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Let’s play the presidential horse-race game, just for fun

On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton stalled and Donald Trump roared ahead (and was stranger than ever).

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ win in Michigan was unexpected and impressive, but impressive mostly because it was unexpected.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A few thoughts after Tuesday night’s primary results.

I don’t like to get too deep into horse-race analysis, which inevitably becomes horse-race prediction. All experience suggests to me that the soothsayers can maybe say sooth but they don’t really know the future. And neither do I.

But there is little of substance to squeeze from Tuesday night, so I’ll go a little horse-racey on you.

On Dem side, the story so far has been this: Hillary Clinton is unbeatable for the nomination. No, wait a minute, maybe not — Bernie Sanders is doing a lot better than anyone believed possible. Yeah, but when you look at the delegate math, and how well she does with certain important elements of the Dem coalition, like black voters, Clinton is unbeatable. That was where things stood heading into Tuesday. So Tuesday night it was time for another round of — maybe not.

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Sanders’ win in Michigan was unexpected and impressive, but impressive mostly because it was unexpected. The horse-race handicappers love an upset (even though it proves they’re not as great at future-telling as they pretend on TV). Of course, the win was by such a small margin that it will not affect the real race, for delegates. And Sanders, who is setting new highs in the “authenticity” contest all the time, admitted as much in his public remarks. (And how pitiful is it that we have created a whole five-syllable noun for someone who astonishes us by acknowledging what we all know to be so.)

To summarize my own preachment, which I’ve offered before, 2016 seems to be a more than usual case in which the Dems need to make their choice on electability. Trouble is, we don’t know and can’t know which candidate is the electable one, even though a great many people act as if they do know.

The Republicans

Moving to the Repub side: Another big solid winning night for Donald Trump, winning the biggest contest of the night (Michigan) by a solid margin.

If you did not see Trump’s post-election remarks, you missed a performance that was strange even by the standards of Donald Trump performances. (There’s video here, but the remarks go on more than 40 minutes.)

Trump also won easily in Mississippi, notwithstanding the fact that his two chief rivals for the nomination are southerners, Texan Ted Cruz and Floridian Marco Rubio.

Let’s get the Rubio paragraph out of the way right here. He had a horrible, horrible night. His once-promising candidacy is in free-fall. Even in a “brokered” convention, it will be impossible for the party to nominate him if he continues to demonstrate the opposite of electability. I don’t assume he’ll drop out before the primary in his home state of Florida next Tuesday, although he has been trailing Trump in the polls there for a long time, and by a lot (an average of 16 points over the three most recent polls).

Florida is a huge winner-take-all primary worth 99 delegates, and it begins to occur to some of those in the anybody-but-Trump movement that if Rubio can’t beat Trump there it might be necessary to get him off the ballot so somebody else can perhaps get those delegates.

Which brings us to the Ted Cruz paragraph. Cruz won Idaho, which would be a meaningless footnote except that Cruz will continue his laughable claim that it demonstrates he is the only one who can beat Trump. But he certainly is the only non-Trump who has been amassing delegates in any half-serious numbers.

Cruz has been polling a fairly distant third in Florida and he definitely is not contemplating dropping out. If the Trump-stoppers could sideline Rubio and magically transfer Rubio’s support to Cruz, they could perhaps dream of keeping those 99 delegates out of the maw of The Donald. But there are three problems (well, at least three): You can’t transfer Rubio’s supporters to Cruz, and if Rubio did drop out many of his votes would surely go to Trump; Rubio and Cruz hate each other; and if the Trump-stoppers are really just a name for the Republican establishment, many of them also hate Cruz and might even prefer Trump as their nominee.

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Which brings us to the John Kasich paragraph. He actually had a decent night, compared to the low standards of his performance to date (except in New Hampshire). At the moment, he is within a hair of tying Cruz for second place in Michigan, although he is the governor of the neighboring state of Ohio.

Coming up

Ohio, which is also a winner-take-all primary state, also votes on Tuesday, the same day as Florida, and it is worth 72 delegates. And yes, Trump leads in the polls there, but Kasich is close behind.

Personally, I think that if Trump wins Florida and Ohio, the nomination fight is over. The Trump-stoppers desperately need Kasich to win Ohio.

Now that they’ve decided Rubio isn’t the guy, the establishment would vastly prefer Kasich to any of the declared candidates. Vin Weber said at an event I covered Monday that Kasich is his current favorite. He also said that if the nomination comes down to a floor fight at the convention (which, he said, we should not call a “brokered” convention), he thought it important that the party at least choose from among those who had been running for the nomination (as opposed to various rumors afloat about turning to Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan).

OK, that was me in handicapper mode. It was kind of fun, but probably not worth the pixels it wasn’t printed on.