I gotta say, not a whole lot has changed in this election since I was routinely blogging here twice or three times a week. Since my thinking has not really changed much throughout this campaign, I’m happy to let the following pieces stand in for my laziness these past couple months.
As some in the country are still trying to decide whether their concerns (long-held and genuine, I’m sure) over email and server management practices are worse than their fears of a know-nothing, racist fascist with impulse control issues gaining control over the country’s nuclear arsenal, “Presidential Elections are Not National Psychodramas” is a good place to start. Generally speaking, we’re voting to empower the leader of a particular political party to lead the country. We’re not choosing a best friend.
In a similar vein, “Voting is About Empowering the Political Movement with Which You Agree Most” argues that any given candidate is going to have moral flaws. While I maintain that Donald Trump is an exception to the norm that most candidates who receive a major party’s presidential nomination are fit to serve as president, I won’t argue too much with voters who insist they want Trump to win because they agree with his policies.
In my most widely read piece ever – “An Open Letter to Sanders Supporters” – I make the case that Bernie Sanders and Clinton are part of the same political movement and with Sanders’ defeat looming, his supporters would do well to make their peace with Clinton’s nomination and work to influence her policies. In the end, Sanders acquitted himself very well in defeat, as did most of his supporters.
“Your Vote is Not a Special Snowflake, Except When It Is” is about how voting for a non-major party’s candidate is at best a waste of one’s vote, and at worst it can throw the election to the candidate a voter least prefers. That’s what happened when enough voters in Florida voted for Ralph Nader and swung the presidency to George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000. I voted for Nader that year and regret that vote to this day. I should add that in this year’s election, third party voters still make up around 6 to 8% of the population. In the infamous 2000 election, it only took 3.75% of all voters to choose third party and produce a worst case result. There’s a little too much volatility out there in the polling, and I agree more with Nate Silver’s relatively pessimistic assessment here that Trump’s odds are more like 2 to 1. I still think he’ll lose, but unfortunately, a Trump victory wouldn’t shock me at all.
My first piece, here, shows that the Democratic and Republican parties have very different agendas. They are in consistently stark ideological opposition to each other. Also, modern elected Republican officials behave in manners that are way out of line with previous norms, and they bear much more of the responsibility for Washington gridlock and dysfunction. There is no significant Democratic behavior that is equivalent. Both sides do not do it.
I’ll be going out to vote for Clinton as soon as I finish my coffee. Exercise your right to vote if you haven’t done so already. I urge you to also cast your vote for Clinton. That would be a vote cast for a solid and competent center-left Democratic candidate, and it’s no small thing that she’d be our first female president. On top of those, it’s very important to keep Trump – a know-nothing, racist fascist with impulse control issues – out of the White House. Finally, I urge you to vote a straight Democratic ticket. Especially if you live in a state where there’s a competitive Senate race, vote for the Democrat. It’s important that Clinton have at least one chamber of Congress on her side. Also, it’s becoming clear that Republicans will refuse to let Clinton fill Supreme Court vacancies should they retain control of the Senate. Republicans’ continued obstructionist behavior cannot be rewarded.
It’s been a tough week for those who would prefer that Donald Trump not become the next president of the United States. Sure, Hillary Clinton is still the clear favorite to win the election, but the anti-Clinton tenor of recent news coverage threatens to make it closer than it might otherwise be. It’d be one thing if there was a good reason for tearing Clinton down. It’s another that many in the media air and publish unjustified insinuations about Clinton while ignoring actual violations of both laws and norms by Trump. He can still win this election, and the media will deserve much of the blame if he does. Follow the links for context and examples:
Jonathan Chait finds Frank Bruni, one of the NY Times columnists who was guilty of fluffing Bush back in 2000, now blaming liberals for Trump. Chait eviscerates his claim. In fact, liberals were right all along about how dangerously racist and ignorant a bloc of Republican voters was becoming. Trump is certainly not the first leader to come along and give voice to that bloc.
Throughout her career, Clinton has had to endure a lot of non-scandals getting inappropriate and/or excessive attention. It’s hard to say whether it’s “the foundation” or “the emails” that qualifies as the most damaging non-scandal this election.
