By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Here is another post full of “hot takes” on yesterday’s primary results. For the Republicans, I’m doing to look at the demise of Rubio (such a shame), and then at the remaining three candidates (Trump, Cruz, and Kasich) and the prospect of a brokered convention. For the Democrats, Florida and North Carolina being Clinton blowouts, I’m going to look only at the results in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, which might have been expected to be yield Michigan-style results for Sanders, but did not, though Illinois and Missouri were far, far closer than should be the case when the incumbent is virtually loved and the favorite is a stellar campaigner.
After losing his home state to Trump by twenty points, Little Marco dropped out. Nothing in his campaign became him like the leaving it; he gave a heartfelt speech (interrupted by a Trump heckler). What had not, it seems, been reported on is the dysfunction in the Rubio campaign, of which Politico gives a vivid retrospective:
Rubio’s strategy was always an inside straight—overly reliant on a candidate’s ability to dominate free national media in order to outperform, outwit and eventually outlast a wide field of rivals. It was sketched out by an inner circle of advisers who believed they could eschew the very fundamentals of presidential campaigning because they had a candidate who transcended.
That’s exactly what happened in 2016; it just turned out Rubio wasn’t the one transcending.
So while other campaigns touted “shock and awe” fundraising networks and precise, psychographic analytics and voter targeting operations, Rubio’s tight-knit group of mostly 40-something bros believed wholeheartedly that they didn’t need a specific early-state win. They didn’t need a particular political base. They didn’t need to talk process. They didn’t need a ground game. They didn’t need to be the immediate front-runner.
All they needed was Marco.
The campaign spared no expense in setting up events to be television-friendly. There were invariably press risers, tidy backdrops and television lighting to portray Rubio, quite literally, in the best imaginable light.
But one of the things [campaign manager Terry Sullivan] seemed least interested in was field offices. The campaign would force volunteers and supporters to pay for their own yard signs, posters and bumper stickers.
Rubio seemed to agree. In August, he was due to open his Iowa state headquarters the morning after flipping pork chops at the state fair, but he bailed at the last minute. The reason: heading back to Florida for his children’s start of school. The grand opening would be delayed for 10 days, and it would occur without Rubio. He wouldn’t announce a state director to run operations in the crucial caucuses for another month.
Pardon the length of the quote, but my goodness! The schadenfreude! What’s interesting is that Rubio’s demise also signals the demise of the Republican “reboot” that was supposed to happen after Romney’s loss to Obama in 2012:
Since Mitt Romney’s devastating loss in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee and leading voices at think tanks, editorial boards and Capitol Hill symposiums have charted a path back to the White House based on inclusive rhetoric and a focus on middle-class issues.
Nobody embodied that vision better than Rubio, a charismatic standard-bearer for conservative orthodoxy who readily embraced the proposals of the right’s elite thinkers. The senator from Florida spoke urgently and eloquently about raising stagnant wages and eradicating poverty. He had an immigrant’s tale to match the rhetoric. And on foreign affairs, he was a passionate defender of the GOP’s hawkish tilt.
“The right’s elite thinkers.” Sad! Let’s move on.
Mr. Trump Goes To Cleveland
Here are the Republican results in tabular form from the Wall Street Journal:
As you can see, Trump almost swept the board; Kasich won Ohio, and Cruz won enough not to have to drop out. The issue is whether Trump reach the magic number of 1237 delegates, or whether the convention will be “contested” and end up brokered in a “smoke-filled room” full of Republican establishment types. (To be fair, Lincoln came into the 1860 convention trailing, and left, the nominee.) Note that the only establishment Republican left in the race is Kasich (rhymes with “basic”), the weakest. Vanity Fair:
If the threat level of Trump is the first thing to consider—and it remains difficult to estimate, with much of the press devoted to a pre-set narrative—the second thing to think through is what happens if Republicans take Douthat’s advice to come together at the convention this summer to deprive Trump of the nomination.
It’s not necessarily a recipe for war. If Trump were to slip into second or third place for the last couple of months of the race, winning only 1,000 of the 1,237 delegates required, then a contested convention would probably feel legitimate, as would a non-Trump outcome. On the other hand, if he finished up with the required number of delegates, or close to it, an anti-Trump heist would mean mayhem. Technically, all sorts of maneuvers exist to deprive Trump of the nomination, and wonks can read the amazing Sasha Issenberg piece that lays them out. Politically, though, a brazen anti-Trump heist would be close to impossible.
(Newsweek has a good outline of the convention process.) In this connection, it’s worth noting that Kasich, after gloriously winning his own state, hired staff with contested convention skills. The Columbus Dispatch:
The Kasich team already is laying the groundwork to win a strenuously contested convention when Republicans gather about 15 miles from the site of his victory celebration. Tuesday night they announced the hiring of a quartet of nationally known operatives, including two who worked on opposite sides in the last contested GOP convention in 1976.
“The rules committee will be all powerful,” said Kasich’s top campaign strategist, John Weaver. That’s a 112-member panel chosen later this year by each state delegation that can decide, for example, how many ballots delegates must remained pledged to to support “their” candidate — if any.
