Primal Scream

Donald Trump has been the story of the Republican primary season, so it should be no surprise that he will be the last Republican candidate standing. It’s long been clear that he was either going to be the Republican nominee or the Republican leadership was going to have to pry away many of its rank-and-file supporters to deny him the prize. With Trump’s elevation to presumptive nominee status following the departure of the Cruz/Fiorina faux-ticket, we have an early answer to the question we posed several weeks ago about which path the party is going to take. We said there were three options: Trump would have enough delegates for a first ballot nomination; Trump wouldn’t have enough delegates for a first ballot nomination, in which case he would probably be turned away in subsequent balloting; or Trump would have close to enough delegates for a first ballot nomination, bringing about a tumultuous and unpredictable floor fight. We now know the answer is behind Door #1. It may not be official until California and New Jersey vote in June, but the suspense is gone.

This greatly simplifies the math and reduces the intrigue surrounding the convention, and delegates can stop worrying about still being in Cleveland in early August preparing for the 100th ballot while scrambling to find hotel rooms. But it doesn’t end the battle between the conservatives and reactionaries who seek the Republican Party for themselves. That will continue to rage and it may yet take unpredictable turns.

Think for a second about what is happening. Since the ascendency of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the Republican Party has been the political home of movement conservatism. Its leadership has been unfailingly devoted to tax cuts and deregulation and reliably conservative on a range of social issues. Affiliated media and interest groups could punish those who deviated from orthodoxy, as George H. W. Bush learned when his lips moved and higher taxes came out. But Donald Trump does not come from this tradition. In fact, he doesn’t come from any ideological tradition. Listen Read More

Charade Over, Republicans Stare Into the Abyss

Well that was fast.  The newly-minted Cruz/Fiorina ticket folded this evening after a double-digit drubbing in the Indiana primary. It was six days old. This leaves Donald Trump with an unobstructed path to the Republican nomination. It will not end the resistance to Trump’s candidacy by movement conservatives and elected Republicans who fear what a Trump nomination means to their agendas and their livelihoods, but it is a dramatic moment in Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party. In the weeks and months to come we will get a better sense of how the divisions still boiling below the surface will play out. But it now appears that this most high profile of contests between conservatives and reactionaries will be won by the reactionaries, potentially leaving conservatives without a political home. It is a victory by an angry base over its party leadership, and there will be a lot to say about it in the days ahead.

Ted Cruz Plays Charades

Sargent Shriver is the answer to a trivia question. I’ll give you the question at the end of this post.

Last Tuesday, Ted Cruz was soundly defeated in five primaries in the Acela corridor, falling further behind Donald Trump in the Republican delegate count and guaranteeing that it will be mathematically impossible for him to secure the first ballot nomination of his party. So the next day he introduced Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate. Like just about everything else in this primary contest, Cruz’ act of pretend defied not just conventional wisdom but wisdom itself. In making the announcement, the also-ran candidate conceded, “It’s tradition that a vice presidential nominee is announced at the convention.” Cruz conveniently omitted that it is also tradition to wait until one receives the presidential nomination of one’s party.

Several days after the faux Cruz/Fiorina ticket began campaigning for Indiana’s 57 delegates in Tuesday’s winner-take-most event, the New York Times was up with a piece about how pretty much no one in the Republican establishment wants to be considered for the second spot on a potentially real Republican ticket with Donald Trump, which as of this writing appears to be a far more likely possibility than any option involving Ted Cruz. The Times article lists Jeb Bush, John Kasich and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as prominent Republicans prepared to run as far away as possible from a Trump ticket. The article even quotes an aide to Scott Walker as saying the Wisconsin governor “has a visceral negative reaction to Trump’s character,” a statement I will simply leave for you to process as best you can.

It isn’t hard to understand these reactions. The uncertainty around Trump’s behavior and the certain difficulty he will have appealing to voters outside the Republican primary bubble make him a bad bet for anyone who harbors ambitions Read More

Acela Tuesday

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Donald Trump won five primaries yesterday. Hillary Clinton won four. We could have predicted these outcomes last week from pre-primary polling and the demography of the states in play. Yet as the presidential campaign traveled the Acela line, with Tuesday primaries in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, some of the same pundits who declared Wisconsin to be the beginning of the end for Trump because of his poor showing there were talking about his inevitability as the Republican nominee. And Bernie Sanders’ path to the nomination was declared even harder to attain, even though we’ve known for some time that he has no path to the nomination absent a Clinton collapse. Journalists of course have to write stories, but can we put to rest the idea that this primary campaign is driven by momentum? I mean, how many times does Trump have to not collapse before reporters give up on the notion that this time really spells the end? Maybe Trump will be the first ballot nominee and maybe he won’t. We’ll know in June. For now, can we stop pretending that the outcome depends on anything more than the breadth of Trump’s appeal?

Primary and caucus results stopped winnowing the field of Republican contenders once it was reduced to Trump, Cruz and Kasich. Since then, election results have had no bearing on who is in or out. If they did there would be nothing left to talk about except Trump’s choice of a running mate, but since a significant portion of the Republican establishment Read More

No Healthy Party Wants A Contested Convention

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was “increasingly optimistic” that this summer’s Republican convention will require multiple ballots to determine a nominee, effectively rooting for a contested convention in order to stop Donald Trump from being nominated on the first ballot. It makes perfect sense in the current political environment for McConnell to hope the convention does not coalesce around the delegate leader and preclude anti-Trump forces from staging a counter-attack. It’s also a measure of just how out of control this electoral cycle has become for the Republican Party.

