Following the Super Tuesday sweep of 11 Presidential primaries and caucuses, it became clear that the two leading candidates for presidential election this November, Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, are the front-runners in the race to occupy the oval office. Clinton ended up on the night with a decisive margin over her main rival Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont with 984 delegates secured, while Sanders trailed some distance behind on 347 delegates. With 2,383 required for a majority, Hillary Clinton is already 41% of the way there. As the establishment favourite she is beginning to bank most of the 700 or so lucrative open choice super-delegates made up of Democrat party officials. Bernie Sanders will need to now win 60% of the remaining delegates to have a chance. The Republican or GOP (Grand Old Party) frontrunner, Donald Trump, had similar gains on the night winning seven of the primary contests including Massachusetts and Vermont in the north and the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas in the south. Trump also squeezed home in the Mid-Atlantic state of Virginia by a very tight margin. In the important delegate count, so far Trump has secured 302 delegates, ahead of Ted Cruz on 142, Marco Rubio on 78, John Kasich on 24 and Ben Carson on just 8. Trump has secured around 25% of the total of Republican delegates for the Cleveland convention this June and will need to win half of the delegate votes in the forthcoming primaries to gain the nomination.
“These two cerebral Christian policy wonks, whose idea of a good night out is to debate points of constitutional law followed by a late-night prayer meeting, have not come up against anything like the outlandish Donald Trump.”
The electoral math for a Trump nomination is still not as clear-cut as Clinton’s, though the advantage he has is handy. Trump has amassed his support through the use of market research focus groups, using both statistical information and an entrepreneur’s gut instinct, to find the push button issues and political positions that create the most attention and exploit voters’ emotions. He is a populist, a pugilist and, most significantly, a brand. His main arch-rivals for the Republican nomination, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are still in the game albeit just hanging on. These two cerebral Christian policy wonks, whose idea of a good night out is to debate points of constitutional law followed by a late-night prayer meeting, have not come up against anything like the outlandish Donald Trump. Senator Rubio picked up his first primary win taking Minnesota and by the end of Super Tuesday Senator Cruz had won his home state of Texas, an expected win in Oklahoma, as well as taking Alaska in a photo finish with Trump. These all adding to his earlier win in Iowa. However, for both candidates to get the advantage over Trump in the final delegate count at the convention will take quite a few lucky stars to align.
Marco Rubio has a mountain to climb to get the nomination. He has to win his home state of Florida, do well in the big states such as Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and also be assisted by his rival, Governor John Kasich, winning his home state of Ohio in the ‘winner takes all’ primary in a fortnight’s time. This is not impossible, but the odds are against him. Kasich has strong local support and is the genuine ‘Mr. Middle America’ of the Republican race. A win by Kasich in Ohio will damage the Trump momentum, however, Rubio needs to come in second for it to have any efficacy. Furthermore, Rubio must win Florida, or he is essentially out of the race. He would not have the moral authority to become President if his own home state rejects him. Florida and Ohio are crucial for all candidates and the outcome of the nomination. The March 15 round of ‘winner takes all’ primaries will sort out the wheat from the chaff. If Trump wins in Florida and Ohio then he could well be unstoppable.
Ted Cruz is running a clear second in the GOP delegate count. That said, he has one fundamental electoral flaw. Cruz cannot break out of his evangelical base. Though the evangelicals are a stronghold within the conservative base of the party, class lines are emerging. Trump is decimating the rump of the Christian right, picking up the sizable numbers of blue-collar, low-information Christians whereas Cruz is appealing to the middle class faction of this evangelical support. This is an ongoing problem for Ted Cruz, as it is with others who have in the past sought and appealed to the Christian right, like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. They all have a voter ceiling and cannot effectively breakout from their Christian base and appeal to a broader and more secular audience. Cruz has only won two of the southern states, which is a bad omen for the sustainability of his Presidential ambitions.
“Trump handily picks up the southern god-fearing, gun-toting, pickup-driving, rural blue-collar patriots and is getting his fair share of urban working class conservatives or ‘Reagan Democrats’ in the rust-belt north.”
