While you were out celebrating Super Tuesday, you may not have noticed that Bernie Sanders had called it a night before the caucusing in Colorado had even begun.
In the pundit world of election-night TV, this was important. Speaking in Vermont, Sanders gave what sounded remarkably like a concession speech, emphasizing more what his campaign had accomplished than what it might yet achieve. He said he’d be in it to the end, which he no doubt will. He said he’d pick up many delegates, which he no doubt did. He said he’d changed the politics in this race, which he clearly has.
But he didn’t try to make the point that likely wins in Colorado and Minnesota were game-changers. Because, well, they weren’t.
They were a celebration of the Bern. In Colorado, with its Bernie-friendly demographics, a caucus system that rewards the enthusiastic, and a predisposition toward the romantic, from Jerry Brown in ’92 to Obama in ’08, it meant that feelin’ the Bern was inevitable, whatever was happening anywhere else. It’s too bad he missed it.
But even as Sanders supporters filled the high school gyms to — literally — the rafters, in much of the rest of the Super Tuesday Land, it was the dreaded politics as usual, with Hillary Clinton racking up delegates and working on a two-fold strategy — how to take on Donald Trump in November (apparently it’s a question of whether America needs to be made great or made whole) and how to run against Bernie in the meantime without either offending his supporters or coming off as condescending. (What do you think was the over-under for the 18-to-29 vote in Colorado? I kept thinking there wasn’t any under.)
It was actually a near-perfect result for Clinton. Bernie — with wins in Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Vermont — keeps the race going, but will almost certainly feel no compunction to damage Clinton.
This isn’t about Sanders v. Clinton any more. The math dictates that much. It’s early, but not early enough, for Sanders to change the math without some surprising — very surprising — victories over the next few weeks. If Bernie is back to being the message candidate, he has five victories — as many as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have between them — to back up that message. He’ll get more delegates. He’ll get his say on the convention platform. He’ll get his prime-time slot. He wins without winning, and Democrats will more or less come together. Because Clinton is playing it all just right. And, more to the point, because they have no choice.
Because the main truth of Super Tuesday was that romance took a beating across the land.
Just days after Trump’s KKK flirtation and after his Il Duce-inspired retweets and after taunting a protester with “Are you from Mexico?,” and after a typically long list of other Trumpisms, Donald Trump dominated the night, winning states from Alabama to Massachusetts, leaving the analysts to point out that the calendar says there are only two more shopping weeks in which to stop Trump, after which it could be pretty much over, if it isn’t already.
Those establishment Republicans not already grieving the likelihood of a Trump win are still in the panic stage. How do you stop Trump?
The theory — untested by the way — has been that you need one non-Trump vs. one real-Trump and hope that an actual majority of Republicans would favor an alternative. The problem is this won’t happen. Super Tuesday guaranteed as much. You remember that Ted Cruz — or, as some prefer, the odious Ted Cruz — was going all Joe McCarthy on Trump and his alleged Mafia ties. Well, if Super Tuesday has been a prize fight, there’d be people who swore it was fixed.
Even when Trump didn’t win, he won. Meaning that his primary competitor is, yes, Cruz.
Cruz won Texas, which he had to win, and Oklahoma, which is remarkably near Texas, and Alaska, which is even bigger than Texas, giving him the platform to ask his competition to “prayerfully consider” dropping out in his favor. There are at least three problems with this.
One, the Super Sunday Southern states were supposed to be Cruz Country, and Trump clobbered him there. Two, Marco Rubio is never backing out in favor of Cruz, and neither is John Kasich, who, after all, got a close second in … Vermont. Little Marco, as Trump calls him, finally won his first state, and he’s in it at least until Florida on March 15, giving him ample time to do more mine-is-bigger-than-yours jokes. Three, while God is hard to predict in these matters, I’m having a hard time thinking he’s conceivably on Cruz’s side, although Lindsey Graham, who recently joked that if Cruz were shot on the Senate floor, no one would convict the shooter, is now saying that it may be time to coalesce around Cruz.
Instead, we have five candidates remaining on the Republican side — yes, Ben Carson is out there somewhere, presumably in search of a change of clothes — meaning that Trump can keep winning states with 35 to 40 percent of the vote, with a series of large winner-take-all states coming on March 15th and with all the momentum favoring the Donald.
The best chance to stop Trump, then, may be for everyone (other than Carson) to stay in the race and pick off those states they can and somehow deny Trump a majority of delegates going into the convention, which would bring us the much-dreamt-of open convention, in which the nomination could conceivably be liberated/stolen from Trump, thereby setting off a civil war in the Republican Party. And if that’s your best-case scenario against the race-baiting demagogue, you can see where the romance ends.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr.