Well, that was an interesting Tuesday night in American politics, wasn’t it? A few thoughts about it.
1. First, sympathy for Sanders supporters out there, who after last week’s emotionally satisfying win in Michigan — even if Clinton ended the night with a net gain of delegates thanks to Mississippi — had to deal with their candidate going 0-5 in state results last night. To be fair, there’s still a small possibility that Sanders might pull ahead in Missouri once absentee votes are tallied in, but after the other results of the evening, winning by the thinnest possible margin in a single state is the political equivalent of “playing for pride.”
However and more importantly, Clinton yet again expanded her pledged delegate lead. Leaving out Missouri for the moment, Clinton netted more than 100 delegates over Sanders in the other four states voting last night. Given the closeness of the Missouri race, and the proportional nature of delegate allocation in Democratic primaries, it doesn’t matter if Sanders eventually squeaks out a win there — Clinton still ends the night with a triple-digit delegate gain.
2. I had someone on Twitter last night say, yes, well, but Florida is a closed primary state where Clinton was favored; okay, but she also took Ohio by 13 points, and that’s an effectively open primary (technically “semi-open”). I do see some Sanders supporters pinning hopes of victories based on whether a particular state has caucuses or open primaries, which is fine, but it’s a bit of fetish thinking. There are four types of primaries and caucuses: Open, closed, semi-open and semi-closed. Leaving out semi-closed caucuses (only one state has that and hasn’t voted yet) Clinton has won contests in every format but open caucuses; Sanders has won contests in every format but closed primaries. I’m not sure Sanders can rely on voting format to save him.
Even if he did, a) the next set of contests features a closed primary (Arizona) with the largest delegate count of the evening, and Sanders hasn’t won any of those yet, and there are nine more of those including New York and Pennsylvania, b) there are only two more open caucus contests left (that being the format Clinton hasn’t won in yet). So, uh, yeah. That math doesn’t look great for Sanders.
Ultimately Sanders’ problem isn’t format, it’s that he doesn’t win enough contests (nine to Clinton’s nineteen), doesn’t win enough big states (he’s won only one contest with more than a hundred delegates; Clinton’s won six), and the one big contest he won, he won by a slim margin (49.8% to 48.2%) meaning he netted only a few pledged delegates over Clinton (four). Meanwhile Clinton’s pledged delegate net in the large state contests she’s won is 218 over Sanders.
3. But Sanders can still take it! Well, as a matter of pure mathematics, sure. As a practical matter involving real voters in real states and territories going to actual polling stations or caucuses, it’s pretty much over at this point. It’s not to say that Sanders can’t or won’t win more states; I suspect he will. But the question is will he ever catch up in the pledged delegate count, and the answer is, that’s going to be a hard row for him to hoe. Someone on Twitter last night suggested that they said the same thing about Obama in 2008, and look where he is now. But on March 16, 2008, one, Obama was ahead of Clinton in the pledged delegate count, not the other way around, and two, as a matter of percentages, Obama and Clinton were substantially closer than Clinton and Sanders are now — Clinton had 92% of the pledged delegates Obama had then; Sanders has 72% of the pledged delegates Clinton has now.
And while we’re considering this, bear in mind we’re only talking about pledged candidates here, not superdelegates. With superdelegates, Clinton is already two thirds of the way to the magic number of 2,383 delegates needed for the nomination. Adding in Sanders’ superdelegates, he’s 35% of the way there. Superdelegates can change their mind between now and the election, but if I were a Sanders supporter I wouldn’t be holding my breath. Again, it’s not impossible for Sanders to win the nomination, but at this point it’s gone from “unlikely” to “really goddamned difficult.”
If my Twitter feed is any indication, I suspect a number of Sanders supporters have begun the grieving process — the disbelief that Sanders lost Ohio (it was supposed to be like Michigan!), the glumness of looking at the Florida result, the glimmer of hope in Missouri, extinguished as Clinton ground out a .2% victory. As I noted before, I have sympathy for Sanders supporters. It was not a good night for them. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, have to be feeling pretty good.
4. On the other side of things, oh, hey, look, John Kasich won Ohio! Which is nice, and deprived Trump of its 66 delegates, which means for the first time since early February, Trump is below his Fivethirtyeight delegate tracker number, that being the number of delegates he needs to clinch the GOP nomination ahead of the convention. He was at 104% of that number going into the evening; now he’s at 96% of that number. As someone who voted for Kasich basically to achieve this very goal, I feel I had a vote well cast (note well, this number may not include his Missouri delegates).