Though Donald Trump is in the box seat for the Republican nomination there are still hurdles yet. Like Cruz, he does have a ceiling as well. Trump handily picks up the southern god-fearing, gun-toting, pickup-driving, rural blue-collar patriots and is getting his fair share of urban working class conservatives or ‘Reagan Democrats’ in the rust-belt north. His real weak point is his inability to do well amongst wealthier, educated, high-information Republican voters. It is this kind of voter that is more likely to be in play between now and the nominating convention. The Rubio win in Minnesota shows that Donald Trump is beatable in the Midwest, and the opportunity of a revived John Kasich around the Great Lake states can damage Trump by not allowing him to arrive in Cleveland this June with the required 1,237 delegates to get the nomination sewn up. Though Trump may lead on delegates, he needs 50% of them to nail down the nomination. In the primary for the bell-weather state of Virginia this past Super Tuesday, Trump scored slightly under 35% of the vote in a tight finish with Rubio on 32%. Virginia, as a state, has an uncanny knack of mirroring the national result. That is because it reflects and represents the diversity of the nation geographically, demographically, racially, an urban-rural mix, and in terms of social class and cultural capital. Nationally, Trump is supported by 35% of all Republicans. That is his high watermark and he has been having difficulty getting above that. Trump could still make that breakthrough, but Rubio’s 32% slice of the Virginia primary shows that though he could well appeal across the broader electorate, whilst the field is still running four or five Republican candidates, winning the nomination is proving difficult. Whilst Hillary Clinton should have the Democrat race in the bag by March 16, the GOP nomination may take longer to resolve.
The ‘Anyone but Trump’ movement is beginning to be ramped up by the establishment and moderate factions within the GOP. They loathe him. They want the brash New York property developer gone. To the old school Brahmin class, exemplified by the Bush family, he is vulgar. At first they ignored him. That did not work. Then they attacked him. That still did not work. What the Establishment’s tactics will be over the next fortnight to March 15 is anyone’s guess. What could happen, though, is the creation of a behind-the-scenes campaign within the GOP to promote strategic voting by voters against Trump in some of the key ‘winner takes all’ primaries. In many ways this is kind of a die in the ditch effort, but if it works then it will greatly slow down the Donald Trump roadshow. Even after that has possibly happened, it may still take the final ‘winner takes all’ primary in California on the eve of the convention, with its 172 delegates up for grabs. If that kind of strategic approach succeeds, it may, in the least, force a brokered convention. If Trump goes to Cleveland this June with over 35% of the delegates in his pocket, then an attempt to broker the convention by the GOP leadership may backfire or even split the party in two. If Trump goes under 35% in the total of pledged delegates secured, and both Cruz and Rubio are within reasonable striking distance, then the delegates amassed by the candidates who have already suspended their campaigns like Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie can come into play during the convention. Christie, though, with an eye on being Trump’s running mate or possible Attorney General pick, will obviously place his votes on the Trump side of the ledger. Likewise, those who have chosen to stay in the race, but do not have any realistic chance of winning, like John Kasich and Ben Carson, will also be especially important. Ben Carson is effectively finished and tipped to exit the race within days. Still, he holds eight delegates to trade with. Kasich however, will stay in the race until March 15 to challenge for the Ohio and Michigan primaries. If it is a tight finish with no clear winner amongst the three front-runners and the nomination has to be brokered on the convention floor, then someone like John Kasich who with his solid, though modest, accumulation of delegates, could become the Kingmaker. John Kasich as the Kingmaker is a very real possibility if he does, indeed, win Ohio and the tide turns against Trump.
“What is simply astonishing about the 2016 presidential race to the White House is that recent polling has both candidates, Trump and Clinton, intensely disliked by the majority of American voters.”
Nevertheless, with Super Tuesday showing both Clinton and Trump as comfortable front-runners, this leaves voters with an interesting dilemma come November. Simply put, which of these most polarising of figures could end up with the most voter support in the presidential run-off? What is simply astonishing about the 2016 presidential race to the White House is that recent polling has both candidates, Trump and Clinton, intensely disliked by the majority of American voters. Donald Trump, on 58%, has the highest unfavourable ratings ever polled in US political history. Hillary Clinton’s unfavorables have her only slightly less unpopular at 53%. Furthermore, both candidates have damaging credibility issues that are currently in play. Clinton is currently under investigation for using a private email server that stored documents that were classified when she was Secretary of State, as well as the ongoing question marks over what she knew concerning the deaths of US diplomatic staff at Benghazi. With respect to Donald Trump there is also growing unrest over his tax returns or indeed lack of them, which according to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who calls Trump a fraud and a phoney, is maybe the ticking bomb that derails his presidential ambitions. Just prior to Super Tuesday the stench of an endorsement from the far right racist, David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, has also placed Trump in the political ‘dogbox’ with some voters. Trump has been unconvincing in distancing himself from Duke and this toxic group, which may, indeed, entice some Latino or African-American voters away from considering him. He may be the ‘Teflon Don’ and many of his supporters may privately sympathise with Duke’s xenophobia, but enough may think twice, or even be repulsed by his associations.