Kasich will bid for the top spot even though he might remain behind both Trump and Cruz in the delegate count.
“This (a brokered convention) happened eight times before in American history, and six times the people who had the most delegates didn’t win their party’s nomination,” Weaver said.
“The grassroots delegates, activists, party leaders will make a decision about who the nominee is.”
Meanwhile, Trump says “We’d have riots.” And Paul Ryan just opened the door to being a compromise nominee by refusing to make a Sherman statement. Pass the popcorn.
Clinton vs. Sanders
Here are the Democratic results in tabular form from the Wall Street Journal. These are not winner-take-all-states; delegates are allocated proportionally. So winning a state is a nice-to-have; winning delegates is have-to-have.
First, I’ll look briefly at the campaign results in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, in that order. I’ll use local sources, and you’ll note that Illinois and Missouri are a lot less triumphalist than the national press. You’ll also see that each race was different! Then, I’ll present county maps for each of these three states. Next, I’ll look at the exit polls. Finally, I’ll look at where the Sanders campaign goes from here.
A summary of the results in Ohio, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Hillary Clinton dominates Bernie Sanders in Ohio from Lake Erie to the Ohio River (map)
The 56 percent of the vote she picked up bettered her performance eight years ago, when she defeated Barack Obama in Ohio, 54 percent to 45 percent.
Clinton’s strongest showings were in three of the larger counties in the state. She picked up 64 percent of the vote in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), 60 percent in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and 59 percent in Montgomery County (Dayton).
Sanders ran strongest in Athens County, home to Ohio University. Sanders won 61 percent of the vote there.
Sanders also did well in four smaller northwest Ohio counties, including Wood County, home to Bowling Green State University. Sanders won 54 percent of the Wood County vote.
And from the Cleveland Patch:
Polls showed Sanders, hoping to ride a wave of discontent over the loss of manufacturing jobs that once gave Ohio one of the strongest economies in the nation, was narrowing in on Hillary Clinton’s lead as voting began Tuesday. Forecasts predicted a margin of less than 20% between Clinton and Sanders in the state.
In the end, Clinton won by 13 points, which isn’t 20. But still.
Illinois, from the Chicago Tribune:
Clinton ekes out win over Sanders in Illinois
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton pulled out a narrow win Tuesday night as she held off a late surge by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to secure a hard-fought victory in the state where she grew up.
Sanders’ quick close on Clinton in Illinois mirrored his surprise come-from-behind victory in Michigan.
A Chicago Tribune poll conducted March 2-6 showed Clinton with a sizable lead, 67 percent to Sanders’ 25 percent. But in the final days leading up to Tuesday, national polls showed the race tightening, and exit polls for major cable news and TV networks showed late-deciding voters in Illinois breaking for Sanders over Clinton.
So in Illinois, Clinton blew another lead. And from the Springfield Daily Herald:
Clinton squeaks past Sanders
Park Ridge native Hillary Clinton’s campaign was dealt a bit of a psychological blow Tuesday as her projected victory over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came down to the wire in her home state.
Despite Clinton’s strong campaign organization, deep pockets and wide array of party leaders among her supporters, a growing sense of frustration with the party establishment helped Sanders pick up votes.
Clinton took early leads in suburban Cook and Lake counties. Sanders, meanwhile, had a strong showing in DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Will counties. He also exceeded expectations in Chicago, where he worked in recent days to erode Clinton’s stronghold of black voters’ support by tying her to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Finally, let’s look at Missouri. From the St. Charles Patch:
UPDATE: Hillary Clinton With Razor-Thin Victory Over Bernie Sanders In Missouri Primary
With all precincts reporting, Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by less than one-half of 1 percent, or 1,531 votes, the office reported. A recount is possible.
In the latest state poll, conducted by Fort Hayes State University, Clinton was in a statistical dead heat with her Democratic rival Sanders, who pulled off a stunning victory in Michigan last week.
So if the polls are to be believed, in Ohio Sanders had a modest surge, in Illinois he had a major surge, and in Missouri the race was tied. In Ohio, Sanders lost the state badly. In Missouri and Illinois, he almost pulled off the upset. Why?
For one answer to that question, let’s look at the county maps. (One of the nice things about this election is that there’s a lot of data, neatly presented. That doesn’t compensate for the shrinking quantity of local coverage, though.) Here they are:
And I did say “let’s look,” because I simply don’t know these states well enough. What I am hoping, readers, is that some of you will know Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri well enough to make some educated guesses about why some counties voted for Sanders, and some for Clinton.
For a second answer to this question, we can look to the exit polls (I used CNN’s). Most of the data is as we would expect: Sanders wins (most) youth, Clinton wins (most) blacks, and so on. However, when we look at income, here’s what we see:
For Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio:
Constrast New Hampshire and Michigan:
Do you see the difference? In New Hampshire and Michigan, Sanders is winning the bottom of the income scale. But in Illinois and Ohio, the pattern is reversed, and in Missouri it’s weakened; Sanders skews to the top of the income scale. Obviously, if I were Sanders, I’d find that concerning; a working class advocate not winning votes in the working class? Bad!