That’s bad, but what makes “the emails” worse is the fact that Clinton did misbehave. That complicates things. She has apologized and admitted she should have done things differently. Reasonable people can disagree about the severity of Clinton’s misbehavior. What makes “the emails” a non-scandal is that we have yet to hear anyone explain what nefarious intentions Clinton had in the email practices she chose. In fact, Clinton chose to ensure her work emails were retained as required by law, unlike the sainted Colin Powell. Also, the idea that she and her staff were willy-nilly sending classified emails is ignorant of or held with blatant disregard of the facts. At it’s worst, “the emails” is a work process story about Clinton following custom and practice rather than going by the books. It’s no scandal because nobody intended any harm, no harm occurred, and nobody even knows what harm was supposed to ever have been intended anyway. Plus, Clinton agrees she should have behaved differently!
Meanwhile, there is a candidate who personally and through his organizations has actually broken the law and misbehaved in ways morally wrong and injurious to others. Just recently we learned of this instance: Donald Trump’s Trump Foundation gave an illegal political contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi after she declined to investigate Trump University for fraud. Not only did Trump’s organization break the law, the facts suggest the people involved went to great lengths to hide what they were doing and are now lying about it. Now that’s a scandal! And nobody disputes that Trump’s foundation violated the law! Yet our mainstream political shows are dominated by parades of doofuses talking about how they feel “the foundation” and “the emails” “raise questions” that contribute to voters’ feelings that Clinton is dishonest.
Of course we should hold those up for election to rigorous vetting and high standards. There’s nothing wrong with investigating Clinton’s past and present in order to understand her record and character. If it turns out that she committed a crime, willfully harmed others, or otherwise behaved in a reprehensible way, then that should be judged accordingly. There’s just no evidence she did any such thing. Making a weekly story about wondering if one of her non-scandals should be a story does Clinton and the country a disservice. It intensifies feelings that she’s dishonest when a fair reading of the facts suggests the opposite.
If new facts come to light, then naturally we’d have to reconsider. Recent facts have shown no wrongdoing on Clinton’s part. Repeated suggestions otherwise are inappropriate editorializations.
I didn’t even get to these issues, so quickly: no, Trump is not softening, and no, Trump is not fuzzy like the American fuzzy lop rabbit.
The Republican Convention was a tour de farce of plagiarism, F-list celebrities, lies, and stupidity, capped off by Trump’s “This country is a hellhole, and you’re all going to stay unemployed, lose your jobs and/or die if you don’t elect me” speech. The Democratic Convention was a well-run affair, featuring speeches by actual celebrities and accomplished elected officials, none of whom seemed to be raving lunatics. There was some bad behavior from sour Sanders dead-enders, but they’re now gone and irrelevant.
Hillary Clinton gave an okay speech that accomplished one big thing: it put the Democratic Party on the offensive, seizing the mantle of what it means to be an American in 2016. This is remarkable to me, as the Democratic Party has been on the defensive my entire life when it comes to questions of which party better represents American ideals.
The conventions mark the point in an election cycle when the general American electorate begins to think seriously about the choices for president. For those of us who follow politics on a daily basis, it seems unbelievable that many Americans don’t know anything about the candidates or the parties’ platforms before the conventions, but that is actually the case. The conventions help voters focus by formally deciding on their candidates and providing them and their parties with four days of prime time opportunities to introduce themselves and their policies.
In the wake of last month’s conventions, Clinton quickly took a commanding lead in the polls and has yet to relinquish much if any of it. It turns out that Trump’s candidacy, catering to the grievances and resentments of a faction within one of the major parties, cannot gain much traction with the general electorate in 2016. I always thought/hoped that the election would look like this after the conventions. Trump may have won the votes of 50% or so of the Republican Party’s base by letting the racist freak flag fly, but it didn’t survive first contact with the general electorate. This is why polling trackers give Trump almost no chance of winning the election. FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton an 83.6% chance of winning, likely in an Electoral College landslide. Meanwhile, RealClearPolitics finds that Clinton pretty much has a lock on 272 Electoral College votes (270 are needed to win the presidency). That’s even without quadrennial swing states like Florida and Ohio that have leaned Democratic the last few presidential elections.
Trump is now desperate. He can’t abide losing. He’s an idiot. So what’s a desperate idiot who’s losing supposed to do?
