With races in eleven states on the line, a large contingent of the primary electorate made their voice heard in yesterday’s Super Tuesday elections. While some results did vary – Virginia and Oklahoma were particularly contentious on the Republican side, while Hillary won my home state Massachusetts by less than 2 points – one theme was undeniable: Super Trump is in full effect, quite likely with no way of slowing him down in his path to the GOP nomination.
Super Trump versus The World
The Donald jumped out to an early lead on the night with wins in all of the first three states to close, Georgia, Virginia, and Vermont. In Vermont he found himself closely followed by John Kasich, whose moderate conservatism found an audience with New England voters in Massachusetts (18%, second place) as well as New Hampshire (15%, second place). But the Ohio governor gained little traction anywhere else and both he and Ben Carson are expected to drop out of the race at some point this week. The real question to be answered for the field of GOP candidates after Tuesday’s races is what chance Cruz and Rubio each stand as the primary process continues. Cruz was able to pull in victories with 43% in his home state of Texas and 34% in neighboring Oklahoma, while Marco Rubio looked like he’d end the night with no first-place finishes but then took Minnesota late with nearly 37%. Rubio was overwhelmingly seen as the biggest loser on the night and perhaps the primary process as a whole as Super Trump has successfully and obviously divided the conservative movement from the inside, a movement that stood proudly behind Rubio as their next shining star a year ago. In his non-celebration press conference Tuesday night, Trump referred to himself as a “unifier”, one who has mobilized and coalesced the party in a way that hasn’t been seen in 20 years. Meanwhile, conservative pundit S. E. Cupp spent the night eloquently decrying the destruction of her party, as she and other panelists continuously analyzed the rift within the modern GOP. Rubio actually fared ok in the night’s opening round, grabbing a lot of ground with Virginia’s college-educated crowd, while Trump seemed to pull the state’s blue-collar, evangelical territory held by Huckabee in the 2008 race. But Rubio saw significant setbacks in Alabama and Texas where he failed to reach the 20% threshold and thus receives no delegates from those states. With his home state’s primary on March 15, though, and high expectations in some of the northern Midwest states, the Florida senator won’t be bowing out anytime soon.
Super Trump versus Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz added a victory in the Alaska caucus late on Tuesday night putting him in first place in three Super Tuesday states, as well as the initial Iowa caucus. But if one leaves out the huge cache of delegates that he won in his home state of Texas (57), Cruz’s numbers from last night don’t look that different from Rubio’s. He was beaten by Trump all across his “southern firewall”. In Arkansas he managed to keep the race close, but in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia he lost by an average of 15 points. The harshest reality for Cruz has to be the loss of the “outsider” identity he built up over the last four years. The outsider issue was a strong theme from Super Tuesday as exit polls consistently displayed that a) a majority in many states want someone from outside the Washington establishment and b) Trump is their guy. Giving his celebration speech from The Redneck Country Club (real name) in Stafford, TX, Cruz called for the other candidates to unite behind him in a joint effort to overcome the Great Comb-Over. Former Jeb Bush aide, Tim Miller, and others have also begun an Anti-Trump Super PAC entitled Our Principles PAC but I imagine both this and the combining of forces are too little too late to slow the momentum of a wildly popular Trump.
The Democratic Race
With only two candidates still in the race (sorry Martin O’Malley) and a far less dominant front-runner, the Democratic Super Tuesday races painted a different picture. Clinton pretty much swept the South, winning by 40-50 points in Alabama and Georgia and 30 points in Tennessee, Texas, and Arkansas. But Sanders managed wins in 4 states last night to Clinton’s 7, getting a 10-pt win in Oklahoma, 20-point wins in Minnesota and Colorado, and a near landslide in Vermont. And in my beloved Massachusetts it was a nearly even split, with Clinton winning 50.2% – 48.6%, amounting to two more delegates than Sanders.
The biggest question for Sanders going forward is not whether or not to continue his campaign but rather what his strategy will be. In a savvy move, Sanders addressed a fervent Vermont crowd at 7:30 PM EST, before the polls in the first set of states had even closed but at the high-point of the night for his campaign as he dominated in his home state. And though his speech seemed to have slight notes of defeat as he spoke about the importance of his campaign not being a win in November but a political revolution, the message was anything but concessional. With record-setting fundraising numbers ($42M in February) and a diehard contingent Sanders has vowed to run his campaign right through to the July convention. So how will he fare in the industrial Midwest and on the West Coast later in the primary process? He will need significant gains if he hopes to win the nomination but the grassroots enthusiasm that has defined his campaign begs a difficult question if he doesn’t: Will Bernie Sanders run as a third-party Independent in November? The move would certainly divide the Democratic electorate in the general election, practically ensuring a Trump victory. If he were to join up as Hillary’s Vice President the party conversely would be united between the Clinton liberal base and the Sanders grassroots element but doing so would fly in the face of so much that Sanders stands against – Super PAC’s, Washington insider corruption, etc. – that such a union is likely impossible. Also important to note this morning, especially for Sanders supporters, is Clinton’s performance in 2008. In the primary race for Obama’s inaugural election, Clinton also claimed victory after that year’s “Tsunami Tuesday” with an added presumptive stash of Super-delegates. By June she was conceding to the party’s new rising star, Barack Obama, so for Sanders and the thousands that #FeeltheBern this fight is far from over.
Super Trump and the American electorate
Whatever else we may have learned last night, Super Tuesday was certainly a confirmation of Trump’s continuous and growing popularity among the American electorate. It acknowledged the breadth of that support, winning solidly in the deep South, pulling victories in the Northeast, and winning with a variety of lower class population groups. Trump is the first Republican candidate to win primaries in both New Hampshire and Georgia since George H. W. Bush in 1988. He seems untainted by the weekend’s controversy with the endorsement of David Duke and the KKK, and his “telling it like it is” gains him new supporters every day while his crassness and general ignorance reviles his detractors. For me as a Progressive it is the most daunting of possibilities, that the Trump nightmare will somehow crazily come to fruition and he will actually find himself leading our nation for the next four years. For conservatives the disillusionment is just as real, with the rift in their party between the conservative base and the grassroots movement driving Trump now openly exposed to the harsh light of day. While this ideological shift didn’t bother Megyn Kelly, Brett Baier, and the “Campaign Cowboys” over on Fox News last night, CNN conservative pundit, S. E. Cupp, seemed to be losing feeling in her face as the evening wore on. But late in the night she made an insightful point, perhaps the most stunning and revealing lesson to me of this primary process:
“Can we just acknowledge for a moment – yes, I may be weeping for the future of the conservative movement, that’s true – but can we just acknowledge that this is democracy at work. Right? I mean, unless you think that Donald Trump has rigged this somehow. This is an amazing, inexplicable- believe, I’m not thrilled with a Trump nominee, but have you ever seen a clearer example of how unexpected democracy can deliver results?”
It’s the hardest piece to wrap my brain around, that this crass, uninformed, unqualified, hip-shooting bucket of vitriol is overwhelmingly the choice of a majority of the national electorate (so far). The American public, even we intellectual liberals, vote with their hearts, not their heads and much like Obama did for me and others in 2008, Trump has captured the hearts of millions of Americans, speaking to a series of issues and characteristics that have lain apparently dormant over the last decade. Republicans will need to decide in the longview what this means for the future of their party as Trump’s success lends credence to a fundamental divide within American conservatism.
“This has been our problem:” said Cupp, “we have been waiting for the candidate to come around who would harness the enthusiasm of the Republican electorate, since Reagan. We got him, he’s just going to destroy the party in the process.”