Michigan and Mississippi and Those Other States Too

Thoughts on last night’s political festivities:

1. Wow, the pollsters surely humped the proverbial bunk last night in Michigan, didn’t they? Hillary Clinton was in most polls up by double digits in the state against Bernie Sanders, and yet at the end of the day, Sanders squeaked by with a victory, 49.8% to 48.3%. What’s interesting about it is that the news stories I’ve seen have been like “Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss in Michigan raises an urgent question for her campaign: What went wrong?” when the ledes should be “All the polling in Michigan for the Democratic race has been horribly inaccurate: How did the pollsters blow it so badly?” I mean, with the possible exception of her own internal polling, Clinton’s not exactly responsible for the polling being egregiously wrong, is she? That’s on the actual pollsters themselves. If the polling had been accurate, then the closeness of the Michigan Democratic results wouldn’t have been surprise. This is a reminder that simulations and polling are just that: Simulations and polling. You still have to run the election.

This does put Clinton on notice that she can’t pivot to Trump yet; she still has to beat Sanders, and maybe she shouldn’t take that as a done deal just yet. A useful reminder to be sure. But it should also put the rest of us on notice that, hey, guess what: In this political season, no one knows anything. I mean, everyone got Michigan so wrong I’m glad I was well ahead of the curve reminding people I’m often wrong about political stuff. But this does mean that no one should be genially blithe about the predictions for next week in Florida and Ohio (and all those other states that will be having elections, as if they matter, hmph). The pollsters have shown that when it comes to the Democratic races, at least, they’re currently working on an immense margin of error.

2. With that said, a reminder to justifiably happy Sanders supporters that Clinton ended last night with 18 more pledged delegates than Sanders thanks to her blowout of Mississippi, where she won 24 delegates to Sanders’ three, and because in Michigan she won 58 to his 63, thanks to the closeness of that race. Overall, Clinton is 214 pledged delegates up, and the gap, so far at least, continues to stretch in Clinton’s favor.

Sanders’ problem is that generally speaking, when Clinton wins, she’s won with larger margins than Sanders does when he wins, and (of course) she’s won more states than he has. To mix sporting metaphors, Sanders’ wins are mostly three yards and a cloud of dirt, while Clinton’s wins mostly are triples and home runs. It was a surprise Sanders won Michigan, and that’s energizing to his campaign, and justly so. But he netted only five more delegates out of the state than Clinton did. If he doesn’t start winning some big states with wider margins, he’s just not going to catch up.

Will he? Well, you know. Before last night you could look at the polls and say, oh, probably not, but today, knowing how gloriously the pollsters whiffed in Michigan, you can say, who knows? I don’t think he will — I suspect next Tuesday he’s probably going to lose Florida by a large margin and if he wins other states, he’ll win them by margins like we saw in Michigan. Which means, again, he’ll be further behind in terms of delegates.

But then, what do I know? Apparently, as much as anyone else as regards the Democratic primary races, which appears to be: Not much! It certainly makes for exciting times. The good kind of exciting, mind you, not the scary oh fuck how could this actually still be happening exciting on the GOP side.

3. Speaking of which: Three states and 73 delegates last night for Donald Trump, one state and 59 delegates for Ted Cruz, and pretty much dick for Marco Rubio, who finished the night with one (1) delegate to his tally, or, 16 fewer than John “I’m only in this to win my home state” Kasich. Yes, yes, the #NeverTrump express is chugging right along, my friends. They are blunting his momentum so hard! As a fellow named Max Berger archly noted on Twitter: “It’s somewhat ironic that the GOP will be destroyed by a billionaire against whom they couldn’t figure out how to collectively organize.”

FiveThirtyEight notes that Trump is currently at 106% of the delegate count it thinks he needs, momentum-wise, in order to get the GOP nomination in the free and clear. Inasmuch as Ohio and Florida are winner-take-all states for the Republicans, if he wins either of them next week, it’s a much harder slog for Cruz (realistically the only one who can catch him, although he’s only at 69% of his target count). If he wins both, everyone else in the GOP better start praying for a bolt of lightning to strike Trump dead.

Yet again, the GOP’s problem is that it wants desperately to stop Trump, but unfortunately the voter base it’s cultivated for years to accept a candidate just like Trump is doing what it’s been trained to do. And while the irony is delicious, it has a horrifying aftertaste because it doesn’t change the fact that barring divine intervention, Trump and his fascistic shitshow of a campaign are going to the general election. So, you know, again: Thanks for that, GOP.