It turns out that he’s reneging on his promise to deport all undocumented immigrants, flirting with the dread “amnesty” on Fox News Channel with Sean Hannity last night. This must be an effort to stop looking like a racist gleefully intent on mobilizing the forces of the federal government to hunt down 11 million people, deport them, and break up their families. Trump’s too dumb to realize that that horse has left the barn, got hit by a freight train, and then had its hooves salvaged for glue.
The Trump campaign is out of ideas and tricks. It doesn’t know what the point of itself is anymore. Like Fonzie and Happy Days in its fifth season premiere, it has jumped the shark.
When you find yourself flip flopping on the one issue that got you the nomination, it’s time to pack up and go home. Imagine Hillary Clinton securing the nomination, and then saying maybe it’s okay if we don’t have universal pre-K or paid family and medical leave after all. Or Sanders securing the nomination, and then saying big financial banks should remain large and unregulated and hey maybe the rich pay enough in taxes after all. They’d be skewered and rightfully so.
Where does Trump go from here? The election is still two and a half months away and there’s just no point to him anymore. Trump was useful in the sense that it was useful to learn for a certainty that 30 to 40% of the country’s voters are ignorant rubes, just waiting for a Trump to come along and take their dignity and/or their money. But if Trump can’t even keep the one position he’s held clearly and consistently, which enabled him to beat all the other Republican candidates – including John Kasich and Marco Rubio both of whom I think could’ve won the general election – what exactly is he doing?
Before trying to answer that question, I’d like to introduce readers to “Trump’s Razor.” This is a principle coined by John Scalzi to capture what Josh Marshall was getting at in this piece about how Trump immediately regretted and tried to reverse his decision to have Mike Pence run as his candidate for Vice President (remember that happened!?!?). As Marshall wrote in a follow up piece:
According to Trump’s Razor: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct.
Let’s take a look at some of the available facts from recent weeks:
Manafort was replaced by two new people: Steve Bannon, the guy who’s been running Breitbart and turned it into a haven for white nationalists and misogynists; and Kellyanne Conway, presumably hired to help Trump gain ground with women. (Women, it should be noted, generally don’t care for misogynists.)
“Our government has totally failed our African American friends, our Hispanic friends and the people of our country. Period,” Trump said in Akron, Ohio, straying from the prepared remarks the campaign provided to reporters. “The Democrats have failed completely in the inner cities. For those hurting the most who have been failed and failed by their politician — year after year, failure after failure, worse numbers after worse numbers. Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats. And I ask you this, I ask you this — crime, all of the problems — to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?”
Trump opined that women who face sexual harassment at work should find new careers.
As mentioned previously, Trump tried to get a do-over on Pence as V.P.
Trump spent days defending his statement that, literally, Obama founded ISIS. Then he backtracked, accusing people of not understanding sarcasm. It wasn’t sarcasm, literally or figuratively.
We could go on. So, what’s the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts? I’m open to other suggestions, but I’d say the stupidest possible scenario is that nobody in the Trump campaign nor Trump himself has any idea what they’re doing. They make it up on a daily basis, constantly changing to meet the demands of Trump’s feel for the audience he’s talking to at that particular moment. Or, as with Trump’s flirting with doing a 180 on his immigration policy after meeting with some Hispanic leaders, constantly changing to meet the demands of whichever person he spoke to last.
Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money finds Freddie deBoer making a fascinating argument that if we punish the Democratic Party in 2016 we will all get ponies in 2020. Cool story, bro. Let’s just outsource the proper response to this to Lemieux, here, with the relevant excerpt (but read the whole thing):
He [deBoer] continues, in vain, in this vein:
“I reject the insistence that it’s my responsibility to vote for Hillary Clinton out of support for the “lesser evil” because the lesser evil argument contains no coherent argument for how change occurs. The lesser evil is not good enough; lesser evilists never articulate a remotely compelling vision of how one proceeds from the lesser evil to the greater good. Politics is a form of negotiation. The lesser evil argument compels us to concede to our negotiation partner (the candidate we are meant to support) our only source of leverage (our vote) before receiving any concessions at all. You might try this in any other form of negotiation and see how well that works for you. Promising to vote Democrat no matter what ensures that Democrats have no reason whatsoever to actually improve as a party. And as long as Republicans are in a death spiral, “better than the Republicans” is a designation that simply gets worse and worse over time. Lesser evil thinking is a road that has no ending and inevitably leads to the bottom.”
