By Matt Miller
The 2016 presidential race has roused populist sentiment in both the Republican and Democratic nominations. Bernie Sanders has succeeded in rallying those who believe that the system is rigged in favor of the one percent; that increasing taxes on the wealthy will fund free college education and to increase the scope of social services without stressing an already overstressed national budget. Donald Trump has solidified himself as the Republican frontrunner by appealing to people’s fears of job loss to illegal immigration as well as their distrust of the political system. The masses have found their voices and are making their displeasure known through these two candidates. This rebuke has served to upend the traditional political election process and has created fissures in both parties, the effects of which will be difficult to measure.
Sanders’ success has surprised some, but the Democratic nomination is still Hillary’s to lose. Her ability to deflect controversy and present herself as the “realistic” choice has proven effective. She presently has 1,614 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 856. There is still a possibility that the Senator from Vermont can upset the Clinton political machine, but his prospects in the remaining states are as low as the probability of him winning. The Democratic nomination seems to be a forgone conclusion; the preordained result being what was supposed to occur in 2008 before Barack Obama stole the show: a coronation of Hillary.
The Republican primaries are more akin to a day with the jester at the king’s court than a crowning ceremony; the antics are as unpredictable as the results they garner. The comments Mr. Trump has made throughout the cycle would have had the de facto effect of disqualifying any other candidate’s campaign; they have only served to bolster his lead and strengthen his aura as someone unafraid to make unfiltered declarations and critiques of the country’s situation and the political process’ hypocrisy.
Super Tuesday once again forced numerous professional political commentators to recalibrate their projections of what is possible and to seriously acknowledge the numerous indicators pointing to the fact that the Republican nomination is Donald Trump’s to lose.
After the day in which eleven states held primaries, Donald Trump remained the Republican frontrunner and ever more increasingly odds on favorite, winning six states and amassing a total of 319 delegates. This momentum carried him to victories in Michigan, Mississippi, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, and Florida. As of March 21, Mr. Trump has 678 delegates supporting him.
His closest contestant, Senator Ted Cruz, won his home state of Texas as well as Oklahoma, Kansas, Maine and Idaho. Adding these five states to his proportional tallies in Kentucky (15), Hawaii (7), Michigan (17), Mississippi (13), Wyoming (9), Illinois (9), Missouri (5) and North Carolina (27), Senator Cruz currently has the backing of 423 delegates.
Florida US Senator Marco Rubio, the successor to Jeb Bush’s recently rescinded title as “Establishment favorite,” has removed himself from the primaries after his disappointing showing in the Sunshine State. He trailed well behind in third place: 110 delegates and a victory in Minnesota, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. was not enough to energize voters into coalescing behind him as the moderate, practical choice.
This is where Ohio governor John Kasich has stepped in to fill the void. His victory in Ohio served to solidify his self-portrayal as the Party’s most palpable candidate remaining field of three1. Whether or not the GOP sees things this way is another matter. Mitt Romney’s recent call for the strategic voting of Ted Cruz to force a brokered convention is evidence that the Ohioan does not have Establishment support. Nevertheless, Mr. Kasich, who has thus far run a publicly positive campaign but, perhaps sensing blood in the water, has recently not ruled out more clearly delineating himself from his opponents. Along with his New Hampshire victory he has thus far accumulated 143 delegates’ votes. His journey remains an uphill slog.
These results have forced the Grand Old Party to finally curtail what could be described as its outward aloofness towards the real estate mogul’s prospects of becoming its presidential election representative. The idea that Mr. Trump’s early stage surge was an ephemeral phenomenon has now been invalidated by his continuing success in the primaries and national polls. This became apparent when “the establishment” cut its losses (150 plus million of them) after Jeb Bush removed himself from the race and Marco Rubio was unofficially anointed the new torch bearer. The logic being that Jeb’s voters and donors would consolidate under the Florida Senator and his traditional toe-the-party-line rhetoric.
This current shift in sentiment is not exactly an inspiring endorsement but an indictment on the GOP’s disdain for the frontrunner. The decent numbers garnered by Cruz, and to a certain extent Kasich, have shown that the party is far from coalescing under a more traditional candidate, giving some credence to rumors that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing his best to convince Kasich to pull out of the race. This has resulted in an uptick in statements by Republicans condemning Trump’s temperament, rhetoric and business acumen.
On February 28, Meg Whitman, Hewlett Packard CEO and power player within the Republican ranks, condemned Chris Christie’s recent endorsement of Trump, stating in no uncertain terms that the New Jersey governor’s actions as “political opportunism” and that, “Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears.” On Thursday, Mitt Romney felt the need to warn those who would listen, that “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.” This is an interesting statement when one takes into account that during his own run for President in 2012, Romney used Trump’s endorsement as a springboard in his campaign advertisements and fundraising events, going so far as to say “Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works.”
A recent Reuters articles claims that the Koch brothers, who have amassed an estimated $400 million under their Freedom Partners Political Action Committee (PAC) will not use the funds against the Republican frontrunner. The reason given by anonymous sources is that throwing money to attack Trump has been less than successful. In fact, it could be argued that the massive amount of money being donated to various Super PAC’s has only served to bolster the self-funded candidate’s argument that the political system is rigged in favor of those with the ability to donate large sums of money to candidates who promise to do their bidding if elected. It is impossible to discern the brothers’ true intentions, but the statement given by their Super PAC’s spokesman can be construed as a change in strategy.
With 1,049 delegates available and 1,237 needed to win the nomination outright, there is still a numerical chance that Trump will not represent the Republicans in the election. Analysts contended that the playing field would be significantly altered should Rubio and Kasich win their respective home states of Florida and Ohio. Kasich succeeded where Rubio failed, resulting in ever louder calls for a brokered convention. House Speaker Paul Ryan has been publicly summoned by his predecessor, John Boehner, to join the fray and submit his name to the ballot box. The reluctant Ryan continues to demur to such demands2. If Trump were not to win an outright majority, a brokered convention would most likely result in the self-financed billionaire leaving the very same Party that demanded he pledge his loyalty to, and taking his large number of constituents with him.
That this would serve to all but destroy any chance of sending a Republican to the White House indicates that the Party of Lincoln is as fearful of an uncontrollable candidate as it is fragmented. There have been rumblings within the Democratic Party of the undemocratic nature of super delegates, but these have been thus far mollified enough to prevent a total uprooting of the status quo. When taken into consideration with Senator Sanders’ performance, it is apparent that while the Democratic Party may not be as fragmented as its counterpart across the aisle, fissures are forming. To the chagrin of the political class and the consternation of political analysts, the people are making their voices heard by making their votes count. Whether or not the result is good for the country is another question entirely.
1 Or four, depending on how one interprets Ben Carson’s absence from Thursday’s debate in his hometown of Detroit as well as his statement that he will not drop out of the race, yet sees “no political path forward.” His current endorsement of Trump, however, is as good of a concession as any.
2 Further adding to the drama, it is one of the Speaker’s duties to oversee the Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Kasich’s home state.