Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
Previously I shared my belief that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will win the respective presidential nominations for the Democratic and Republican Parties “unless something dramatic happens”. I don’t think it’s happened yet, but I’ll let you be the judge.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders continues to be a thorn in Clinton’s side by not only winning his home state of Vermont and its neighbour state of Maine, but also taking primaries in Midwestern states like Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Michigan. Sanders has been beating Clinton thanks largely to his surprising strength among younger voters in the 18-to-29 bracket. But because Sanders’ upset wins in Michigan and Oklahoma only netted him 11 more delegates than Clinton, he continues to fall further behind in the overall delegate count.
Based on conversations I have had with some of Bernie’s younger supporters, I believe a large part of his appeal to younger voters is the authenticity of his message. Sanders truly believes that the political establishment of both political parties has turned its back on America’s working class and is not taking steps to address the growing problem of income inequality. Yet while there is more than a little truth in what Sanders is saying, I contend there is little or no chance electing him president would lead to any significant reduction in that income inequality.
Furthermore, no matter how much the authenticity of Bernie’s message resonates with Democratic primary voters, he still trails Hillary Clinton by more than 650 delegates going into the 15 March round of primary contests. With 1,221 delegates in hand, Clinton already has more than half of the 2,383 delegates she needs to become the Democratic presidential nominee. I just don’t see a path to victory for Sanders, given the fact that to defeat Clinton he must now win more than 60 per cent of the remaining delegates.
Even though his 571 delegates are fewer than half the number Clinton has won, Sanders has still won nine of the 22 Democratic contests completed as I write this. While the delegate math is somewhat less favourable for Donald Trump than it is for Clinton, Trump’s Republican challengers have won far fewer primaries. Marco Rubio has won a single primary and Ted Cruz has only won seven of the 23 Republican contests, versus 15 for the frontrunner.
After Trump won 252 delegates and eight of the 12 Super Tuesday primaries on 1 March, both Cruz and Rubio, his closest challengers, as well as a number of Republican establishment leaders, immediately went on the attack. Rubio and Cruz pummelled Trump, with Cruz blasting him for his 2008 campaign donations to Hillary Clinton, and Rubio accusing him of lying about his positions on trade and foreign policy. While some of their attacks fell flat, the challengers did succeed in putting Trump on the defensive.
These debate attacks were augmented by thousands of anti-Trump TV ads bankrolled by Marlene Ricketts and Our Principle, her anti-Trump political action committee (PAC). Prior to the debate, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney joined the fray by denouncing Trump as someone with “neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president” and accusing him of “playing the American public for suckers”. The 2008 Republican candidate John McCain piled on, claiming Trump was ignorant in the area of foreign policy.
The reason why so many Republican establishment figures are now attacking Trump is because they are deathly afraid that the GOP will not only lose the Presidential race, but they will also lose seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate if Trump becomes the Republican nominee. Romney even went so far as to suggest that Republicans vote for whichever Trump challenger appeared to be strongest in their state, hoping that doing so would lead to a contested convention that would settle on anyone but Trump.
Some political observers speculated that the combined weight of the Republican challengers’ personal attacks during the debates, the anti-Trump speeches by Romney and McCain and the anti-Trump attack ads led to an erosion of his support in the 5 March Republican contests. Although Cruz lost the Louisiana primary and the Kentucky caucus to Trump, he also won the Kansas and Maine caucuses and pulled 16 delegates closer. Cruz even went so far as to claim that the results were a “manifestation of a real shift in momentum”.
But three days later, on 8 March, Donald Trump proceeded to win Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii by an average of 11 percentage points over second-place finisher Cruz. While Cruz did pick up a win in Idaho, losing the other three more populous states to Trump meant the latter came away with more delegates, and effectively erased Cruz’s previous 16-delegate gain.
The upcoming 15 March primaries are winner-takes-all contests that Trump challengers Rubio (Florida) and John Kasich (Ohio) must win if they want to stay in the race. But with Trump leading the polls in all five states, I believe it will mark the end of the line for both.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.