So, Um, Trump’s Gonna Win?

Yes. Well, probably. At least, I don’t see how he doesn’t win the Republican nomination given current facts on the ground (the general election is a much different and much more unpredictable story). Donald Trump has won nearly every category of voter – and in Nevada, every category – so far that has come out for the Republican contests. It used to be self-evident that support for dropouts Chris Christie and Jeb Bush would go to Marco Rubio. Reality had other plans. If Trump’s lead only increases when a candidate drops out, he wins. Now we have the three-man race predicted here, and if Rubio and Ted Cruz don’t play rock-paper-scissor or whatever it takes to get one of them to drop out, Trump wins. And if one of them drops out, Trump probably still wins.

dumpster_fire_28396804760529
The Republican nomination contest. By Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA (Dumpster Fire) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Those of you who have been reading Swinging Dead Cats since it started last August already knew that Trump was likely to win the Republican nomination. Along with declaring Trump the frontrunner in my post “Surprise! Donald Trump Appeals to White Nationalists” I mentioned that the Republican party harbors a substantial minority of no-doubt-about-it racists. I got some pushback on that one. This is an important point that people keep missing. Sometimes, the answer to questions like the ones I asked in the linked post are really, horrifyingly simple.

So what’s going on here? Why would a bloc of voters who have always voted for GOP economic policies all of a sudden be open to Democratic economic policies espoused by someone who sounds like a racist demagogue?

Anyone pushing back want to read this polling of South Carolina’s Republican voters and try to argue again that many of them are not racists? A staggering 38% of South Carolina Trump voters wish the South had won the Civil War. If 38% of Trump voters wish the South had won the Civil War, and the South fought the Civil War over the right to continue owning slaves, then 38% of Trump voters still believe that we ought to have the right to own slaves. As Esquire’s Charles Pierce likes to say, South Carolina is the “home office of American sedition.” So some might say hey, it’s South Carolina. But if people think that 38% number isn’t similar across the South, they haven’t been following American politics.

western_coop_finished_033
Trump is building a yooge, classy, beautiful, unbelievable coop for the Republican chickens coming home to roost. Mexico is paying for it. By Curtisscoopsandyardbarns (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, Christie’s endorsement of Trump blunts the momentum Rubio may have had after Thursday night’s debate. The idea that Rubio did any real damage to Trump among the latter’s own core supporters was laughable anyway.

Meanwhile, the math is what it is: Trump is winning and racking up delegates, and a strong plurality of the hundreds of delegates up for grabs on March 1st look likely to go Trump’s way. Trump is leading in every state that votes next Tuesday and usually by wide margins, except in Texas – Ted Cruz’s home turf. Cruz is likely to win in Texas, giving him a second state (he won Iowa). Rubio will do well enough that the Republican establishment and much of the media will convince themselves he still has a chance. So Cruz and Rubio will both stay in the race.

This is a nightmare scenario for the GOP establishment. Starting on March 15th most Republican contests are winner-take-all, meaning that Trump would win all of a state’s delegates with only a plurality of the vote. This will almost certainly happen if both Cruz and Rubio stay in the race. Trump could essentially have the nomination wrapped up by the end of March!

The Trump phenomenon is not really a mystery, as Matt Taibbi explains in his excellent recent piece over at Rolling Stone. The racial and cultural resentments of many Americans, and their justified anger over their economic situations (though deeply ironic as they’re the ones who have been voting middle class-gutting Republicans into office, after all) – these were always there for someone to come along and put them together, unleash them without filters, and see what happens.

New Hampshire Recap

andrej_nikolajev
A New Hampshire Trump supporter on his way to vote. By Usien (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Want to know how absurd this 2016 Republican nomination contest has become? Here’s the spokesman for the fourth-place finisher in New Hampshire, whose campaign has spent way more money than any of the other candidates’ campaigns, arguing that the second-place New Hampshire finisher has no viable path to the nomination. That’s right, Jeb Bush’s campaign is trying to stake out ground as establishment frontrunner even as it departs New Hampshire having placed behind John Kasich and Ted Cruz and just barely in front of Marco Rubio. And of course, I’m burying the lede here: Donald Trump placed first in New Hampshire, has outperformed the polls in doing so, and his potentially damaging second-place finish in Iowa is now a distant memory.

Just one week ago, the Republican establishment seemed poised to rally around Rubio and his strong third-place finish in Iowa. One humiliating debate performance and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire later, and Rubio appears to be dead in the water. It’s not a strong look when your state campaign chairman is caught on camera physically assaulting a “Robot Rubio” protestor. The Rubiobot has indeed malfunctioned.

What do the New Hampshire results mean for the Republican race? Ben Carson (dead last) and Carly Fiorina (second to last) should drop out. Chris Christie’s sixth-place finish and return to New Jersey would indicate that he’s dropping out. He shook up the race by badly exposing Rubio during last Saturday’s debate, but Rubio’s poor performance in New Hampshire did not benefit Christie. The Granite State was everything for Christie’s campaign, but it turns out he is about as well-liked there as he is in New Jersey.

Moving on, the field will effectively consist of five candidates. Here are the five in order of their support in an average of national polls: Trump (29.5%), Cruz (21.0%), Rubio (17.8%), Bush (4.3%) and Kasich (4.0%). Carson has been running fourth nationally at 7.8%, and Christie and Fiorina are tied at 2.5% each. That’s almost 13% of the electorate that needs to find a new candidate.

