Wednesday, March 2, 2016

State of the Race: Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday is in the books. What happened and where do the two parties stand on the way to the White House? Republicans handed Donald Trump wins in blood red states like Alabama and Arkansas and deep blue states like Vermont and Massachusetts. He also won Virginia, which is a swing state in the general election, along with several other contests. Ted Cruz triumphed in his home state of Texas, next door neighbor Oklahoma, and the lightly contested Alaska caucus. Marco Rubio finally got on the board with a win in Minnesota, but had a string of third-place finishes except a strong showing in Virginia, where he placed second. No one is dropping out and there are winner-take-all primaries in Ohio and Florida in two weeks. 

In the last week or so, the full weight of whatever is left of the Republican establishment has coalesced around the idea that Donald Trump must be stopped at all costs. The only problem is that the party itself - the actual voters who are going out and casting ballots - disagree. It is not a small thing that Trump is winning contests across the board. He is not, like Ted Cruz, a seemingly regional candidate nor is he someone who is only garnering support from a small segment of the electorate, like Marco Rubio. Any other front-runner who was getting the votes of conservatives and moderates, the rich and poor, in regions throughout the country, would be spoken of as the presumptive nominee, but Trump is no ordinary candidate. His comments and statements are considered poison by Republican elites and they fear he will lead them to electoral disaster. 

If there is a silver lining, albeit a slim one, for those in the Dump Trump orbit, it is that Trump did not sweep Super Tuesday, as some predicted. There may be just enough of a gap in his support to deny him the nomination outright, but the idea that his supporters will accept having the nomination go to someone else is as unlikely as Trump himself accepting such a result. Then again, the next two weeks will be critical - every resource remaining will be deployed to beat Trump in Ohio, Florida, or both. At the same time, Trump will need to put real time, energy (and money) into combating this strategy. If he is successful, he wins the nomination. If he is not, get ready for every political reporters wet dream - a contested part convention.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton swept the south by huge margins and narrowly won in Massachusetts. Bernie Sanders won in his home state of Vermont and took caucus wins in Colorado, Minnesota and a primary win in Oklahoma. Mrs. Clinton won the majority of delegates awarded, but Sanders collected a nice haul as well. He has the money and desire to continue the race even as his path to ultimate victory appears to be nearly shut. Hillary Clinton has amassed an insurmountable lead over Bernie Sanders when her pledged super delegates are factored in, but because the states apportion delegates to the convention proportionally, it is unlikely she can win the nomination based on the primaries and caucuses alone but Sanders cannot catch her either. He can stay in the race and continue accumulating delegates but will fall well short of victory. He is in the same position Secretary Clinton was in back in 2008 and while he has every right to continue his campaign until the end (as she did), he has lost. Were Sanders a member in good standing of the Democratic party, he might be open to a discussion with party elders about bowing out gracefully, content with the knowledge that his presence in the race has brought the issues he cares about to the fore, but he is not and has no stake in the party, which he has simply rented for the purpose of running for President. 

Of course, this did not hurt the Democrats in 2008. While Hillary and President Obama competed until the end, she pivoted quickly and gave the then-Senator a full-throated endorsement and campaigned aggressively for him throughout the general election. Will the same be true of Sanders? Again, were he a card-carrying member of the party, I would feel more sanguine, but the reality is that he is not and he owes no loyalty to the Democrats to advance his career. At best, he has one more election in 2018 for another six-year term in the Senate which he should win easily regardless of how he handles his loss for the nomination. If anything, he could become a nuisance and not an ally if a hypothetical President Clinton is not sufficiently progressive on the issues that matter most to him. 

For Republicans, their options are a Trump nomination or using party rules to deny him that honor. Either way, the party will be deeply split and weak going into the general election. For Democrats, it is simply a question of how Sanders wants to lose - with dignity and class, or swinging, bleeding Clinton of money and resources she will need to win in November. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 


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