Littwin: March Madness: The weirdness of the 2016 election

It was another jaw-dropping night on the 2016 campaign trail. And I don’t mean Bernie Sanders’ stunning upset victory over Hillary Clinton in Michigan.

After all, that was just so much politics.

Sure, Clinton was ahead 20 points in the polls, and a Hillary victory in the ultimate working-class state — one that seemed a perfect fit for Bernie and his anti-trade-deal, anti-Wall Street message — would have effectively ended the Democratic race. And, yes, now it’s quite possible that the Democratic primary may last longer than the Republican primary, and who would have ever bet a nickel on that?

But, as I was saying, politics.

What I mean is, there have been upsets before. There have been strange and weirdly unpredictable results that have changed the course of history. But there has never been, in the long history of a great nation, a prime-time victory speech that turned into an infomercial. That’s because there has never been anything like the Donald.

If you were watching the election results Tuesday night, you saw it, because every cable network, from Fox to CNN to MSNBC, carried every minute of it, because how could they not?

They stayed with it for 45 minutes — never cutting away to Hillary Clinton’s speech or anyone else’s — because Trump, while saying he’d be the most presidential president ever with the possible exception of Abe Lincoln, showed his Oval Office chops by bringing out for our consideration his line of Trump Steaks, Trump Magazine, Trump Water, which turned, yes, into Trump Wine. And you couldn’t turn away, much less cut away.

It’s easy to say the networks were just chasing ratings and that they gave credence to the complaints that Trump is a media creation. But come on. You want to watch Clinton say again that she would make the country whole or do you want to watch political pratfalls on live TV?

It was a huge night for Trump. He made fools of Mitt Romney and the #neverTrump movement and the millions of dollars spent in negative ads against him by winning easily in Michigan and Mississippi. So much for the theory that Trump’s momentum was slowing.

Instead, he watched Marco Rubio’s support go into free fall, just a week ahead of the Florida primary, as Little Marco turned into Little Marco! He saw Ted Cruz — who also had a good night — apparently finish ahead of John Kasich for second place in Michigan, which may not portend well for Kasich’s chances next week in his home state of Ohio. If Trump can win in winner-take-all Florida and winner-take-all Ohio, he would probably be unstoppable, even with the fantasy-world possibility of an open convention.

So, with so much political news to celebrate, why did Trump go all QVC on us?

That’s the easiest question of the night. You remember Romney’s attack on Trump, in which he called him a phony and a fraud. Well, he also questioned Trump’s business bona fides by asking what had happened to all the Trump brands. And naturally that’s what really ticked off the Donald who would be president. And so he set up a giant display — giant steaks on a butcher block — and rolled them all out, even though Trump steaks, for starters, don’t apparently exist anymore. Trump says you can buy them for $50 apiece, but, even if the fact-checkers tell us you can’t, who really cares?

Oh, that’s right, Trump cares. He cares so much that he even said he planned to bring back the fraudulent Trump University once he gets all the lawsuits out of the way. And for those who can’t decide whether the Trump campaign is more farcical or more dangerous, this night confused the issue even more.

Meanwhile, it was Bernie’s night, too. Trump and Sanders may work different sides of the room — only one of them, for example, is a demagogue – but they both won with vastly different brands of a populist message. But the difference was that because of her large win in Mississippi, Clinton came away with far more delegates than Sanders, and, on the prediction markets, her chances of winning the nomination slipped all the way from 95 percent to … 94.

But what Sanders showed was that he could win in a diverse, populous state and that his message of “disastrous” trade deals and corrupt campaign funding would carry the day.  The win — which surprised Bernie as much as anyone — probably does little to change Sanders’ long-shot chances, but it may change the dynamics of the race.

Clinton was already well into general-election mode before the votes started coming in. Now her campaign is worrying that the “cheap shot” — in David Axelrod’s words – she took at Sanders on the auto bailout during the last debate may have backfired. And it won’t be the last time we’ll hear about it (you can tune in tonight for yet another debate).

Sanders pulled off the Michigan upset by winning with the kids, with the white working class and even with 30 percent of the black vote — a far greater percentage than he was winning in the South. The Clinton electability argument didn’t seem to work. And now Clinton, who must be nearly as embarrassed as the pollsters, faces campaigns next week in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, Florida and North Carolina.

Last I checked, Clinton is 37 points ahead in the Illinois polls, meaning she’s the heavy favorite and that underdog Sanders has a chance to smash his own come-from-behind record. Why not? Anything is possible in this election season, and the real March Madness is just beginning.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. It’s refreshing to see hubris transformed into humility.

    The ever-smug Mr. “I’ve always had a pretty good handle on politics” Littwin has, temporarily at least, been supplanted by the only slightly more palatable Mr. “Anything is possible in this election season” Littwin.

    It would, of course, be unfair to single out Mr. Littwin’s lack of, well, skill in failing to forecast this year’s political turmoil but it does illustrate what an echo chamber liberal political punditry is.