Now the circus moves to South Carolina, which holds its contests on February 20th. South Carolina polling is badly outdated; we don’t even know the effects of the Iowa contest there and now we have New Hampshire’s results to consider as well. Trump has been running strong in South Carolina, so that probably won’t change. If Trump can break 40% in South Carolina, that would indicate he’s on his way to securing a majority among some voting populations, even in a still crowded field.

Nobody in South Carolina knows who Kasich is, so how does he capitalize on his second-place finish in New Hampshire? For some perspective, let’s remember that Kasich won second place in New Hampshire with about 16% of the vote; it’s a crowded field, sure, but when 84 out of 100 voters are choosing someone else, you’re not exactly crushing it. But this “success” in New Hampshire means Kasich will move on and try to compete in at least one more contest. That leaves him, Bush, and Rubio vying for establishment support. In the wake of Rubio’s face plant last Saturday and disappointing New Hampshire result, maybe Bush, who has been close to Rubio in South Carolina, actually has an opening. I can’t believe I’m writing that.

New Hampshire was a bad result for the Republican establishment. Support for its preferred candidates is extremely fractured. Trump and Cruz go into South Carolina competing for first and second, while the establishment candidates will likely continue to fight among themselves. As long as nobody emerges to lead the establishment, Trump and Cruz will keep this a two-man contest and will rack up valuable delegates in these early states.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has to be disappointed with receiving under 40% of the vote and losing by a bit more than 20%. Bernie Sanders outperformed the polls and received about 60% of the vote. Nevada is going to offer Democrats their first venue that doesn’t skew so white and liberal, so Clinton has reason for optimism. The theory of the race that the Clinton campaign has embraced so far is that Clinton will do well in more diverse states where Democrats are not so liberal. Past polls have backed up this theory. I’m looking forward to seeing new polls out of Nevada and South Carolina to find out if the ground has really started to shift or not in this race.

It’s just hard to say what’s going to happen. Sanders couldn’t have asked for two friendlier states to start the nomination contest, yet he only won one of them. However, if you had told the Sanders campaign seven months ago that they would practically tie in Iowa and dominate in New Hampshire, they would have taken that in a heartbeat. Clinton came out of the first two contests bruised but certainly not broken. She has contests in much friendlier states coming up. However, she got crushed again by younger voters. Is it time for the Democratic establishment to start panicking?

 

New Hampshire Preview

It’s been a tough time for predictions here at Swinging Dead Cats. Last week, in the Iowa Caucus preview, I had Donald Trump winning there only to see Ted Cruz score a big victory. I called Iowa a coin-flip between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, so that one came out looking okay. But then, in my last “Weekend Links” post I wrote that the Carolina Panthers would beat the Denver Broncos by a touchdown or more in the Super Bowl. Well, that didn’t happen.

The Broncos’ defense made Cam Newton and his Panthers team look like a hapless high school squad as they fumbled and bumbled and missed a field goal on their way to an ugly loss on the country’s biggest stage. This was the one game I caught the whole season and it was a giant piece of garbage. Maybe I should write my own disingenuous piece about boycotting the NFL. Seriously though, I should boycott the NFL.

Back to predictions. One out of three is good for a hitter in baseball, but not for some random guy trying to establish credibility as a commentator on American politics. New Hampshire is unlikely to help me; the state can be very hard to predict because many people participate and many of them tend to decide just before they vote. This time, there are a few complicating factors as we wait to see how tomorrow’s actual voting compares to the polls and pundits’ predictions. For a good primer on New Hampshire’s contests, check out this piece over at Raw Story.

Let’s look at the Republican primary. Marco Rubio has been trending upwards in New Hampshire since his stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa. He seemed to be on his way to a comfortable second-place finish, and he could possibly challenge Trump for first. However, the overwhelming consensus is that Rubio received a savage beating at the hands of Chris Christie during Saturday night’s Republican debate. Polls won’t have the opportunity to register the effect of this, if any, before the good citizens of New Hampshire go out and vote.

With some recent polls indicating that around 30% of Republican primary voters are still undecided, it’s just hard to say what’s going to happen. Trump is comfortably in the lead but his support could be soft. However, his backing in New Hampshire has always been stronger and his lead over his opponents has been larger than either ever were in Iowa. I think Trump wins New Hampshire and Cruz outperforms his polls but I’m not sure that would be enough for Cruz to finish second. If Rubio really did come out of Saturday looking weak, then John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and/or Christie could all challenge him for pride of place among establishment candidates. If Rubio places behind any of them, he’ll have to beat them all in South Carolina on February 20th before he can continue arguing that he’s the best choice for the establishment. It will look even worse for Rubio if he also finishes behind Cruz tomorrow.

On the Democratic side, remember that it was New Hampshire that saved Clinton’s candidacy in 2008. That was a surprising outcome. Even though she’s been trending in the right direction since her slight victory in Iowa, I don’t think there will be any surprises tomorrow. Sanders has a comfortable lead in the polls and I think he’ll win with more than 50% of the vote. If Clinton finishes with 40% or higher, that will allow her to claim she did well enough. She’ll be relieved to move on to Nevada and then South Carolina where she has enjoyed huge polling leads. However, if Sanders wins New Hampshire as expected, the next big question will be: can Sanders put up a decent challenge in South Carolina and keep himself viable heading into the many March contests?

Really though, we shouldn’t look too far ahead. The Republican contest has always deserved a wait-and-see approach, and the Democratic contest is turning into a much closer fight than I was anticipating just a month ago. Whatever happens, trying to figure out what these strong challenges to both parties’ establishments mean for the state of American politics and the general election in November will be interesting.