A New York State of Mind
Do I have a couple of thoughts on the New York primary? Why, yes! Yes I do.
* Hey, remember when Ted Cruz decided to mock “New York values” back in Iowa, a nicely-coded way for him to say that the God-fearing conservative white people of Iowa could trust him because he wasn’t down with minorities or gays or liberals or Jews? Turns out New Yorkers remembered too! Which is why, out of that delegate-rich state, Cruz pried out exactly zero delegates. Meanwhile, Trump has won at least 89 of the 95, with John “Ha Ha Ha Suck It I’m Still In It” Kasich receiving at least three, while outpolling Cruz by a double digit margin.
To put it another way, New York just gave Trump more than eleven times as many delegates as Iowa gave Cruz. I understand why Cruz made his “New York values” snark — Iowa’s the first caucus in the nation, Cruz wanted momentum out of the gate, and he figured in his gormless, delusional way that he’d be much better off in the delegate count by New York than he is, and possibly even that Trump would be out of the running by now. But in retrospect, Cruz bought those Iowa delegates dear. Cruz was probably never going to win New York, especially with Trump in the race, but it’s possible he might have shaved off a few to several delegates by not losing so badly in assorted districts. Guess not!
Which is to say that Cruz, a gross and despicable avulsion that yet managed to sprout opposable thumbs, just murdered any realistic chance he had of ever catching Trump in the delegate count, while at the same time giving Trump a hell of a boost going into next week’s primaries. FiveThirtyEight’s delegate tracker, which measures how many delegates each candidate needs in each primary to win the nomination before their party’s convention, currently has Trump at 95%, which means in the future he has to do only slightly better than he is now to get the nod. Cruz, meanwhile, has merely 57% of his number — he would have to basically run the board at this point to catch up.
He’s not going to. Cruz comes out of New York looking like a loser, I mean, hell, Kasich won an infinite multiple more delegates in New York than he did. Next week’s primaries don’t look good for Cruz — Trump has double-digit polling leads in Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and Cruz is neck-and-neck in polling with Kasich in the latter two states (I don’t have polling data for Rhode Island and Delaware, which also go next week). Four of the five states are “Winner take all” or “Winner take most” in terms of delegates. Next week is when Cruz is absolutely, positively mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright, while Trump is positioned to win the nomination before the convention.
* But Trump still might not get his delegate numbers! I hear you say. True enough; after next week he’s got Indiana, which might be friendlier to Cruz, and there are a few other states like Nebraska or South Dakota that might go toward Cruz rather than Trump. But, thing is, even if Trump doesn’t ring the bell, he’s going to come really close, while neither Cruz nor Kasich is getting anywhere near it. It’s not just about who makes it to the nomination, I think, it’s also about the margins the remaining contenders have coming in if no one does.
I mean, let me be clear in case there’s confusion on the matter: I don’t want Trump to be the GOP’s candidate in the general, because humanity deserves better. I don’t want Cruz either, because he’s a necrotic self-regarding blight on the face of American politics — but I’d be happy if the GOP fielded him because once he lost, and he would, oh my, how he would lose, then he’d be done as a serious presidential candidate and would nevermore potentially darken the door of the White House. But I can’t see how the GOP can realistically deprive Trump of the nomination if he’s substantially ahead of his competition and reasonably close to the finish line.
They might want to, and they might still even say fuck it, we’re not going to win this year anyway, so the hell with Trump, and then give it to Cruz or even someone else not currently in the mix (sorry, Kasich). But this really is 2016, not the 1920s, and having the party boffins override the will of a plurality of the party member votes is a dangerous game, especially with some Trump folks open to basically harassing delegates to keep them in line. Bypassing Trump is not going to end well. And if Cruz does get the nomination over Trump despite coming in with hundreds of fewer delegates, well. There’s not enough popcorn in the world for what comes next.
In the end, I think New York effectively buried Cruz’s presidential chances. He’s going to be firing up sneaky parliamentary tricks from now to the convention, but yeah. In terms of making the Oval Office his own, Cruz is a political dead man walking.
* Which makes nice segue for another candidate who I suspect lost the White House brass ring in New York: Let’s talk about Bernie Sanders, shall we? My Facebook feed last night was basically a wall of denial talking about all the ways that Sanders could still pull this one out of the bag, with added imprecation aimed at New York for having a closed Democratic primary, which shuts out independent voters, i.e., the folks these Sanders supporters believe would have carried their man to victory.
Let me address the second part of this first. To begin, speaking as an independent voter, I actually find it entirely unobjectionable that a political party might decide, hey, let’s actually let party members pick our candidate. Is it nice when non-members get a vote? Sure; I took advantage of that myself with this last Ohio primary, when I voted on the Republican side of the fence. But had Ohio’s rules nixed that, I would not have griped about the unfairness of it, because I am not a party member, nor do I want to be (ugh, junk mail), and that’s a choice I willingly made.
