Politics always involves unexpected twists and turns. Candidates know that an unseen banana peel could cause them to fall at any moment. But, in the wake of Saturday’s caucus in Nevada and primary in South Carolina, the outcome of the presidential nominating contests became far more certain than they had been previously and it is looking like next November voters will be choosing between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump.
Clinton won Nevada by six points, which is not a landslide to be sure, but was a win earned in the face of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ combination of money and momentum. The Vermont senator outspent Clinton on the airwaves by a two-to-one margin. He was coming off a big win in New Hampshire. Nevada held a caucus, not a primary, which always tilts the contest to the candidate with the most enthusiastic supporters. And he still lost and it is difficult to see which upcoming states will be as suited to his campaign as Nevada was.
Given the fact that the Democratic contests award their delegates by proportional representation throughout the election season, Sanders will certainly stay in the race. He has the resources to do so, tapping into a fundraising network that began in 2004 with MoveOn.org and continues to provide leftie candidates with a steady stream of small donor contributions. And, he has already shifted the policy discussion towards his core issue: Curtailing the power of the uber-rich in both the economy and in politics. But, it is next to impossible to see how he could snatch the nomination away from Clinton. If he had won Nevada, we would be talking today about the problems in her campaign, but he didn’t.
Clinton now heads into South Carolina where she is expected to do well. African-Americans constitute fifty-five percent of the Democratic electorate in the Palmetto State and they have been breaking heavily for Clinton. There are not a lot of black churches up in Vermont, and Sanders seems out of place at a Sunday morning service. He does not have the language to reach this one part of the base which is both prominent and religiously devout. Mrs. Clinton is no match for her husband when it comes to campaigning, especially in the circuit of black churches, but she is more than a match for Sanders.
After South Carolina, March 1 sees another set of primaries, many of them in the South where Clinton is expected to do well. Alabama and Georgia both have majority-minority electorates and Arkansas is a home game for the Clintons in a Democratic primary. Texas and Virginia both have large black populations. It will be interesting to see how Sanders fares among Latino voters in both states: The entrance polls in Nevada showed him slightly winning this demographic, but the sample was very tiny. And, even in the large Northeastern and Midwestern states that are coming up, the black vote will be much larger than it was in either Iowa or New Hampshire. Clinton is on her way and I suspect the only thing that can keep her from the nomination is if the FBI investigation into her email server turns up something the congressional committees didn’t.
On the Republican side, for months our Republican friends have been acting on the assumption that Donald Trump would finally implode, he would say something so outrageous or irresponsible, that voters would finally come to their senses. Well, last week he got into a tit-for-tat with the pope, and said the last GOP president lied to the American people to drag us into war. Yet, he won in South Carolina by ten points. If calling George W. Bush a liar doesn’t take the wind out of his sails, what exactly do people think he could say that would cause his campaign to crash and burn?
Sen. Ted Cruz is a weaker challenger than the results in Iowa made us think. In South Carolina, he lost evangelicals with only a high school education to Trump and he also lost evangelicals with a college degree to Sen. Marco Rubio. The establishment, such as it is, thinks that Rubio can save the party, especially now that former Gov. Jeb Bush was forced to drop out after his disappointing showing in South Carolina. The Rubio campaign will be rolling out the endorsement of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney today and news reports indicate that Bush’s donors are now flocking to Rubio. But, in this anti-establishment year, what makes Republicans thinks a Romney endorsement will help more than it will hurt, and what will the establishment donors be able to do for Rubio that they couldn’t do for Bush? Will northern, moderate Republicans flock to Rubio or to Ohio Gov. John Kasich? Add in the fact that Trump has not really gone after Rubio yet. Lastly, in every race so far, the anti-establishment candidates, Trump, Cruz, Carson and Fiorina, have garnered a clear majority of the electorate. Rubio is now running for the nod in 2020, not 2016.
Let me add one other problem for the GOP. What if it worked? What if the anti-Trump forces found a way to deny him the nomination? Don’t you think he would feel cheated? Don’t you think a self-funding candidate with a narcissistic streak might mount a third party candidacy in November? That is a recipe for losing all fifty states for the GOP. One thing I think we can all agree on about Mr. Trump: He is not the kind of guy to gracefully exit the stage and go quietly into the political night. Today, he is leading in the polls in all the upcoming contests and, as of March 15, those contests start awarding their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Trump could have this nomination sewed up by the end of March which would give a whole new significance to April Fools Day.
What a year. What a country. The GOP base always cheers loudly when one of their candidates says that American is an “exceptional nation.” Well, it certainly is.