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Sanders and Cruz Live to Fight Another Day
Trump, Clinton still lead, but Cruz and Sanders not going away – Both Cruz and Sanders did well enough this weekend (Sanders won 3 states to 2 for Trump and Cruz, 1 for Clinton and Rubio) that their campaigns live to fight another day. Mathematically, however, Clinton is in better shape than Trump at this point; and there is some evidence now that the extraordinary attacks on Trump by Mitt Romney and others these past few weeks have begun to slow his momentum.
“Little Marco” Rubio appears to have missed his window of opportunity, and continues to underperform just about everywhere. John Kasich has picked up important endorsements and impressed on the debate stage. But it just feels too late for him, as the extraordinary investments made by more establishment Rs in Bush and Rubio has left him with very little time, and money. Finally, his “Midwestern nice," low-key demeanor seems ill-suited to in this particular election to allow him to emerge as a legitimate challenger to the more electric Trump and Cruz.
Each party has another debate this week, and there are big, delegate rich states voting between now and March 15th – FL, IL, MI and OH among others. So, we will know an awful lot more about this race on March 16th, and whether Sanders or Cruz can sustain a serious challenge in what amounts to the second half of the primary season that runs from mid-March through June early June. I for one hope the campaigns go on into the spring. If they end in March, almost 40% of the country will not be able to cast a meaningful primary vote this year. And as I’ve written elsewhere, it is becoming far too common for big chunks of the country to not be able to cast a meaningful vote in our national elections, a contributor no doubt to the distance many are feeling from Washington and our country’s politics.
Cruz and Sanders will remain in the race as long as their public rationale for winning the nomination remains convincing enough to keep the money coming in from their supporters. As a Democrat, I remain impressed and surprised by what a strong campaign Sanders has run, and that he has been able to hold his own on the national stage with Secretary Clinton. These long primary fights are important times for parties to regenerate, test messages, revisit old fights, and innovate on tactics and media. A remarkable new ad from the Sanders campaign is one of those bright spots in this long, hard slog, as he and his team are clearly stretching, reaching deep to try to keep up with the formidable Clinton camp. It is well worth watching.
GOP in full freak out over Trump – While the GOP’s attacks on Trump escalated this past week, most notably in Mitt Romney’s high profile speech, I find these protestations a bit hard to take. Where exactly does Trump differ from the current GOP “establishment?” He is for large unfunded tax cuts which would drive up deficits and harm the economy; repealing Obama’s health care plan; a militaristic foreign policy; and for getting the 11m undocumented immigrants to leave. Even on trade, hard to argue that he is all that different right now from the Washington Republicans refusing to vote on the President’s hard fought TPP deal. The differences between the Romney and Trump approaches are far more about style and biography, and far less about their governing agenda. Donald Trump is very much a creation of modern Republican politics, and one can understand how worrisome that is to so many on the right.
The establishment, however, should be equally worried about Trump’s lack of a traditional campaign as they are about his blustery manner and foul mouth. Building a national campaign in this day and age is like building a start-up company – you grow the company by doing, by trial and error, by learning from what works and what doesn’t. It takes time to get it right, to learn the terrain of this particularly year, to adapt the latest media and data techniques in a rapidly changing communications environment, to have your team gel into something bigger than themselves. And it takes time. You are seeing both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns improve and grow as they move into terrain and voting groups beyond the early small states, raise money, do their debates, produce their ads, etc. Trump has in essence yet to start building his campaign. He isn’t raising money in large amounts, isn’t spending a lot of money, isn’t producing a lot of paid media and appears to not have invested a lot on the ground in the states so far. It is hard to me to imagine given the national deficits he has now against Clinton and Sanders for him to win in the fall without a full-on modern campaign. Which means that he will have to start building it from almost the ground up starting in a few months, putting him at a significant organizational disadvantage to a far more experienced and capable Democratic presidential political operative class. He just won’t be able to muscle through the general the way he has the primaries. And this is a real problem indeed for the GOP and Trump who are likely to enter the general behind the Democrats and their incumbent President’s impressive 51% approval rating.
This theory will be tested over the next ten days. Cruz’s strong showing this weekend and some other polls showing signs of Trump slippage in key states could be early signs of Trump beginning to meaningful weaken. A normal, well-funded campaign would respond with a big positive ad buy to maintain their edge and prevent erosion. If the Trump campaign does not do this in the next few days very loud alarm bells should be going off in GOP land about Trump’s ability to fund and run a modern campaign.
A new poll of Michigan reinforces how little room for error the GOP has this fall. As I wrote last week, the likely 2016 map for the GOP offers a very narrow path to victory. They will have to flip a few states northern Rustbelt states like PA, MI, OH and WI to have a shot. This new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll (very credible source) of Michigan found both Sanders and Clinton with significant leads:
Clinton 48% Cruz 41% Sanders 54% Cruz 36%
Clinton 52% Trump 36% Sanders 56% Trump 34%
As the demographics of these other Rustbelt states are not that different from Michigan’s, these are sobering numbers for the GOP indeed. And for Sanders too - this poll has Clinton leading him in the Democratic primary 57-40.
More on the 2016 Election - Our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; why it is time to take Trump seriously; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.
"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the U.K. progressive site, Left Foot Forward.
Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.