deBoer attacking other people for lacking a “coherent argument for how change occurs” is…astounding. There’s a reason why this argument operates entirely at an abstract level, with no historical examples. This is because history has continually and decisively refuted deBoer. Voting for Johnson, as we’ve discussed, was a classic “lesser evil” vote in the sense that he means it. So was FDR, given the many compromises the New Deal had to make with the white supremacist faction of the party. So was Lincoln, an incrementalist on an issue of the utmost moral urgency. Major progressive reforms are almost always the result of lesser-evil voting and coalition-building, and are virtually never the result of dramatic flounces out of the coalition, as the same-sex marriage movement shows. Did movement conservatives take over the Republican Party by voting third party if they didn’t win? They did not. They try to get their candidates elected in the primaries, they won some and they lost some, but they kept pushing. It’s not complicated, but it works. As a theory of political change, it’s perfectly coherent. deBoer’s isn’t even a theory; it’s a retrospective justification for his belief that he’s too good to form any political association with people on the left he deems not left enough. Let’s say enough of the left agreed with deBoer to successfully throw the election to Trump. Do you think this would be good for the American left? That it would increase their influence? The whole idea is nuttier than a warehouse full of fruitcakes. It’s a ridiculous idea in theory that has an extensive record of failure in practice.
From his CV I gather that deBoer is about my age, which means he’s old enough to remember the last time leftists made this argument that progressive paradise is right around the corner if we just teach those Democrats a lesson. That was 2000, and the ponies we reaped for sowing Democratic Party candidate Al Gore’s defeat by sitting out the election or voting for Ralph Nader were huge tax cuts for the rich, soaring budget deficits, a recession, and oh yeah, the loveliest pony of them all, the Iraq War.
Hillary Clinton is running on a strong progressive platform. The deBoers of the world go on believing their lying eyes, concocting farcical stories about why they just can’t vote for her. As they continue to trot out such arguments and fail to respond adequately to criticism, one starts to wonder if their true motivation can be found by rearranging the letters in “my soy gin” to make a single word.
Since Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s nominee and the choices are clear before the American people, it’s important to sharpen our thinking around voting. I’ve written about thisbefore, but it’s worth revisiting now that there are three candidates and it’s just so hard to choose!
The third candidate I’m referring to is Gary Johnson. There has already been some “Johnson is the only true progressive!” nonsense published out there after Bernie Sanders’s hopes were crushed in New Jersey and California last Tuesday. Johnson is many things but he’s no progressive. To begin with, he doesn’t believe in any of the basic pillars of the New Deal that Sanders and Clinton both are trying to preserve and strengthen. Johnson is as close to being Sanders on the issues as I am to starting at center for the L.A. Lakers next season (I’m 5’4″ and haven’t played competitive basketball in about seven years).
But Clinton and her emails! Her Wall Street speeches! Trump says she had someone murdered! We just can’t trust her!
It should go without saying that if one is going to make a moral case against Clinton, then one cannot vote for Donald Trump, either. That leaves Johnson, but I’m going to reveal something here on this blog right now that may shock and permanently damage virgin eyes, so if you believe that politicians – or hell, people in general – are morally pure, please stop reading now.
Did you stop?
Okay, you must really want to know…
No politician or human being is without moral shortcomings. Clinton, Trump, and Johnson didn’t get to their positions in life without making some mistakes or engaging in outright reprehensible behavior on occasion. There’s even a moral case against Saint Sanders and his oversight as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and of course, Sanders’s wife, Jane Sanders, stands accused of destroying a small Vermont liberal arts college due to an irresponsible and possibly fraudulent real estate deal she rammed through during her tenure as president. Now, these might be cases made by people with an ax to grind against Sanders, but that brings us back to the larger, more important point.
Everyone at the level these people reach has skeletons in their closets. Johnson is no different. Aside from being a hypocrite like we all are sometimes, he has some truly ugly behavior for which he’d probably rather not have to account. As governor of New Mexico, he loved privatized prisons, and he loved awarding the contracts for their construction to the friends he had made when he was CEO of his own construction firm. When state officials became alarmed by the number of murders and riots happening at these prisons, Johnson refused to allow his own state to study what was going on inside them.
