South Carolina and Nevada

Donald_TrumpJeb!? What happened? Jeb Bush’s campaign for president came to its final punctuation mark before midnight of the South Carolina Primary, finishing only as high as fourth in any contest. 63% of Jeb Bush’s genome has been President of the United Stated for a total of three terms, almost as many times as it as collectively invaded Iraq. Genes and money go pretty far in politics, but Bush’s campaign may be the worst spent 150 million dollars in American political history. It goes to show just how tired Americans are of the Bush family, how much politics has changed in a decade, and what the Republican Party has come to be. The GOP isn’t engaged in a civil war initiated by Trump. It’s been being pulled in two directions, old blue blood federalism and rural whig principles, since the Great Depression. The house is divided and the halves cannot stand each other.

The big winners last Saturday were Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton. Marco because he vanquished Jeb and will now inherit many of his supporters, and Hillary because she managed to prevent disaster in another close caucus. They both addressed potentially existential questions to the candidacy, and are now in position to strike, maybe.

The Republicans

Rubio answered the question of whether or not he could consolidate the GOP establishment, but he still needs to figure out how to win a state. Iowa was his triumphed 3rd, New Hampshire was his RubioGlitch finish in 5th, and now South Carolina his victorious 2nd. At some point, the boy wonder needs to bring something home other than a participation trophy.

The man with a third of the votes, half of his hair, and all of our hearts is again Donald Trump. Most of South Carolina’s delegates are winner-take-all, but each congressional district additionally gets three delegates. It didn’t matter, because Trump took them all. Typically, back-to-back wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina should lead to an unstoppable snowballing of support and the GOP nomination; however, Trump is neither typical nor unstoppable. Demographics favored Trump in the early states, but that will shift toward Cruz and Rubio as we move forward through Super Tuesday. Nevada caucuses for the GOP today, and it will be the first major test of Trump’s growing support. First, it’s a caucus like Iowa where ground game matters more, and second, it’s closed to independents. Our Iowa model predicted Trump victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but has him finishing third in Nevada. If Trump wins, it would mean he’s actually building support going into Super Tuesday rather than simply benefiting from better demographics.

The major problem for Trump going forward is his greatest strength: a third of GOP will vote for him no matter what he says. The back half of the equation is that he’s said a lot already and two thirds of the party is extremely reluctant to vote for him. The likelihood of Trump running away with a majority of delegates is still small. Rather, a Trump nomination would require the slimmest majority of delegates, built on a plurality of the votes. If he fails to procure a majority of delegates before the convention, even if he’s in the lead by a lot, he has zero chance at the nomination. The RNC would stand at Armageddon and fight for the soul of the party. A Trump nomination would cause widespread party bolting, low republican turnout, loss of the Senate, and deep donor dissatisfaction. Elephants would be extinct outside the confederate south and the far-flung rills of Appalachia for two years.

What’s more likely is a three-way race that continues between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio until the latter can seize momentum in mid-march with the winner-take-all Florida Primary. Ted Cruz is now under performing his Iowa numbers, losing evangelicals to Trump (take a moment to think about that), and finishing third in a state he had been referring to as his firewall. Cruz’s actual firewall is Texas on Super Tuesday. A loss on home soil to a New Yorker would mean more than just the end of his Presidential run, it would be the end of his political career. Luckily, Fox News is hiring.

The Democrats

It appears to be the beginning of the end for Bernie Sanders. He will be blown out in South Carolina this weekend, and then lose every state south of the Mason Dixon line on Super Tuesday, which is a majority of them. Hillary Clinton, off wins in Nevada and South Carolina, will point to her lead in delegates and ask, “Where’s the revolution Bernie?” In the most firm, monotone, and semi-aggressive voice focus groups can approve of. However, it is possible that like the Hispanic vote in Nevada, African Americans will not vote as monolithically as expected. If Sanders, like Obama 8 years ago, can exit Super Tuesday in a tie in committed delegates, we’ll be here all spring.

A fascinating outcome in the Democratic Primaries now versus 8 years ago, is that Clinton’s base has fundamentally shifted. In 2008, Clinton, slightly to the left of Obama, led with Hispanics and blue-collar workers, but eventually lost to the Obama coalition of young, Black, and/or highly educated voters. Clinton has absorbed many Obamacans, but lost much of her old base to Sanders. This may mean Secretary Clinton consolidates the Democratic Party more quickly and easily than Obama did, when many Hillary supporters vowed for months to support John McCain, only to eventually come home to the Democratic Party when the economy completely tanked mid-summer. If I’m Clinton, I want Bernie in the race to the end and 10 percentage points behind in every state, building Democratic voter rolls across the country. Then, allow Bernie to have influence over the party platform and give a primetime speech at the  Democratic National Convention to chants of “Feel. The. Bern.” He’s earned that.

