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

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

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.

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.

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.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/09/2016 - 09:17 am.


    Thee maketh summary sense.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/09/2016 - 09:56 am.

    Trump benefits from having multiple competitors

    Bound delegates, so far:

    Trump…………458 (44% of the total committed, so far)


    Just of the basis of delegate counts so far, “little Marco”, “dull John”. and “departed Doc” should place their delegates at the disposal of the “dork lord of doom”.

    458 to 572.

    I really want to see what it will look like when the “dork lord of doom” pirouette left.

  3. Submitted by B Carlson on 03/09/2016 - 11:31 am.

    Reality come this November

    Trump vs Clinton, Trump wins.

    Trump vs Sanders, Sanders wins.

    Place your bets now, folks!

    • Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 03/09/2016 - 01:26 pm.

      I’ll take that

      Clinton will beat Trump in the hold-your-nose vote.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/09/2016 - 02:56 pm.

        I’d agree

        Clinton is a lot tougher than anyone Trump has gone up against, and will treat him like a teacher disciplining a classroom bully.
        Any attempts by Trump to play the ‘Bill’ card will be met by corresponding details from Trump’s own history.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2016 - 01:13 pm.

    Sanders vs. Clinton

    It’s actually been quite frustrating, if you’ve really been paying attention you knew that all these “predictions” and “analysis” since Super Tuesday were garbage based on garbage data and observations. The problem is you can’t ignore or dismiss Sanders and his campaign and make make reliable predictions, that’s what nearly everyone has been doing, and that was never based on evidence, it was always presumption pretending to be political wisdom. So now 538 is eating crow because they forgot a basic principle of statistics, you can only use the data you have available and if that data is insufficient your stats and predictions can be garbage. Whatever.

    Can we finally recognize the fact that whether you like Sanders or not, he and his campaign are a remarkable political phenomena?

    In the meantime let’s try to set new garbage aside. The fact is there are almost 3,000 delegates up for grabs, and Hillary has nearly exhausted all of her clear advantages without significantly expanding her lead which has been hovering around 200 for about three weeks now. Once Florida and North Carolina are out of the way she’ll pretty much be into a head to head match with Sanders who has a proven record of demolishing her leads and winning with margins as high as 40%. There is absolutely NOTHING inevitable about Clinton and media has better pull their heads out of the collective arses and start covering the campaign like professionals instead of shill for Clinton.

  5. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 03/09/2016 - 01:24 pm.


    …no one’s gonna beat Drumpf, despite the Republican frothings. Neither Bernie nor Hillary can compete with the hatred and smearing to come. Yet, surely Drumpf and his robotic, pledged lemmings will teach all of us something in this new reality show called ‘Merica…I’ll be watching from elsewhere.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/09/2016 - 03:04 pm.


    I’m personally not surprised by the Michigan results.
    Sanders’ biggest yields were in the Detroit area.
    Despite a large black population, Detroit’s economic situation is desperate, with no hope for improvement any time soon. No jobs, no hope.
    This is a classic breeding ground for Sanders’ variety of vague revolution. Any promise of change no matter how unrealistic, is better than more of the same.
    Clinton did better in outstate Michigan, thus ending up with an effective draw.
    And I don’t think that Detroit’s economy is representative of the country as a whole; not even Ohio and the rest of the rust belt.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/09/2016 - 03:14 pm.

      What map are you looking at?

      “Sanders’ biggest yields were in the Detroit area.”

      Dude, the results were the exact opposite of what you’re describing, look at the map, Clinton is blue, Sander is green: http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/michigan

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/09/2016 - 03:50 pm.

        You’re right

        I was looking at the maps too late last night ;-).
        Another case of a beautiful theory done in by a hard cold fact.

        Clinton did dominate the Detroit/Flint axis, which has a large black population.
        I’m surprised that she did that well, since that area is also an economic disaster that could use a revolution.
        As usual politics are not as neat and simple as they seem to be.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 03/09/2016 - 05:10 pm.


        For a cite!

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/09/2016 - 06:39 pm.

    It is supporters of Hillary Clinton who keep beating the “electability” drum.
    In the meantime Democratic voters in primaries are paying attention to the differences between Clinton and Sanders on issues: which Democratic candidate is the most Democratic one?

    Saying that Sanders is one-issue is a gross–and lazy–journalistic misstatement. If you listen to him, he’s got much more to say than one-liners and sound bites; Sanders is the only candidate out there who actually sees the larger picture where This connects to That, and to That. The guy beats everyone on the campaign scene for seriousness of purpose, for plain speaking, for recognizing nuances.

    He knows that establishment Democrats would like us all to think that he can’t face Trump/Drumpf successfully. But I recall Sanders’s response to some young twit from the NYTimes: “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m running for President of the United States, and I will not talk about anyone’s hair-do.” (Imagine what else he won’t talk about!) If Hillary Clinton is forced to be school-marmish toward Trump/Drumpf she’ll lose millions of votes. But Bernie Sanders could just play adult male with him, stare him down and refuse to play the non-serious game, force The Donald into one of his frequent melt-downs where he embarrasses himself in front of millions. Let’s hope the press begins reporting on those Trump melt-downs, incidentally.

    Sanders has the shtick and the calmness to beat Donald Trump. In that sense, he’s more “electable.”

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/10/2016 - 08:41 am.


    The frustrating thing about electability is that our more attractive and capable candidate Bernie Sanders, isn’t terribly well suited for the presidency, and our less attractive and less capable candidate Hillary Clinton is well suited for the presidency.

    For yellow dog Democrats such as myself, just about the most frustrating thing there is, is that we are stuck with Hillary Clinton, who is so amazingly inept at politics. Hillary is perhaps the only Democrat in the country with an active political future who would have taken a small fortune to speak to Wall Street banks. She is perhaps the only Democrat who is able to claim with a straight face, that she doesn’t see what’s wrong with that. Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat in the country with a political future who allow her husband to create a foundation that would accept contributions from entities with business before the government. I mean really, why didn’t Bill take a job with Care? I won’t claim that Hillary is the only employee in America who, upon taking a job, would require that here personal email also be her business email, but I find it difficult to imagine any others. Who out there in the workplace wants their employer to have unlimited access to their personal email accounts? Why does Hillary do these things? Why does she torment Democrats so?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2016 - 05:19 pm.


      No one is president until they are president, there’s no reason whatsoever to assume that HRC is better suited than Sanders. If Sanders wins nomination he’s just as well suited as anyone else who wins the nomination.

      Yellow dogs have documented history of picking the wrong candidates and “deciding” who’s electable and who’s best suited. Let the people decide, that’s why we vote instead of letting party elites decide.

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