Not, mind you, that I think Kasich can win the nomination; some folks have suggested that he would have to win 110% of the currently available GOP delegates from here on out to do so, and, well. That would be a stretch, wouldn’t it. Nor do I think Cruz will get it either; Fivethirtyeight has him at 54% of his delegate goal. At this point, and despite Cruz’s self-lathering nonsense suggesting he could win the nomination outright, Cruz and Kasich are in the race to keep Trump from hitting his delegate number, forcing a contested convention.
At which Trump is already hinting there will be riots if he isn’t given the nomination! One, bless his heart. Two, he’s not wrong, especially if Trump is close to the number of delegates he needs going in. The sort of folks willing to cold-cock protesters at rallies aren’t folks who will be willing to let some back-room bureaucrats snatch their man’s rightful nomination out of his famously not-short fingers. It’s of course keeping with Trump’s personal idiom to give a speech last night about the party needing to come together, and then this morning strongly hint that his people are going to wreck shit if they don’t get their way. Congratulations, GOP! Your frontrunner is a classy dude.
5. That said, let me go out on a limb and suggest Trump is going to hit his number. Why? Because Ohio was a semi-open primary, which meant people like me, who don’t normally vote in the GOP primary, were able to cross the line and do so, and it appears that a lot did — there were 1.6 times as many voters in the Ohio GOP primary last night than in the Democratic primary, at least some of which were folks like me voting against Trump. Which is nice, but there’s only two more open primaries on the GOP docket (Indiana and Wisconsin) and one open caucus (American Samoa). The rest of the contests are closed or semi-closed, limiting the number of people willing to save the GOP from itself. From here on out it’s up to GOP voters to do it.
And will they? Unclear. There have been four closed primaries so far, and they’ve split half for Trump and half for Ted Cruz (who, to be clear, is not exactly an optimal alternative). The closed caucuses have also split between Trump and Cruz (and Minnesota and DC for Rubio). As most of the upcoming contests are winner-take-all, Trump wouldn’t have to share most of his delegates when he wins, so if he wins, even by a tiny margin, he still leaps ahead.
Trump is going to win more, and it seems likely to me that Cruz and Kasich, the other guys in the race, will probably eat each others’ lunch to Trump’s benefit. One of them should probably drop out if at this point they really aim to stop Trump. Kasich is the obvious one to drop, since he has no chance to win the nomination outright, and because Cruz won’t, no matter what; he’d rather push an entire troop of Girl Scouts under a bus than give up his run. Also there’s the matter of who are Kasich’s supporters at this point. He presumably would pick up whoever was still voting for poor Marco Rubio. Those three people won’t help him.
On the other hand, Cruz is an overripe pustule of hateful need who deserves to be dropkicked into historical oblivion, and the rest of the GOP primary schedule doesn’t really match his political strengths, so maybe he should drop and let Kasich roll as the sane alternative to Trump. But again, Cruz has no intention of leaving the race until the race leaves him. So onward Trump will likely go, to the nomination.
6. And what about Marco Rubio, who exited the race last night? Honestly, I can’t be bothered to think of him any further. He was always underready, and the fact that the GOP ever seriously considered him as their answer to Obama is a reminder that the GOP neither understands Obama nor understands anyone who isn’t white as paste. Look! A young ethnic person! The kids love that! Surely we shall win the White House now! Meanwhile, Rubio’s politics were those of a conservative 73-year-old white dude shaking his cane in the yard at the kids riding their bikes in the road (Cruz’s politics are the same, except the 73-year-old is also praying for God to send a bear to rip the children to shreds). Dear GOP: Voters do pay attention to policies and positions, not just packaging. Which is why (among other things) an old white man is more popular with under-30 Democratic voters than his opponent.
But now Rubio is gone, and good riddance. He’ll soon be gone from the Senate as well, and where he goes from here I have a complete lack of interest, so long as it is in the private sector and I never have to deal with him again. I’m sad for the GOP that he was their Great Establishment Hope for ’16, and that what we have left is Kasich, who has no chance, Cruz, who should have “well, actually” in blinking neon over his head, and of course Trump, the walking embodiment of political nihilism and sub-standard cuts of beef. The GOP deserves no better than this, but our nation certainly does.