Election Prediction (N=2)

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia is found dead Saturday morning in Texas. Before his body is cold, President Obama announces he will nominate someone soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the nomination should be left to the next president.

The nomination will be a bruising fight and will undoubtedly have implications for the presidential primaries and general election.

President Obama recognizes the difficulty he will have nominating a liberal judge. He also recognizes that the two leading candidates to represent the Democrat party may have significant problems winning the election against the remaining Republican candidates. Knowing his legacy as president depends on winning a third term through a Democrat successor, he therefore embarks on the following political strategy.

Obama nominates Al Gore for the position of Associate Supreme Court Justice saying, “It’s only fair since the Supreme Court stole the presidency from Gore. It’s payback time.” The conservative wing of the Republican Party is apoplectic.

Ted Cruz, while being interviewed live on Fox News, has a seizure while discussing someone like Gore on the Supreme Court.

The news coverage of the nomination dwarfs the candidates’ campaigns for President. No one is gaining traction in the primaries. As the Supreme Court concludes its last decision on June 30, 2016 (most decisions being tied 4-4), Obama announces that for the sake of the Union he is withdrawing Gore as the nominee. On July 4th, Obama announces he will nominate himself for the position, following Taft from White House to the high court. As soon as he is confirmed, he promises to step down as President and Joe Biden will take his place. Simultaneously, Joe Biden announces he will also run for president representing the Democrat Party.

Ted Cruz, while being interviewed live on Fox News, has a grand mal seizure while discussing someone like Obama on the Supreme Court.

Republicans in the Senate are caught flat-footed and they are unable to stop Obama’s self nomination. As one of the youngest justices on the court he will be able to continue his liberal agenda well past the end of his presidency. At the Democratic National Convention, Sanders and Clinton are unable to stop the Biden wave. All the super delegates choose Biden in the first ballot and no candidate wins a majority. On the second ballot Sanders and Clinton release their delegates to vote for Biden, who selects Michelle Obama as his running mate.

Ted Cruz, while being interviewed live on Fox News, has a stroke while discussing someone like Michelle Obama as Vice President.

Biden, running as a sitting president, wins easily.

While being interviewed live on Fox News, Ted Cruz’s head explodes.

This is just my opinion. I may be wrong.

Conservatives’ Worst Nightmare

An event that will emanate shock waves throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia is dead. Within hours, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate would not confirm an Obama nominee and President Obama released a statement saying he will nominate a successor regardless, setting the stage for the first major Constitutional crisis of the 21st century. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish Antonin Scalia didn’t die.

Existential Constitutional crisis and the end of an accomplished man’s life aside, let’s talk politics. It’s a no brainer: this is a political advantage for Obama, Cruz, and Clinton. Obama because he might be able to name a third of the Court and name the future swing vote for decades. Cruz because he’s made the Court and consistent conservatism center pieces of his campaign, and Scalia’s death just rocked conservative interest groups. Clinton gets a double advantage: she will declare that if it were up to her new administration, she would name Barack Obama to the Court. If there is one thing more terrifying to conservatives than President Obama naming Antonin Scalia’s replacement, it’s Obama personally replacing him. This might actually motivate Senate Republicans to take Obama’s nominee seriously, and it will absolutely provide Clinton with the optics of being linked to Obama, something that will help her through the primaries.

Campaigns rarely respond well to unpredicted developments. Hold on to your butts.

Jim Webb may Run as an Independent

Jim Webb, former Senator from Virginia and one-time Democratic presidential candidate, will announce today whether he will run for the White House as an Independent. Well liked in Virginia and among blue dog democrats, Webb could be extremely damaging to the Democratic ticket in the Old Dominion and potentially throughout the rust belt. Gathering 3-4% of the vote would likely be enough to foil Democratic chances in those critical battlegrounds.

Update: Webb announced that he will not run due to a lack of funding. A major bullet dodged by the Democratic Party.