I’m not sure why this pattern would be happening, but I can guess that Clinton’s message of lowered expectations is taking hold. As Gaius Publius recently wrote at NC:
Why do neo-liberal Democrats, like the Clinton campaign, not want you to have big ideas, like single-payer health care? Because having big ideas is resistance to the bipartisan consensus that runs the country, and they want to stave off that resistance.
But that’s a negative goal, and there’s more. They not only have to stave off your resistance. They have to manage your acceptance of their managed decline in the nation’s wealth and good fortune.
Again: The goal of the neo-liberal consensus is to manage the decline, and manage your acceptance of it.
We can’t have single payer! (Even though Canada does.) We can’t have tuition-free college! (Even though Germany does.) If Clinton has somehow managed to turn her incrementalism into a perceived defense of working class interests, that’s just not good news for the Sanders campaign.
Finally, where does the Sanders campaign go from here. Well, as Gaius Publius has urged, the Ides of March are half-time. The second half remains to be played:
Because of the way the Democratic Party voting calendar is structured this year, Clinton’s largest lead will occur on March 15. After that, most of Sanders’ strongest states will vote.
What this means is simple:
- Hillary Clinton will grow her lead until the March 15 states have voted.
- Bernie Sanders will erase that lead — partly or completely — after March 15.
- How much of Clinton’s lead he will erase depends on your not buying what the media is selling — that the contest is over.
- In most scenarios where Sanders wins, he doesn’t retake the lead until June 7, when five states including California cast their ballots.
Politico gives one scenario for how the second half might play out:
Despite their heavy spending in states that voted Tuesday, Sanders aides were privately projecting for days that their realistically their best shot was in Missouri. While they were hoping for a few surprises, they were prepared for a difficult night and looking ahead to Arizona—where the Vermont senator campaigned Tuesday night without mentioning his big state losses—and upcoming caucuses in Idaho, Utah, Alaska and Washington.
But Sanders campaign aides say they’ll be able to keep Clinton from reaching the 2,383 delegate magic number she’d need to clinch the nomination at the convention and, by being close enough, convince the superdelegates to switch, as some did when they changed from Clinton to Barack Obama in 2008.
My personal view, wholly unbacked by any evidence other than bitter experience, is that Clinton and the Democratic Establishment affirmatively do not want Sanders or Sanders voters. As neoliberas, they hate even a whiff of socialism, because markets, and more importantly they hate his small donor model, because it would lay waste to their personal networks in the political class, and deprive them of the pleasure of servicing squillionaires and suits. They want Trump as a nominee, at which point they will tack to the center, seek moderate Republican support, and throw the left under the bus. “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day,” as Susie Madrak said to Axelrove in 2010, and that’s still true today. That’s all the more reason for Sanders to keep on, to make that dynamic crystal clear.
In addition, there are policy-based reasons for Sanders to stay in the race. The New Republic:
As long as Sanders is in the race, though, Clinton can’t take her left flank for granted and shift rightward in anticipation of the general election; doing so would risk embarrassing losses to Sanders. And the more delegates Sanders has, the bigger voice he will have in crafting the party’s platform at this summer’s Democratic convention. But there’s another reason for Sanders to stay in the campaign: Trump. Even if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, he can still use his campaign platform to influence how the Democrats respond to Trump.
Trump’s likely nomination gives Sanders a strong incentive to continue in the race— not only to pull Clinton to the left on economic issues, but to argue that her pursuit of well-to-do Republicans is a mistake. This strategy would essentially cede the white working class to Trump, which is risky not only in immediate electoral terms but fraught with danger for the country. If Democrats don’t make a pitch to win back the white working class, they will become ever more alienated and susceptible to the next Trump-style demagogue who comes around. Sanders-style economic populism offers a chance to peel away these voters from Trump, dooming any chance he has of defeating Clinton in November.
My personal view here is that the idea that the Democratic establishment will ever attempt to appeal to the “bitter”/”cling to” types that they threw under the bus in 2008 is highly unlikely; being Democrats, they don’t express their hatred of the working class as viscerally as the National Review, but it’s simply foolish to think it’s not there.
Finally, we have “Events, dear boy, events!” The international financial system, not to mention the real economy, seems awfully fragile. You know not the day or the hour, but a second crash would sweep away all incumbents. And of course, there are any number of scandals that might take Clinton down, especially since Clinton has refused to release half of the email on her privatized server, and is being FOIAed for it. There are 236 days ’til the election. That’s a long time in politics.
My question has always been: What does victory look like? The conventional answer is being nominated for President. But I think a standalone organization, like OFA could and should have been, is the far greater prize. The Sanders campaign has the platform. It has the organizers. It has the funding model. It has the mailing list. It has a big pile of money. Is there any particular reason for Sanders to fold, at all?
 I did note, when I used my Magic Markers on Rubio’s announcement speech, that “Rubio started to repeat himself. A verb, a noun, ‘American exceptionalism.'” But I could hardly have predicted how true that would be in the New Hampshire debate, or that Christie would call him on it, or that American exceptionalism would be the topic of Rubio’s robot-like repetition.