It has not been the cakewalk to the presidency for Hillary Clinton that many expected a year ago when she officially decided to run. From essentially nowhere, Senator Bernie Sanders has built a grassroots political machine that has captured a mixture of young voters and a small, though vocal, group of older hard left activists within the Democratic party. Both of these groups are tired of the ‘business as usual’ sentiments, starkly seen within their party and the wider political discourse within the United States. Whilst Hillary Clinton has used interest group fundraising approaches such as ‘Super Pacs’ and the same corporate funding sources that her husband Bill Clinton used in the 1990s to win and retain the presidency, Bernie Sanders has used online donations from his activist base to fill the campaign coffers. First utilised by Howard Dean during the 2004 democratic primaries and then perfected in Obama’s 2008 presidential run, Sanders has managed to raise millions to support a well-funded and well-organised campaign. Sanders celebrates the fact that the average campaign donation to him is just $27 and not one cent is coming from ‘Wall Street’ or the electoral machinery of a third-party Super Pacs. Just as much a political populist as Donald Trump, and though he is a US Senator, Bernie Sanders is anything but an insider. What he has in spades that Trump does not have is sincerity and principles, well, a politician’s sincerity and principles anyway. The cynic in me says that Bernie is smart enough to keep on telling them what they want to hear, which is usually along the lines of what he is going to give them. Free education, healthcare and more social security! His spending plans over 10 years will cost $18 trillion, he will raise just $6.5 trillion in new taxes, which will mean that current government debt will balloon out beyond $30 trillion by 2026. However, Bernie does have a policy, even if it means that his great grandchildren’s generation will be in debt servitude for the rest of their lives. It is still more policy than the crass and offensive slogans of Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, what is unfolding in this 2016 Presidential race election is simply unprecedented. The perfect storm is brewing. This is a kind of anthropogenic political climate change, which is seeing the consolidation of a true American leftist movement lead by Bernie Sanders. The rise of Donald Trump taps into the rich vein of blue-collar conservative alienation, angst and anger towards the Washington political establishment by embracing the American underbelly of intellectual and cultural superficiality. The November election may truly come down to a short, personal question to oneself when in the voting booth. Who is the lesser evil?
It is still Hillary Clinton’s presidential race to win. Clinton is essentially a centrist pragmatist, who sways to the left on social issues, sways slightly to the right on the economy, and who is way more hawkish than Obama with respect to national security. That may be enough for her to shift the dissatisfied soft Republican moderates into making the painful change and voting for a stable Clinton presidency rather than letting Trump into the oval office. That they may hold their nose and let her have her four years as the alternative of a Trump presidency is too much to bear. The murkiness surrounding her email server is not going to hold her back. The Obama White House will want to look elsewhere to discover any smoking gun even if her enemies embedded within the law enforcement arms of Washington’s bureaucracy say that they have found one. An incumbent Democratic president will not hang her and the party out to dry on the eve of a winnable election that will sustain his political legacy and provide a liberal dimension for the next generation of the US Supreme Court Justices. Though she is not loved or even a great campaigner like her husband Bill Clinton, the Clinton party machine is very formidable. Once she has secured the nomination, Hillary Clinton will move back towards her default centrist position from the leftist stance she temporarily adopted in the primaries to cover the left guard action of Bernie Sanders. Her move to the centre will help her to soak up the swing voting independents, soothe moderate anti-Trump Republicans who will not vote Trump, play the women’s card by slamming Trump when he exhibits any kind of misogyny, compromise on immigration issues, ramp up the anti-terrorist rhetoric and finally, by selling to the American voting public her foreign policy experience. Finally, when Sanders does throw in the towel, he will grudgingly encourage his supporters to back Hillary. Democrats are very tribal. Even with their diversity. They will not want a Trump presidency, nor any Republican for that matter. They could tolerate Hillary, though.
Is Hillary beatable? The answer is yes. On head to head polling against Clinton, the youngest candidate in the race to the White House, Marco Rubio, leads her by 52% to 48%, with his ‘unfavourables’ polling across the wider electorate considerably less than hers. However, following the Super Tuesday results, Rubio is as distant from the GOP nomination as Bernie Sanders is from defeating Hillary in the Democratic race. If Rubio can somehow get Ted Cruz out of the race and win 60% of the delegates remaining, then he could have a theoretical long-shot chance. But I doubt it is going to happen. Cruz sees his run for the presidency as a calling from God. To him it is God’s will that he should be the nominee. I cannot see Trump pulling it off either, and if he does get sidelined through a brokered convention, and he does, as he has often threatened, throw his toys out of the cot and run as an independent, then it will only split the right and hand Clinton a clear victory. Much like how Ross Perot damaged George Bush Sr. back in 1992, far more than he damaged Bill Clinton’s run for the presidency. Yes, there is a political climate change happening in America. Yes, the Republicans are looking damaged, and the hard left has found a voice, but the real and historic change is this: from January 2017, we will have a Madam President.
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