The fact is that all these candidates have their flaws and we can minimize them or blow them out of proportion according to our own biases, so as always, people should figure out which party they’d rather have in power and vote for its candidates. If someone finds Clinton’s emails disqualifying, well, I guess that’s principled. If someone finds the fact that Johnson refused to allow his own state to investigate a dramatic increase in murders and riots in his pet private prisons disqualifying, well, I guess that would be principled, too. See, everyone can play the “my candidate’s purer than your candidate” game. It’s the wrong game to play, especially with the stakes as high as they are in a presidential election.
It’s not terribly inspiring to make the dread relativist argument about why any given candidate, as a moral person, is generally no worse than any other candidate. Personal qualities and behavior matter for sure, and I’d argue that Trump’s disqualify him while Clinton’s and Johnson’s don’t disqualify them. Actually, Trump is that extremely rare candidate for president that is obviously morally unfit for office and is kind of the exception that proves the rule. Although, a good moral argument could’ve been made against George W. Bush in 2004 after we had already learned about his administration’s torture policies. (On a side note, it was Bush’s torture regime that motivated my first foray into political blogging, published by Andrew Sullivan back in 2006.)
It’s very easy for a motivated person to make a moral case against any specific candidate. Do I really think that Clinton’s moral failure with her emails isn’t as bad as Johnson’s moral failure with the private prison industry he was in bed with? Who cares?
My role as a voter is to figure out which party I want to control the government. The parties have very clear and very different platforms. If people want to vote for Trump or Johnson then vote for Trump or Johnson, but they should save us the bullshit about how they would’ve voted for Sanders if he were the Democratic Party’s nominee but they just can’t vote for Clinton. That’s confused about what they’re doing with their vote at best and disingenuous at worst.
Donald Trump has officially secured the Republican Party’s nomination now that John Kasich, last man standing by a day, has suspended his campaign. Weirdly, that means it’s the Democratic Party’s nomination that is still up in the air, with Bernie Sanders claiming he will contest the nomination if Hillary Clinton needs superdelegates to get her over the top. Unfortunately for Clinton, it looks like she will in fact need superdelegates for a majority.
However, this requires some context. Just the word “superdelegates” riles people up and makes rational conversation difficult, so let’s try to clarify the situation before we look into the future. First, I’ve written before that the superdelegate system needs to be abolished and I stand by that. In addition, I explained the superdelegate math. Here’s the relevant passage:
The superdelegate system, which allows 712 Democratic Party insiders to vote for whomever they want at the convention, accounts for 15% of the 4,763 total delegates. Since a candidate needs 2,382 delegates to win an outright majority, superdelegates could provide as much as 30% of the votes needed to push a preferred candidate over the top.
While it’s unlikely that superdelegates are willing to risk breaking the Democratic Party in two in order to get their preferred candidate on the ballot, their votes would be required to form a majority if a candidate finishes with less than 58.8% of elected delegates. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight wrote a great piece about this in February. Flipping things around, there’s 41.2% – that’s the percentage of elected delegates a candidate could win the nomination with if 100% of superdelegates voted for him or her.
Silver reminded us that superdelegates, wary of going against the will of the voters, are likely to see which way the wind is blowing and support the candidate with a majority of elected delegates. This is exactly what happened in 2008, when Clinton again started the nomination process with a large superdelegate lead only to see that shrink and vanish as Obama won more and more elected delegates.
Superdelegates are part of the game and everyone who’s playing wants to win. Sanders supporters were outraged by the superdelegate system before voting began, and as I’ll explain, now the Sanders campaign is banking on superdelegates to save his candidacy. This might reek of hypocrisy, but I don’t remember Clinton and her campaign disavowing the system back when she had huge support from superdelegates before a single commoner had cast a vote. Now, the Clinton campaign is aghast that the Sanders campaign would try to win the nomination through manipulation of superdelegates. So, yeah, plenty of apparent hypocrisy for everyone.
The only fair way to resolve this issue is for both camps to agree that democratic legitimacy depends on winning a majority of pledged delegates. Every state and territory sends pledged delegates for candidates to the convention based proportionally on their primary or caucus results. Therefore, pledged delegate count is a reasonable proxy for the popular will. Superdelegates, in the imperfect world in which they still exist, should basically be honorary convention attendees, at least when it comes to voting on the nomination. Ideally, and as they did in 2008, superdelegates simply ratify the choice of the public.
