Maybe I’m missing something here, but a candidate who wins two of his or her party’s first three primaries (caucuses, whatever), and has significant, if not commanding, leads in polling for most of the next round of primaries (at least those for which any decent polling exists), should be considered the prohibitive favorite to win his or her party’s nomination, no? Well, guess what?
If there were any doubts as to who has come out of the Republican gate in the best shape, Saturday’s South Carolina primary should have buried them. But for a race that looks pretty lopsided to me, the humble layperson, there’s still an awful lot of coverage being focused on the race for second place, which now looks like it’s between Ted Cruz (R-TheworstMrsDoubtfirecosplayconventionever) and Marco Rubio (R-LetsdispelwiththisfictionthatBarackObamadoesntknowwhathesdoingHeknowsexactlywhat hesdoing).
Rubio in particular stretched the bounds of credulity on Saturday when he gave what sounded pretty much like a victory speech, for finishing second (barely). Such a distant second, in fact, that he may not have won a single delegate. Rubio is telling people that “the real Republican primary” is just starting now, although I figure after he loses again in Nevada tomorrow he’ll go on TV on Wednesday and say “I mean…now.” Cruz is touting the fact that he’s already beaten Trump once this cycle, which is nice, but, you know, not really enough to win the nomination.
Implicit in this heated race to be Trump’s runner-up is the notion that Trump is running on borrowed time until he eventually does or says something that causes his campaign to derail. Have people who still think this is going to happen actually been watching the campaign so far? What else do you think he could say that would finally cause him to lose support? Even losing in Iowa, which I actually thought might puncture his aura of invincibility, has apparently had no effect.
Another implicit sentiment in the Cruz/Rubio drama is that Trump has a “ceiling,” or in other words that his popularity is but so high, and in a head-to-head race with either Cruz or Rubio the “not Trump” vote would outpace the “Trump” vote. For one thing, this is an absolute assumption. It’s clear from polling that Trump is not as popular as Rubio, in particular, but the idea that this would automatically translate to every available “not Trump” vote going to Rubio is not borne out by polling (some Trump vs. Rubio polling suggests Rubio would come out ahead in that matchup, but not all of it). For another thing, so what? If these contests keep resulting in Trump getting ~35% of the vote and Cruz and Rubio neck-and-neck in the 15-20% range, does anybody imagine that either Rubio or Cruz is going to be the first one to bow out and let the other guy have it? I’m not seeing it, to be honest. Even John Kasich, with whatever little time he has left in the race, can mess things up for Rubio by pinching votes from the “establishment” side of the party. In a 3 or more candidate race, Trump’s current ceiling seems like it’s more than high enough to win.
Look, it’s been a while since anybody has polled Florida, but at last count Trump was destroying Rubio in the polls there. And that’s Rubio’s home state! At least Cruz appears to be ahead (though, again, the polling is old) in Texas! Where is Rubio planning to actually win a primary if not in Florida?
Obviously there are still plenty of primaries ahead, but I just find it odd that so few political analyst-types are prepared to say that Trump looks like the favorite.
On the other side, I think Nevada was probably the beginning of the end for Bernie Sanders, since Hillary Clinton is now in a similar situation to Trump (winning 2 of the first 3 contests and with favorable polling ahead). She looks set to win South Carolina by a big margin, and most of the March 1 states (Vermont aside, for obvious reasons) look pretty good for her. After the March 1 contests her nomination may start to appear to be a foregone conclusion, and that kind of a thing has a way of becoming self-fulfilling.
I am vaguely troubled by this, not because I am opposed to Hillary Clinton (there’s a lot I don’t like about her policies, particularly on foreign policy, but I’ll still vote for her over any of the Republicans in November) but because I fear that in winning, her incredibly dysfunctional campaign team is going to decide that they ran a wonderful campaign and they should just keep on keeping on through the general. This is a campaign team that managed Clinton from a ~56-point polling average lead over Sanders a year ago to a ~5 point lead today, and sure, some of that was people getting to know Bernie Sanders, but if you don’t think the Clinton campaign has screwed this primary campaign up over and over again, you haven’t been watching. They’ve been tone-deaf with the electorate, they went negative on Sanders at a time when they didn’t need to and kept doing it even though it didn’t work, they’ve alienated young liberal voters by treating them like annoying children, and apparently they think none of that is going to matter once Sanders drops out. Good luck with that. I’d say that now would be a great time for the Clinton campaign to shift to a positive message and try to put the nastiness of the past few weeks behind everybody, but I’m not sure it’s in them to do that.
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