Monday, March 07, 2016

And Then There Were Two … Trump/Cruz Duking it Out for Nomination

Less than a week ago, it appeared the wind was only catching Donald Trump’s jib and he was sailing away toward the nomination with ease. But the results Saturday and Sunday gave some hope that an alternative candidate can emerge as the nominee. The most likely upstart at this point is Ted Cruz, who won in Kansas and Maine Saturday and Puerto Rico Sunday, while closing in on Trump in Louisiana and Kentucky (though early voting that heavily favored Trump undermined the late upset). The delegate count at present stands at Trump (384), Cruz (300), Rubio (151) and Kasich (37).

While Rubio and Kasich are the more obvious choices to moderate the party, given the reality that Cruz is almost as radical a presence as Trump – far right of the center and guilty of ostracizing the very forces he now seeks to navigate his way, it appears unlikely either has the time to mount a realistic drive to the nomination. In fact, if they are truly dedicated to Cruz beating Trump, now is the time to get out of the way. The problem is neither appears that excited about a Cruz nomination either and both still hold out the faint hope that wins in the big, winner-take-all states like Florida and Ohio, could swing momentum their way. Of course, that thinking is undermined by the fact Rubio is most likely to win his home state of Florida while Kasich will hope to secure his own home state of Ohio. Where does that leave us?

Well the money in the race is certainly going against Trump, with the New York Times claiming tens of millions are funneling into attack ads on Trump after his weaker than expected weekend showing. And it was not only the Cruz victories that might worry Trump, but the fact that late voting in both Louisiana and Kentucky showed Cruz about even with the New Yorker. Given his tenuous favorability ratings and the reality that any loss of momentum at this point could be fatal, one does worry about his muted speech Saturday evening and the sense his bombast is starting to backfire.

The Democrats are, of course, hoping Trump holds on to his lead and wins the nomination, as a candidate they believe they can beat rather handily in a general election. His rhetoric certainly supports that claim, with the same women and minority voters that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012 unlikely to switch allegiance to a Natavist Patriarch who has been winning by deriding them. In every national poll except the USA Today, Clinton is head in a matchup with Trump, from +1 to +8. On the other hand, Cruz is currently leading Clinton in all the national polls, though only by one to three points, well within the margin or error.

Republicans looking at those numbers might coalesce behind Cruz as the most likely candidate to end eight years of Democratic rule, and 16 of the past 24, shifting a trend that was decidedly Republican from 1968 to 1992. The GOP, in fact, has a tendency to choose expediency over ideology, as shown with the nominations of Bush, McCain and Romney. Each was closer to the center of the political spectrum in America today, but only Bush (arguably only in 2004) was able to win the popular vote and election. Maybe the GOP is stuck with a candidate that supports their move to the right over the Obama years.

At present, Trump is still the favorite and the Dems might want to soften their criticism at this point, hoping he can complete his unlikely path to the nomination. If he does, then the attacks can continue in earnest, based upon the presumption that he is the most beatable of all the candidates on offer. Clinton has been running a smart campaign and, after early momentum for Sanders, seems likely to lock up the nomination in the coming months – even if many continue to question whether she is a candidate that can really transform the country or address its biggest problems. More will become apparent after March 15, but the truth is, nothing is certain yet.  

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