The results from yesterday’s primary elections in Wisconsin for both parties are clear, but their ramifications not so much. Ted Cruz won the Republican contest, coming just shy of a majority of the vote. The Wisconsin conservative movement mustered a nearly unified front against Donald Trump on behalf of Cruz, and it worked.
New Yorkers vote in two weeks and Trump looks strong in his home state. He’ll have to clean up there to get back within reaching distance of the pace he needs in order to win an outright majority of delegates.
Conventional wisdom about the race has shifted; savvy election watchers now give the combination of Cruz and the field better odds of emerging victorious at the convention than they give Trump. I agree with Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall that using Cruz to deny Trump the nomination, and then turning around and denying Cruz the nomination, is unlikely to work out well for the Republican establishment. How does the Republican Party snub 70%-plus of its electorate, and if they manage it, how do they mobilize a winning coalition for the general election?
There is a scenario that, while unlikely, worries me a great deal since I prefer the Democratic Party. It goes something like this: the Republican Party nominates Cruz, or even better for the GOP establishment someone like John Kasich, Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney. While this would burn the 45% or more of the electorate that had voted for Trump, the Party goes to the country at large and makes this argument: the Republican Party showed it is now a responsible governing party by vetoing the nomination of a man that alienates an overwhelming majority of Americans and would put World War III on the table through his sheer ignorance of history and foreign affairs. By November, Trump voters reconcile themselves to holding their noses and voting against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The fresh face of CruzKasichRyanRomney leads enough moderate and independent voters to say hey, Republicans aren’t so bad anymore, and we don’t trust Clinton and Sanders is a communist so let’s roll the dice because we have no memory of George W. Bush. Republicans come to power with unified control of the government and proceed to govern in exactly the way modern Republicans govern, which a majority of voters actually disagrees with but has difficulty recognizing this reality. When it comes to policy, Kasich and would-be presidents Ryan and Romney share nearly all of Trump’s agenda, and Cruz is even worse! They are simply moderate fronts for a reactionary conservative agenda.
Now, I think it’s more likely the Republican Party melts down this election year than it is the above scenario comes to fruition, but I wouldn’t bet the rent money on it.
On the Democratic side, Sanders notched a solid victory but Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite. As FiveThirtyEight‘s analysts explain, Sanders overperformed compared to the polls but still didn’t achieve the margin he needs to get on pace for a majority of elected delegates. While Wyoming Democrats caucus on April 9th and this is likely friendly terrain for Sanders, the real test arrives on April 19th when New York’s 247 delegates are at stake. Since this is Clinton’s adopted home and has demographic features that lean in her favor, Clinton could spring back into prohibitive favorite position by doing well there.
By that time, Clinton may have lost seven out of the eight previous contests, and she’ll need to combat the narrative that her campaign is reeling. On April 26th, a bunch of mid-Atlantic states that also have friendly Clinton electorates vote, and if she ties or better overall in those contests after winning in New York the math becomes all but impossible for Sanders.
However, Sanders does have momentum, and if that means anything and he can capitalize on it maybe he continues to surprise. I definitely don’t count him out at this point. Now, we’ll have to wait and see what polling of the upcoming states shows. Maybe the ground is shifting, and Clinton really is in trouble. It’s doubtful, but most of us doubted Sanders would even be within striking distance at this point.