    This from Wesley Pruden:

    “But we’re all at the mercy now of progress, and columnists, commentators and pundits go straight from graduate school to a column, a microphone with a camera, certified like a CPA as a fully fledged doctor of humbuggery. This leaves them at the mercy of the flimflam artist, with no understanding of why and how an audience laps it up.

    David Remnick, the editor of the precious and erudite New Yorker magazine, told his readers last summer that Mr. Trump was such an ignoramus, who knew nothing about politics, that his “whole con might end well before the first snows in Sioux City and Manchester.”

    They’re still shoveling snow in New Hampshire — the last of it is expected to melt in time for the Fourth of July parade — and Mr. Remnick is still puzzled about why and how it happened.”
    And this from the Huffington Post:
    “In the mounting, panicky attempts of elites to derail the Sanders candidacy, one strand dominates.

    You find it woven through every sage piece from the old-school pundits of the Times and the hip insider websites like Vox. Yes, they say, he’s saying some useful things. But he can’t really make them happen. He’s talking “puppies and rainbows.” Real “reform is hard.”

    The Times editors, in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton, managed a matchless condescension: His ideas about breaking up the banks or guaranteeing health care for everyone, they intoned, “have earned him support among alienated middle-class voters and young people. But his plans for achieving them aren’t realistic.” Wait ’til you’re older and richer like us, and then you’ll understand how change happens.

    In fact, these pundits couldn’t be more wrong about where change comes from. And neither could Hillary Clinton.”

    Or this from Newsweek’s Sharon Begley:

    “In short, what experts think matters far less than how (pundits) think, or their cognitive style. At one extreme, hedgehogs seek certainty and closure, dismiss information that undercuts their preconceptions and embrace evidence that reinforces them, in what is called “belief defense and bolstering.”

    Mr. Littwin is the prototypical hedgehog! But because his opinions appear in print many readers endow those opinions with a credibility they don’t deserve and can’t, on their own, sustain.

    Are Mr. Littwin’s observations more tenable simply because he “has covered four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow”?

    Well, no.

    But he will continue to distort some facts while ignoring others simply to reinforce predetermined positions.

    After all, he’s a columnist, it’s what he does.
    Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton will crush Donald Trump next November, if they both happen to be their respective parties’ nominees. We’re told that Trump is too brash, too crude, too inexperienced, and too offensive to present a real challenge to a seasoned pro like Clinton.
    As has been the case repeatedly where Trump is concerned, however, that conventional wisdom may prove not simply wrong, but entirely backward.

    Clinton has two major weaknesses as a candidate – presuming, of course, that voters can and will overlook her apparent dishonesty. First, she has to build her own winning coalition of voters, being unlikely to reproduce Barack Obama’s and entirely unable to resurrect that which put her husband in the White House nearly a quarter century ago. Second, and more importantly, she must overcome her own record of foreign policy failure, which is obviously tied to Barack Obama’s record and, less obviously, to George W. Bush’s record as well. – The Hill
    So polling shows a Trump-Clinton race would be close, if the election were held today. But the polling doesn’t indicate that Trump can “beat her easily.” It doesn’t even show that he is the strongest Republican candidate in a race against her. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Clinton trailing Sens. Ted Cruz, the winner in Iowa, and Marco Rubio, the third-place finisher. –

    “In one major poll, Bernie Sanders is now leading Hillary Clinton nationally. In most others, he’s not far behind from the former Secretary of State. Vermont’s Senator already has an “edge over Clinton in matchups with GOP opponents,” dispelling Clinton’s electability myth. In an average of national polls,

    Bernie Sanders is less than eight points from Hillary Clinton, after being over 50 points behind in 2015. In addition, there’s only one person capable of challenging a Republican in 2016 without James Comey declaring national security was jeopardized by a private server. –

    Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic candidate capable of winning the White House in 2016. Please name the last person to win the presidency alongside an ongoing FBI investigation, negative favorability ratings, questions about character linked to continual flip-flops, a dubious money trail of donors, and the genuine contempt of the rival political party. In reality, Clinton is a liability to Democrats, and certainly not the person capable of ensuring liberal Supreme Court nominees and President Obama’s legacy.” –

    “Things are tighter for the Democrats, where Hillary Clinton leads Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by 44 percent to 42 percent. As with the Republicans, Mrs. Clinton wins on electability and leadership, but Mr. Sanders is seen as more truthful and better at relating to the needs of voters.

    The Quinnipiac survey had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.” – New York Times

    “Call it “democratic socialism” to make yourself feel better, but what we have is an old hippie regurgitating cut-rate Lenin. And it’s obvious — especially when contrasted with the Democrat alternative — this kind of radical idealism is what really propels the Democratic Party.

    “Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together!” Sanders roars in the ad. All genders, ethnicities, races, ages, and sexualities will meld into one and force government to “work” for everyone. The thing is, if we weren’t divide by our gender, race, class, and sexual orientation, Democrats wouldn’t win any elections.” –

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Memorial Day – May 30, 2016

Comments are closed.