(And while I’m at it, GOP, thanks so much also for having the only barely viable alternative to Trump be Ted Cruz, a bipedal mound of pig offal that yet manages to form words. When we’re done with this election, we’re going to have a talk, you and I. Depend on it.)

4. Hey, Scalzi, you ask, do you think the GOP will actually fracture because of Trump? The more I think about it the more I think “no,” because of several reasons. One, and what should be most obviously, the actual people who vote GOP seem to be just fine with Trump. Say what you will about the fact he’s running the most overtly racist and horrible campaign in modern history, but at the end of the day he’s the front runner because he’s earning the votes and delegates. He’s playing by the rules the GOP set up and he’s winning (and don’t think that at this moment the GOP doesn’t wish that it had borrowed that “superdelegate” idea from the Democrats).

Two, the question to start asking is not whether the GOP hates Trump more than Cruz, but whether it hates Trump more than Clinton, or Sanders. Let’s stipulate that the GOP in general hates Clinton with an unholy passion, out of muscle reflex if nothing else. A quarter century of intense dislike of a single person (and her husband) is hard to shake. As for Sanders, they don’t have the same institutional hatred of him as they do of Clinton, but, look, he’s an actual goddamn socialist, or something close enough that the sort of person who thinks Barack Obama is as pink as a Swedish daycare will lose their ever-lovin’ mind about living in Sanders’ America (I’m coming back to this in a minute).

So I submit to you that the average GOP establishment type, confronted with the choice of Clinton or Sanders, or Trump, is going to suck it up and vote for Trump. As Josh Marshall put it, #NeverTrump is actually just #EventuallyTrump, and just as Cruz and Rubio and Kasich stood up there on that podium and after excoriating Trump for two hours and said they would vote for him in general, so will the GOP folks currently holding their head at the shonda that is Donald Trump do the same.

So, no, I don’t think there will be a fracturing, and Clinton and Sanders (but mostly Clinton) are the reason. You might have people sit out; you might even have GOP folks hold their nose and secretly (or not so secretly!) vote for Clinton or Sanders in the general. But I suspect one way or another the GOP holds together. Whether this is a good thing for them in the long run is a discussion for another time, that time, I imagine, being the comment thread.

5. To follow up on this thought in more detail: For the Democrats/liberals in the crowd, I suspect that in general election, an advantage that Clinton has, that Sanders does not, is familiarity — not to the people who like her, but with regard to the people who don’t. I think the vast majority of Clinton’s potential negatives are already baked into her public persona, whereas Sanders’ negatives have yet to be played with in a general sense.

What do I mean by this? I mean that everyone who is going to hate Clinton — for her political positions, for her gender, for her public demeanor, for her husband, for Vince Foster and Benghazi and her email server — probably already does. There aren’t really too many surprises left there. She’s a known quantity for everyone.

Sanders, on the other hand, represents a whole lot of opportunity on the part of the GOP and its various allies to scaremonger and to have that scaremongering be a significant part of the Sanders’ public persona. I mean, come on: If you don’t think the GOP isn’t going to have a field day with the socialist thing, for starters, you haven’t been paying attention to what the Republicans have been about for the last three decades. The Republicans haven’t been very good at government for a long time (in part because they don’t really want to be), but they are just fine at scaring old and/or angry white people, thanks very much, and they’ll be more than happy to fill them in on all the terrible things they don’t know about Sanders.

(And if you don’t think Sanders being a Jew won’t matter in the election, remember who Donald Trump retweets. Be assured the GOP as a party won’t go anywhere near that, and I say that with no wink or nod whatsoever; The GOP knows enough to steer well clear of anti-semitism. But also be assured that Sanders being a Jew, and a Jewish socialist, will be a topic of “conversation” anyway for a fair number of the folks who will be voting for the GOP candidate, particularly if the candidate is Trump.)

This is not to say scaremongering is fated to work. After all, Barack Hussein Obama, Black Muslim born in Africa, was elected twice as president, with majorities both in the popular vote and in the electoral college. But it does mean that there’s more room for Sanders scaremongering to do unexpected damage, because it’s new to the general electorate. The scaremongering on Clinton goes back to the early 90s. It’s stale, and it has a hard ceiling and floor. We don’t know the ceiling and floor on the Sanders scaremongering yet. And that’s a real factor to consider.