How is the Sanders campaign rationalizing this about-face? There seem to be two key arguments: 1) contests that Sanders wins are worth more when they come in a row or later in the election season, so superdelegates should reflect those different weights, and 2) Sanders matches up better against Trump in general election polling so superdelegates should get behind the candidate with the best chance of winning in November.
The first argument is stupid and delegitimizing of Clinton voters. Before we hear protests that only Sanders fanatics are saying this, no actually, Sanders’s top strategist, Tad Devine, is making this case. If we really want to get into weighing the different contests based on their perceived legitimacy, well, Sanders has racked up pledged delegates in caucuses, the least democratic process for selecting delegates. Caucuses result in abysmal voter turnout and tend to privilege wealthier people with the ability to spend time at a caucus. This is a cake that the Sanders campaign can’t have and eat, too.
Leaving aside the toxicity of the first argument for the moment, the second argument is the one that deserves serious consideration and is why the superdelegate system exists in the first place. No Democrat wants to lose a winnable election, which 2016 most certainly is even if the Republican opponent weren’t Trump. Both Clinton and Sanders beat Trump in head-to-head polls, but Sanders leads by significantly larger margins. The Sanders camp would argue that Clinton has negative favorability ratings and therefore is the riskier candidate. The Clinton camp would argue that Clinton is a known quantity and she still beats Trump, most voters don’t really know who Sanders is and wait til Trump calls him a communist, and anyway general election polls this far out historically don’t correlate very well with November results.
That superdelegates exist to guide the Democratic Party to its most viable nominee is a compelling argument. If we accept it, then we are putting a close contest in the hands of 712 unelected party insiders who are free to assess each candidate’s case and vote according to their conscience. Though it’s self-serving for the Sanders campaign to now embrace this argument, again it’s part of the game. I maintain that superdelegates should simply ratify the will of the majority, and after they do that this year, the Democratic Party should eliminate the superdelegate system.
That brings us to the state of the race after Indiana. If you take my position and agree that the 4,051 pledged delegates should determine the nomination, it looks like this:
Hillary Clinton has 1,701 pledged delegates, which is 325 shy of the minimum 2,026 needed for a majority.
Bernie Sanders has 1,417, which is 609 shy of the majority threshold.
With 933 pledged delegates still remaining, Clinton needs to win 34.8% to reach a majority and Sanders needs to win 65.2%. Clinton has won 54.6% of pledged delegates awarded so far, while Sanders has won 45.4%.
For the sake of argument, say they maintain the same pace, which is somewhat reasonable since Clinton is expected to do well in California and New Jersey and Sanders is expected to do well in the smaller states such as West Virginia and Oregon. That means Clinton wins 509 more delegates, giving her a total of 2,210, and Sanders wins 424, giving him a total of 1,841. Contest over.
Now, let’s entertain the Sanders campaign contention that the 712 superdelegates should have the final say. A candidate needs 2,382 total delegates for a majority. Clinton would need 172 superdelegates (24%) to put her over the top, while Sanders would need 541 (76%). Are 76% of superdelegates going to find Sanders’s electability argument persuasive? And this isn’t a vacuum; remember, many Democratic Party members are wary of Sanders’s tenuous links with the Party, both rhetorically and financially.
Like in Michigan before, Sanders just pulled off a surprising victory in Indiana. Maybe more surprising victories await, but it’s hard to see him winning substantial majorities in California and New Jersey, which look and behave a lot more like New York where Clinton won big, than they do Washington state, where Sanders won big.
The takeaway? Superdelegates are not going to entertain Sanders’s electability argument unless he wins a majority of pledged delegates. Many are already ambivalent towards him. Also, there’s the precedent of 2008 when superdelegates supported Clinton by a wide margin but many switched to Barack Obama when it became clear he would win the majority of pledged delegates. That contest was even closer than this one and the candidate behind was the one many of the superdelegates preferred, yet they still refused to put her over the top. No way they do that for Sanders. If his campaign wants to win, it’s going to have to do something it hasn’t managed to do yet, which is carry large diverse states with more than 65% of the vote.
This makes one wonder what exactly Sanders is after, and calls back to mind the first argument we identified that his campaign is using to woo superdelegates. Sanders wants to win, of course, and I respect that and am genuinely happy about the good influence he’s already had on Clinton’s campaign. But what exactly does he gain by suggesting that primary votes in the South don’t really count because they happened early and those states never go for the Democrat, when he’s relying on states like Idaho and Kansas that held contests over a month ago and never vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate either? Or what good does it do when his strategist says that contests count more when a candidate wins a lot of them in a row or they come later in the process, like Clinton didn’t just win five out of six primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast?