New Hampshire

The big winner in New Hampshire last night wasn’t even on the ballot. Michael Bloomberg was sitting on his booster seat in his upper east side apartment wringing his hands. Bloomberg fanned speculation over the weekend that he is mulling a centrist independent presidential candidacy if the two major parties nominate extremophiles. It was obviously perfect timing.

Last night the socialist Bernie Sanders won the “Live Free or Die” state, while Donald Trump made the strongest argument against democracy since Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention. Trump’s victory speech was a meandering experience, equivalent to interviewing the player of the game right after a walk-off:

I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created, remember that. Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9% and 5% unemployment, the number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently as high as 42%… So we’re gonna (sic) take care of the economy. We’re gonna (sic) take care of jobs. We’re gonna (sic) take care of all the things that I said. Our border. Everything. Healthcare, it’s going to be so great. Remember this about Obamacare, people are forgetting, but now they’re miserable, because it’s going up 45%, 35%, 55%; it’s totally out of control. Probably sinks of its own volition in 2017, unless the Republicans give it another, I mean. What’s going on? What’s going on?

– Donald Trump, suffering from Broca’s aphasia after winning New Hampshire

What is going on Donald? I’m absolutely positive he has no idea. John Kasich put in a yeoman’s effort in the Granite State, giving 106 town hall meetings across the state, and gave a second place speech that can only be described as un-Trump-like:

We are all made to change the world. We are all made to be a part of the healing of this world. If we would just slow down and heal the divisions within our own families and be willing to listen to the person that lives next door, when you’re in such a hurry to get out of the driveway or get out of the shopping center; if you could just slow down, look them in the eye and give them a hug… Our hearts can change America.

– Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Kasich will have to attack Bush; it’s his only viable option. There’s only enough room in the GOP primaries for one compassionate conservative in normal years, let alone 2016. Jeb (!) delivered a deliciously spiteful blow to Marco Rubio last night, lifting himself off the turf by pushing his fellow Floridian’s face into the mud. Although, Marco kept it close enough to register 10% and earn delegates in a humiliating 5th place in the moderate friendly northeast. The evolution of the race cannot progress any further until Bush or Rubio vanquishes the other. Neither can live while the other survives. Fortunately for Rubio, Jeb no longer has his attack dog Chris Christie, who’s headed back to New Jersey, to do his dirty work. The longer it takes for the establishment to coalesce the more delegates Cruz and Trump will swallow.

Cruz, representing the right, and Trump, representing singular first person pronouns everywhere, will continue to spar overtop a broken center as we approach the most glorious primary of them all: South, hotbed of secession, Carolina. South Carolinians like their competitions as dirty as they get (they name their beloved sports teams after cock fighting), and they like their political intrigue even dirtier. In 2000, George W. Bush released an anonymous and fake poll into the field just two days before the South Carolina Primary asking voters if they would still vote for John McCain if they found out he had fathered an illegitimate black child. (I love absolutely everything about that sentence) I guess W’s team was just curious about the hypothetical.

People are flying home in body bags after South Carolina, they always do.

Democratic candidates aren’t going south to Dixie, they’re headed west to Nevada. There, for the first time, presidential candidates will face non-white voters in substantial numbers. The large Hispanic voter population will probably favor Clinton, who desperately needs some good news. Bernie Sanders had the victory of his career last night in New Hampshire. The results are still being counted up, but Bernie edged near 60% of the vote and drove Clinton down into the 30’s. Such a resounding victory might provide him enough momentum to make Nevada, then South Carolina 7 days later, close.

There are two games at play: The momentum game that unfolds first as candidates try to eliminate competition and snowball support across the country, and the delegate game that requires patience and a strategy that focuses on states and precincts that have more bang for their buck. In 2008, Senator Clinton saved her campaign with a huge victory in New Hampshire over Senator Obama, but only tied him in delegates. In 2016, Secretary Clinton was massively defeated, but will only lose by 3-5 delegates to Senator Sanders out of the 2,382 needed to procure the nomination. Hillary’s election night speeches from those two contests demonstrate her evolution and highlight her current struggle to frame her candidacy:

Clinton Words

Of course, the first was a triumphant victory speech and the other an embarrassing loss, but the differences in rhetoric are hard to ignore. The momentum game ends on March 1st, Super Tuesday, when regional and demographic preferences solidify. Sanders must now show he has appeal to western and southern Democrats. Nevada and South Carolina should be interesting.

Correction:  A previous version of this article stated that the Democratic South Carolina Primary was 4 days after Nevada, but it is a full week later.