I get that it’s cool and hipster to be independent and keep all your options open (or whatever), but the price for that is that you only get to go to the party if the party lets you in. New York keeps the indie rabble on the street side of the velvet rope. Them’s the breaks. If you’re an engaged voter — and you should be! — you should know your state’s primary voting practices, including when you need to register to be participate in party primaries — which, in New York, is very early.
(But we didn’t know about Sanders back then! comes the cry. Okay, but, so what? You know, Sanders launched his campaign in May of 2015, and as I understand it the deadline for changing one’s party affiliation for the New York primaries was in October. So that was four months at a minimum to get on it. And while I certainly will not defend the deadline as reasonable, it also wasn’t a secret, nor was it particularly difficult to register for a party. There was time. In my mind this doesn’t rise to the level of actual disenfranchisement.)
To continue, the idea that the potential flood of independent voters an open primary might have engendered might have turned the tide for Sanders is kinda suspect. To date there have been thirteen open Democratic primaries, and of those thirteen Clinton has won ten, and of the three that Sanders won, one was a virtual tie (Michigan), and the only blowout Sanders had in the format was in his home state of Vermont. Sanders’ best format for wins is actually the caucuses, which reward the especially fervent — he’s won six of nine closed caucuses and all three open caucuses. Meanwhile in addition to the 10 of 13 open primaries, Clinton’s won three of the four closed primaries (the one of these Sanders won: “Democrats Abroad”).
(In addition, Clinton was a senator from New York and actually, you know, lives there.)
So, no, I’m not hugely convinced that allowing indies to vote would have resulted in a Sanders win in New York. Sanders narrowing the gap of the loss? Sure, maybe, but it should be noted that Sanders narrowing the gap wouldn’t have done him much material good if Clinton had walked away with a net gain of delegates on him; she was already up by a couple hundred delegates.
* Which brings us to that first thing. People, and particularly Sanders supporters, seem to forget that Clinton has margin to burn, and thanks to the proportional delegate allocation of the Democratic primaries, Clinton doesn’t have to win another state. All she has to do is keep her losses close, so that Sanders can’t trim up the (now) 230-some-odd pledged delegate gap he has and get ahead. To be clear, for her own sake and the sake of optics, she should win some more states between now and June 14, when the last primary (DC) happens. But she doesn’t have to.
And I get that this may be frustrating for Sanders enthusiasts. Also frustrating for Sanders fans: Sanders has closed the gap with Clinton in national polls and has recently been within the margin of error, meaning that statistically speaking the two of them are basically tied in terms of popularity. But unfortunately for the Sanders folks, for the primaries, it doesn’t actually matter how many states you win or whether you’re up in a national poll. What matters is delegates, delegates, delegates. Right now, Clinton has more pledged delegates, and there’s a very good chance she’ll add to that number next week, as she has polling leads in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut, all of which (and Delaware) have closed primaries.
(Also, and this is not trivial, according to the FiveThirtyEight delegate tracker, Clinton is overperforming in terms of the delegates she will need to reach the nomination before the convention — she’s at 108% of her number, whereas Sanders is currently at 92% of his number. Note that before NY, she was at 107% and Sanders was at 93%, so the gap there is widening, too.)
With that all that said, look: Clinton isn’t snatching this primary season from Sanders by legerdemain, pulling a Cruz and trying to sneak up on her opponent’s delegates to knife him at the convention. Currently she’s won more contests (21 to 17), gotten more votes (10,387,916 to 7,699,652), and again, won more pledged delegates (1,444 to 1,207). She also happens to have a lock on the superdelegates, by a 10-1 margin, in fact, but she doesn’t need them at this point (and Sanders’ folks, it should be noted, are looking at them hungrily). She’s winning the primary season the same way Obama did in 2008: By grinding the damn thing out, delegate by delegate.
I personally like that Sanders has given Clinton a run for her money — I think he’s driven her out of her political comfort zone a bit and in any event having a Clinton coronation in the primaries would have made her more of a target in the general, even if the GOP is doing her a huge favor by blowing up — but ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) the vibe I get off of Sanders and a large number of his supporters is the thing I think they would like to accuse Clinton and her supporters of: Entitlement. Their own fervor plus the fact that Sanders has done better than the oddsmakers would have predicted has meant that when Sanders has not won a state there must be a reason the state was taken from him rather than simply, you know, lost by him. Thus in New York, the cry that independents were somehow disenfranchised by not being allowed to vote in a primary of a political party they don’t actually belong to.
The shorter, more accurate answer is: Dudes, he just plain lost. He’s likely to lose some more states next week. Even if he does win, if he doesn’t win by enough, he’s still going to be behind in delegates and over time Clinton may well cross that delegate finish line before he does. It’s rather more likely she will than not.
Sanders supporters should not stop grinding it out — please don’t — but they should entertain the fact that the reason Clinton is winning right now is because she is actually winning right now. And that maybe if she takes the nomination, and I expect she will, it will be because she actually earned it — just as if Sanders takes it, it will be for the same reason.