Do Sanders and his campaign staff actually believe this stuff? Are they just undisciplined? Or are they actually trying to tear the Democratic Party apart? These aren’t rhetorical questions.
This coming Tuesday, April 26th, is the third time during this presidential nomination cycle that a bunch of states rich in delegates will vote on the same Tuesday. There will be one more “super” Tuesday on June 7th, when the big prizes of California and New Jersey (don’t snicker) are up for grabs for both parties’ candidates. What happens in two days will influence the shapes of both races going forward, so let’s go ahead and see what’s likely to happen and what it all means.
First, the region that votes on April 26th is the Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, with Connecticut included depending on who you ask, plus Rhode Island). This region has structural, geographic, and demographic features that favor both parties’ front-runners. Structurally, both parties in all five states are holding primaries. So far, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have done very well in primary elections compared to their performances in caucuses. On the Democratic side, the fact that these are closed primaries – meaning only registered party members can vote – leans even more heavily in Clinton’s favor. Clinton has been dominating with people who tend to be registered Democrats, which kind of belies the “no enthusiasm for Clinton” trope, at least among the Party’s base, but that’s a subject for a different post.
Geographically, the region favors Trump because of its ties to New York City and the dread “New York values” so reviled by Texan Ted Cruz. Republican evangelical voters in these states may give Cruz some support, but overall his brand is toxic in the Mid-Atlantic. Cruz’s doubling down on support for North Carolina’s discriminatory LGBT law and past arguments that sellers and users of sex toys are criminals are unlikely to make his brand less toxic there. Increasingly desperate #NeverTrumpers may strategically vote for Cruz or with their conscience for John Kasich, but with Trump poised to win at least a plurality in each state, let’s predict he wins a majority or better of the delegates at stake, with a “big but” explained in the next paragraph.
One more structural note on the Republican side. Amazingly, most delegates Pennsylvanians send to the convention will be directly elected, but without voters knowing which nominee those delegates prefer. This is nuts and favors the much more organized Cruz campaign. Trump is guaranteed 17 delegates if he’s the overall winner, but 54 delegates will not be bound to any nominee. If Trump and his supporters think the process is rigged now, wait until they get a load of Pennsylvania. With such an undemocratic process that is by no means guaranteed to correlate with actual Pennsylvanians’ preferences, Trump may not get as big of a delegate haul as he deserves.
On the Democratic side, Clinton enjoys a big demographic advantage in addition to her structural ones in the region. Bernie Sanders has not done well in states with denser and/or more diverse populations. His most recent victory was in Wisconsin, which is 86% white. This Tuesday’s whitest state, Pennsylvania, is 82% white; meanwhile Maryland, the most diverse of the five states, is 58% white. Maybe the demographics don’t doom Sanders in all five states, but given Clinton’s polling leads and the cultural affinities with New York where she just won big, let’s predict Clinton goes five-for-five.
Now, the math behind the delegate counts is what ultimately gives these analyses and predictions any meaning. Let’s start with the Republican contest (thanks FiveThirtyEight), where a candidate needs to reach 1,237 delegates for a majority. So far, 1,712 of the total 2,472 delegates have been awarded to specific candidates. It’s estimated that almost 200 of the delegates could officially be “unbound” for the first ballot at the convention, which confuses the analysis and is going to be a subject of ongoing intrigue. For our purposes, let’s take FiveThirtyEight‘s numbers at face value and run the numbers:
Donald Trump has won 846 delegates, which is 47.1% of the total so far. He needs 391 more delegates for a majority, which is 58% of remaining delegates up for grabs, 172 of which are at stake on Tuesday.
Ted Cruz has won 544 delegates, which is 30% of the total so far. He needs 693 more delegates for a majority, which is 102.8% of remaining delegates.
John Kasich has won 149 delegates so far, which remarkably is both still behind Marco “Not Even in the Race Anymore” Rubio’s delegate count and means if he won every single delegate remaining (674), he’d still be behind Trump!
