The Republican Nevada caucus and the Democratic South
Carolina primary are this week, but like their counterparts
last week, they are unlikely to be in any way decisive. The
caucus system is particularly undemocratic (very low
turnouts) and not very credible (informal settings, casual
vote counting, questionable reporting from the political
What’s next that is worth observing carefully is next week’s
Super Tuesday voting which will involve 13 states. The
pressure is on the Bernie Sanders campaign to show some
strength outside New England, and on Marco Rubio to
confirm that he is the only Republican still in the race who
might stop Donald Trump from winning the GOP nomination.
Mr. Sanders has belatedly taken off the gloves on Mrs. Clinton,
and will need to continue to demonstrate his appeal to working
class voters, populist Democrats and young liberals. In spite of
her obvious weaknesses and controversies, Mrs. Clinton
remains the frontrunner in her race for the nomination.
A torrent of endorsements by prominent Jeb Bush supporters
for Marco Rubio following Mr. Bush’s withdrawal, especially in
upcoming primary and caucus states, helps some, but Mr.
Rubio’s true challenge is to win the support of more grass roots
conservative mainstream voters. With John Kasich remaining
in the race, this task is more difficult, and Mr. Kasich is likely to
stay in until the mid-March Ohio primary. Ben Carson is no
longer a serious contender, but as a non-politician “outsider,”
he is unlikely to withdraw any time soon. Most of his voters,
moreover, might go Mr. Trump. Likewise, the fading campaign of
Ted Cruz also is not likely to end until much later in the season,
but in spite of their recent mutual antipathy, his voter base does
also overlap with Mr. Trump.
If Donald Trump does very well on Super Tuesday, not only
winning several contests, but increasing his percentage of the
GOP vote (now about one-third), it would then be quite
problematic to prevent his nomination. This is the “cold truth”
facing the anybody-but-Trump mainstream conservative voter.
I think the “new reality” of American politics in 2016 is that the
whole ideological range of voters, including the center, are upset
and frustrated with politics-as-usual and politicians-as usual.
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders have figured this out. If Mr.
Rubio is to take advantage of his new opportunity, he will have
to somehow do the same. His challenge is complicated by the
fact that many of his supporters are mainstream. In short, Mr.
Rubio will have to be a political acrobat and high wire artist to
to achieve his goal in Cleveland.
Such political athleticism is rare, but not unprecedented in
American politics. There is a mountain in South Dakota with
the faces of some who had this ability carved into it.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reseerved.