March 15th was one of the most significant dates on the American political calendar.
Hillary Clinton advanced rapidly towards the Democratic nomination, Republican rising-star Marco Rubio dropped out, and the split of the Republican Party widened even further. Here’s a quick look at the state of race after March 15th.
Hillary Fends off Bernie in the Mid-West, Eyes Nomination
Bernie Sanders’ marginal upset victory over Hillary Clinton in Michigan caused some to believe that a resurgent Sanders was due to score victories across the industrial Rust Belt. Bernie’s supporters argued that it demonstrated his anti-Wall Street language was breaking through to Americans who have suffered through the decline in American manufacturing. With support among young liberals and traditional industrial workers, Sanders appeared to have a coalition that could make up some ground on Clinton.
Hillary’s emphatic win over Sanders in the key Mid-West swing state of Ohio stomped on such projections.
Clinton won clear victories in North Carolina and Florida, but this was expected given the age and racial compositions of these two states. However winning in Ohio by 14% reassured Clinton supporters of her ability to connect with a broad base coalition, and appeal to Americans working in traditional manufacturing and industrial sectors.
Sanders performed well in Illinois, falling behind Clinton by only 2%, while in Missouri an effective tie will split that state’s delegates between the two candidates.
Although it feels as if this needs stating every week, Sanders is not finished and this race is not over. However, taking Ohio and refusing Sanders the symbolism of a state-win on the 15th puts Hillary in an excellent position moving forward. From here on Sanders needs to win around 69% of all remaining delegates to catch Clinton.
Marco Rubio Out, What Will He Do Now?
In the end, it was very predictable. As discussed in another post on this blog, Marco Rubio has been struggling to connect with Republican voters for the past month due to various reasons. Rubio#s death knell was the humiliation of losing his home state of Florida to Donald Trump on March 15th.
It wasn’t even close: Trump was 19% ahead of Rubio and received over 400,000 more votes than the Senator from Florida.
Marco Rubio quickly wrapped up his campaign once the results poured in, giving a speech that reminded voters of why exactly he was such a favourite in the first place. Ironically, this may have been Rubio at his best during this campaign: optimistic about America and championing inclusivity in the Republican Party. He warned Americans not to give into the politics of fear and division spouted from Donald Trump.
Now there is a question of where Rubio’s supporters will go to: the most likely recipient would be John Kasich, given Rubio’s clashes with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, though some will likely bleed into Cruz’s camp.
Potentially more significant is the question of whether Rubio will join with the ‘Never Trump’ movement. He previously said in a debate that he would endorse a Trump candidacy, but later walked these remarks back. Rubio will not be elected President in 2016, but if he so chooses he may still play an important role in decided who will.
Three ‘Never Trump’ Lines of Defence
Donald Trump had another big night on March 15th. The billionaire took Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and likely sneaked by Ted Cruz in Missouri. Tensions surrounding Donald Trump have boiled over in the past ten days. His rallies have been scenes of political violence, even causing one appearance in Chicago to be cancelled.
As a result, the ‘Never Trump’ movement within the GOP has been gaining traction. These are conservatives who wholly disagree with Trump leading their party or consider him fundamentally unelectable in 2016.
At this point, there are three main options for the Never Trump proponents:
For better or worse, Ted Cruz has a point when he says he is the only candidate with the ability to beat Trump. Despite early signs in South Carolina that Donald Trump was chewing into Cruz’s core support of evangelicals, the Texan Senator has proven extremely resilient.
For the moment the continued viability of Cruz is somewhat indebted to John Kasich winning Ohio, depriving Trump of that state’s 66 delegates. Nevertheless, Cruz has won a tidy handful of states in Iowa, Alaska, Texas, Kansas, Maine, Idaho, and Wyoming. Granted, many of these are small with low delegate numbers, but Cruz has also placed a respectable second in many other states, peeling off delegates from Trump.
Cruz is the only candidate in the Republican field with an outside chance of beating Trump before the Republican National Convention. For many a Cruz nomination is little better than Trump, but others like the conservative publication National Review consider Ted Cruz the first line of defence against Trump.
The second option is grounded on the ability of Ted Cruz and John Kasich to prevent Trump from reaching the majority of delegates he needs to secure the nomination. That magic number is 1,237. Trump currently has 661. So this option is inherently hinged on Cruz and Kasich continuing to put up a decent fight until July.
However, if Trump is prevented from securing a majority then the decision for the nominee will be made at the Republican National Convention. At that point, second and third choice votes can come into play, leading to the opportunity for Kasich or Cruz to step ahead. On the other hand, an entirely new nominee could step into the field if they believe they have a chance. Mitt Romney has denied he would consider such a manoeuvre, but something like this would not be unimaginable.
This may be why former candidate Jeb Bush has yet to declare his support of a remaining nominee. Or perhaps Jeb is waiting to see if the Convention is receptive to him stepping back into the ring.
Third Party Kamikaze Run
This is the last resort: the nuclear option, to blow the whole damned thing up. As a result, conservations around a third party run are largely happening behind closed doors.
Trump is so antagonising to some in the Republican Party that they would rather prevent him from hijacking the Party in a national campaign. Senator Lindsey Graham, for one, has stated that he would rather lose this election and save the soul of the party, than see Trump drag the GOP through the dirt. Other fear that a Trump presidency would be so disastrous internationally, that the stability offered by Hillary Clinton might be preferable.
The mechanics for putting forward a third party candidacy vary state-by-state, but if the wheels are put in motion early then the Never Trump contingent of the Republican Party can mount a counter-Trump conservative race that has the potential to bleed off Bush, Kasich, and Rubio supporters from key swing states.
Imagine Florida, a vital swing state in the presidential election, where a Never Trump nominee can peel off even 2-3% of Republican support given the popularity of Rubio and Bush. Or Ohio, another invaluable swing state, where Kasich supporters backed a third party nominee on the advice of their popular governor.
To that end, the nuclear option may well depend on Kasich, Rubio and Bush. They still exert a considerable influence in the pivotal states of Ohio and Florida, and if they can present a compelling reason for an anti-Trump nominee, Trump’s chances of success are crippled.