The last time we did this analysis, Trump needed a 59% pace to win an outright majority on the first ballot. He’s more or less in the same position he was a month ago, but with less margin for error now with fewer delegates remaining. Cruz joins the Kasich Club in being mathematically eliminated from winning an outright majority on the first ballot at the convention. That’s unless he convinces most of the unbound delegates to commit to him AND he does much better in the remaining races than he’s done to date, neither of which are likely. I’d say Trump is likely to get 58% or better of the delegates on Tuesday, but again, Pennsylvania’s rules really confuse the situation.
Cruz may be more competitive in Indiana with its 57 delegates at stake on May 3rd, but he’s drawing dead. The best he can hope to do is deny Trump a pre-convention majority while convincing unbound delegates to withhold the boost Trump would need to get to 1,237. Trump appears very likely to be within striking distance of 1,237 with the help of unbound delegates should he fall short of a majority.
If we take it as a given that legitimacy is important for whomever becomes the Republican nominee, I don’t see how the Republican Establishment denies Trump the nomination if it happens he’s the clear delegate winner but just shy of a majority. During the modern nomination era, it’s a singular occurrence that two candidates who are ALREADY non-viable in terms of reaching a majority are even still in the race. Usually, once candidates reach this loser milestone (if not before), they drop out and rally behind their preferred remaining candidate, or in the case of only one left standing, they throw their support behind that person for the sake of party unity. The situation really shows the notable degree to which a large proportion of the Republican Party loathes Trump. Tuesday’s contests should only exacerbate this problem.
Relying on FiveThirtyEight again, how do things look on the Democratic side? Like last time, let’s ignore the superdelegates since it’s unlikely they will go against the candidate who wins a majority of elected delegates. Please refer to that previous piece if you want to know my stance on superdelegates; long story short, get rid of them. Without superdelegates, there are 4,051 elected delegates, which means a candidate needs to win 2,026 in order to claim democratic legitimacy.
Hillary Clinton has won 1,443 elected delegates, which is 54.4% of delegates awarded so far. She needs to win 583 more for a majority, which is 41.6% of the remaining 1,400 delegates.
Bernie Sanders has won 1,208 elected delegates, which is 45.6% of delegates awarded so far. He needs to win 818 more for a majority, which is 58.4% of the remaining delegates.
Sanders, in spite of his string of victories in the seven contests before he lost big in New York, has gained no ground on Clinton over the past month. That doesn’t mean he should drop out. In fact, he’s much more viable at the moment than any of his Republican counterparts. The problem for Sanders is the math and the likely outcomes in remaining states. Let’s look at the following scenario.
Let’s be generous and suppose that Sanders takes half of the 384 delegates at stake on Tuesday (Clinton is likely to do better than 50%, but for the sake of argument). If he does, that increases his delegate count to 1,400, but reduces remaining delegates from 1,400 to 1,016. Sanders would need 626 of the remaining delegates to reach a majority, which then would be 61.6% of remaining delegates. Even under this rosy scenario where Sanders ties in the Mid-Atlantic, he goes from needing 58.4% of remaining delegates beforehand to needing 61.6% in future contests.
This problem for Sanders is nicely illustrated by the updates in FiveThrityEight‘s delegate targets for each state for each candidate. Based on state profiles, the targets are numbers for each remaining state that the candidates have to hit in order to get on track for a majority of elected delegates, given they hit their targets in all other future contests. They’re reasonable numbers based on the current state of the race; for example, Sanders could have used a landslide in New York where his FiveThirtyEight target was 125, or 50.6%, of the total 247 delegates at stake. With no polling indicating a Sanders landslide in New York, they arrived at the more modest majority target. Sanders ended up only getting 108 delegates in New York, or 43.7%, which now means his targets in upcoming states have to go up. With polls showing consistent Clinton leads in California, do we really think he’s going to hit the target of 239 (50.3%) out of 475 delegates? And that assumes he gets 189 (49.2%) of 384 delegates on Tuesday. I’d say 173, or 45%, is the most he’s going to get in the Mid-Atlantic.
This is why a contest that so far has been 54% Clinton to 46% Sanders is pretty much out of reach for Sanders. That 8% difference doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you factor in how states are likely to vote and the delegates remaining, it’s nearly impossible for Sanders to make it up. He’s not finished and I hope he keeps going, but if I were in his campaign, I’d get to work on a strategy for influence within a Hillary Clinton general election campaign and presidency, based on delivering votes for the Democratic Party in November.