Contemporary party leaders simply don’t want contested conventions. Far from it. Modern conventions are media spectacles. They’re highly scripted opportunities to showcase a party’s newly minted ticket and launch it into the general election with four days of staged events designed to shape the narrative of the upcoming fall campaign and provide the ticket with a public opinion boost. Almost nothing is left to chance out of fear that an unscripted moment could undermine the convention’s carefully planned stagecraft. There may be quiet efforts behind the scenes to Read More

Common Ground

Late last night, when I was trying to make sense of why anyone would be surprised with the entirely predictable results of the New York primary, I said that Bernie and Hillary now face an end game where their interests overlap. Let’s use the light of a new day to reflect on that a little bit, because the way this energetically contested nomination process ends is and always has been the most important matter facing the Democratic Party and its voters.

Bernie Sanders is running a movement campaign and he has tapped into a deep well of anger and frustration with the political system and how it favors the interests of those wealthy enough to dominate it. He did not invent this movement, resonant as it is with the critique of netroots progressives and Occupy Wall Street, but he did galvanize it and give it a dynamic mainstream voice. It’s the reason he plays to large and passionate crowds and can raise millions from small dollar contributors who believe in his message and keep him going even when he suffers setbacks like he did yesterday in New York. His success propelling the progressive movement has been the story of the campaign on the Democratic side. He has driven Hillary Clinton to assume a much more progressive posture than she had before the primaries began. He has forced Democratic Party elites to acknowledge that their base voters, especially their younger voters, are restless for a change in how the party does business. Bernie has called on his supporters to stage a political revolution and they have responded.

But to win a presidential nomination you need a broad coalition, and we have known since Super Tuesday that the Sanders campaign wasn’t quite there. He has performed well in caucus states where intensity factors heavily into results, in states with limited diversity, in open primary states where he could draw on his appeal to unaffiliated voters, Read More

New York

Nothing surprising happened tonight despite the hype over big wins by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the New York primary. By saying this, I’m not trying to disparage the accomplishments of either candidate. They each dominated their respective primaries. But if you have been looking at the enduring trends of this endurance contest of a presidential campaign, you had every reason to expect this result. New York is home turf for Trump and Clinton, a place where each enjoyed overwhelming advantages.

When Trump’s campaign was sputtering under the weight of the candidate’s inability to figure out how much he wanted to punish women who had abortions and his casual endorsement of nuclear war, pundits who should have known better were declaring that if Trump lost Wisconsin then it would absolutely without question finally and unconditionally be the Great Unraveling we have all been promised since last summer. So when Trump was thumped there by Ted Cruz, media narratives emphasized the resurgent hopes of anti-Trump forces and declared New York a must-win state for him. But we knew that Trump was in a commanding delegate position despite his Wisconsin difficulties, just like we knew that Wisconsin was always going to be a difficult state for him. And we knew he held consistently outsized leads in polls of a state where his name adorns structures across the New York metropolitan area. His overwhelming New York triumph under these circumstances tells us less about his resiliency as a candidate than it does about his appeal in his home state. Still, you shouldn’t be surprised if the story again returns to how difficult it will be for establishment Republicans to deny Trump the nomination, even though this was the case even when Trump looked like a loser in Wisconsin.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s victory in a state she represented in the Senate was in the high end of the range predicted in pre-primary polls. Bernie Sanders contested the New York primary with gusto, his Brooklyn accent at times making him appear to be more the New Yorker than Clinton, but his challenge was enormous and the likelihood Read More

Your Three-Step Guide To Navigating Pre-Republican Convention Coverage

Yesterday, the Cleveland Indians played their seventh game of the regular season. On the date Republicans plan to convene their convention on the shores of Lake Erie, the Indians are scheduled to play game #92. Think about that for a second. More than half the long, long baseball season will be history before we finally learn the name of the last candidate standing and, with it, the likely fate of the Republican Party. In an age of instant communication and immediate gratification this is simply too long to wait. It will create a news vacuum and that vacuum will be filled with endless speculation.

To help you survive the months of punditry ahead, I offer this guide to what is important to know about the build-up to the Republican convention and when we will know it. Think of it as a handbook to help you cut through the verbiage and focus on the few things that will actually shape the outcome of the Republican contest. Use it to Read More

States vs. Delegates

When campaigns lag in delegates they sometimes deflect attention to other more favorable measures in the hope of getting reporters to treat them like those objects in sideview mirrors which are closer than they appear. We saw this in 2008, when some Hillary Clinton supporters claimed the nomination should go to the candidate who had won the most aggregate votes in the primaries, an argument with great face value appeal but absolutely no bearing on how actual nominations are decided. Another version of this argument is that the candidate who did best in general election swing states should win the nomination because if her opponent cannot win primaries in key states like Pennsylvania, then he risks losing them in the fall. In addition to having the disadvantage of faulty logic (case in point: Obama suffered a big loss in the Pennsylvania primary but won the state easily in the general), this point, too, has no bearing on how nominations are decided unless you want to believe that superdelegates will be persuaded by faulty logic to support the runner-up.

This year, the potential for narrative spin revolves around the number of states won by each candidate. There is a possibility that Bernie Sanders will win more state contests than Hillary Clinton but still lose the nomination. Thirty-four states have thus far participated in Democratic primaries and caucuses and the victory tally is close, with Clinton having won 18 states to Sanders’ 16. But Bernie still trails in the delegate count because with few exceptions Hillary is winning populated states with large concentrations of delegates. And it’s the delegates – only the delegates – that matter.

Our graphics editor Sharon Machlis provides the following look at states won by Clinton and Sanders by population:


The figure makes clear just how well Hillary is doing in states with larger populations. The ten largest states by population to have voted at this point are Texas, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, Read More

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