballots a few weeks ago, it marked a sign that both the Republicans and Democrats had selected their favorites for the nomination (Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, after both had then grabbed three of the first four states), and that narrative hasn't really changed since then.  Yes, both Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have had moments of grandeur since then (Michigan, one of the slew of "Super Saturdays" where Cruz picked up a few extra states), but overall the narrative hasn't really changed since South Carolina, and there's a decent chance it won't be able to change after today.  After all, today is one of the biggest days of the campaign not just because it's the start of the winner-take-all contests nor because it features three of the biggest swing states in the country (North Carolina, Florida, Ohio), and two states that were recently enough swing states that one could make the argument they still feel that way to their electorate (Missouri, Illinois), but because it's perhaps the last day you can really reshape the narrative.  After today, though there are certainly oodles of prizes left for people to pick up (California, Pennsylvania, New York-oh my!), it's hard to see anyone emerging against a frontrunner in a way that won't feel like a cheat.

The reality is, at this point, Hillary Clinton has put herself in a unique position, not one she could have possibly anticipated a few months ago, where Bernie Sanders continues to look like a winner even if he isn't actually winning.  Sanders looks very strong for today's primaries, with Ohio, Missouri, and even Hillary Clinton's home state of Illinois all looking like real possibilities for the senator, but it still seems likely that the story of the season will continue, with Clinton nearly matching him in all three states, and then having essentially a blowout in the two Southern states, enough so that she actually continues to net gains in the delegate race.

Clinton, of course, doesn't want this because she'll have to endure weeks of conversation about how she can't win outside of the South, that she will have exhausted her options in the South after today (NC and FL being the last states of the former Confederacy left to vote), and that it's questionable whether or not she'll be able to resonate with major delegate jackpots that are still outstanding like Pennsylvania.  It would be a huge coup for her campaign to at least take one, if not two or three of the remaining races and it's worth noting that she actually has the aggregate lead in all five of today's races, but she's under-performed polls in non-Southern states for weeks now, and the polls have been heading in Sanders' direction for a few days now.

Today is also a day that I think the Democrats, at least the powers-that-be, are hoping that Clinton starts to shut this thing down.  It's never a good thing, as it turns out, to have a non-incumbent skate to the nomination, and while the Sanders candidacy and its surprise may have made Clinton more liberal than she probably wanted to be on select issues (it's going to make it harder to pivot to the middle as she heads to the general election), it made her more prepared for Trump and the Republican onslaught to come ahead.  Sanders proved to be formidable enough to make Clinton work toward the nomination, gain press against a black hole of a candidate in the form of Trump (can you imagine how little the media would be talking about the Democrats were it not for Bernie?), and that's become an invaluable asset to the DNC.  However, Clinton's approval ratings are not great, and it's clear she's going to become the nominee unless Sanders pulls off a miracle tonight (something along the lines of surprise double-digit victories in a couple of states), so she's got her best shot in the general election by scorching the earth for the Republican nominee.  The more time that Trump is the nominee, for all intents-and-purposes, and she isn't is time the RNC and Trump's vast hold on the media's attention will be glued to attacks on the former First Lady.  It's hard to sustain blows from both directions for very long without it starting to wear on public opinion.  The Democrats want Clinton to start expending all of her energy on Donald Trump.

Because on the Republican side, it seems very likely that the GOP is in a situation where it's do-or-die time.  The focus has largely been on the state of Ohio, where popular Governor John Kasich has staked most of campaign this cycle, and it seems likely will actually take down Trump and win the winner-take-all state, thus putting him in a tough position as the campaign progresses, even if Trump wins the remaining four states as the polls indicate he likely will do so.  This is a speed bump for Trump, and may be the key to a brokered convention (it seems pretty likely that Trump could avoid a brokered convention if he wins all five states today, but a miss in one is going to make the remaining contests that much more critical), but I still have trouble seeing how the GOP is able to take the White House if they don't go with the man who has the most delegates and votes headed into the convention.  The RNC can't rewrite the rules midway through the election just because their voters picked someone they didn't like-that's not how it works, and it could cause literal rioting if Trump has the plurality of the delegates but is denied the nomination.  And if today is any indication, that is bound to happen.

I'm not advocating for Trump, and I will admit that it petrifies me to no end that he is going to be a major party nominee and just be a few swing voters away from taking the White House (and the nuclear football), but we live in a democracy, and part of that is taking the good and the bad.  The moves by the Republican Party, whether they are to disingenuously advocate for multiple candidates in hopes of stopping Trump or to try and re-write the RNC rules or to talk about taking down Trump at the convention even if he gets the most votes-this is in bad form and should leave a very uncomfortable taste in your mouth.  Quite frankly, if there's anything good that comes out of the Trump onslaught, it's a hard look at the delegate process of states such as Colorado or Minnesota, where caucuses are deeply undemocratic and frequently they don't end up representing the will of the people.  Trump should be the nominee if he gets the most votes, just like his fate with the White House should rest on whether or not he gets the most votes.

So if you're in Illinois, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, or Ohio today and don't vote (and legally can), you should feel a deep sense of shame.  The rest of the world is watching, and so much is precipitated on what you and your fellow statesmen decide.  And if the polls are any indication, we may soon have the subway series that was anticipated eight years ago, albeit with a reality star filling in on the right.

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