The conventional wisdom will tell you that Marco Rubio won tonight’s debate and turned this campaign around. It’s wishful thinking. Fundamentally, nothing happened here tonight that we haven’t seen many times before during this campaign season. Donald Trump got hit hard. That’s happened before, and he’s always gained in the polls.
Nothing that happened tonight changed the dynamics or the trajectory of the race. As long as there are more than two candidates, Trump will continue to prevail with pluralities from state to state. In a year in which Republican voters hate the establishment, the fact that Rubio has nearly consolidated the establishment means little.
So Rubio may have won the debate on points, but in terms of the direction of the race, nothing has changed. Trump is winning and is likely to continue winning.
But here’s tonight’s big loser: Ted Cruz. He was a nonentity in tonight’s debate. He didn’t help his cause at all. That’s actually bad for Rubio, who reportedly is counting on a strategy of getting to the convention with no candidate having a majority of delegates, thereby creating a brokered convention. For that to happen (and it’s highly unlikely), he needs Cruz to stay in the race, because a good number of Cruz’s supporters are much likelier to go to Trump than to Rubio.
John Kasich was also a loser tonight. He’s trying to be the calm, rational, sensible candidate, which is not what this year’s Republican electorate wants. He’s not going to get anywhere throwing broccoli to the wolves.
And Ben Carson remained a nonentity. His whining about speaking time was pathetic. He’s going nowhere, and everybody seems to understand this but Carson himself.
Bottom line: tonight’s debate didn’t change anything. Trump’s still in the lead and poised to pull a near-sweep on Super Tuesday.
There seems to be no doubt that Donald Trump will win Tuesday’s Republican caucuses in Nevada. Jon Ralston, the foremost political analyst in Nevada, knows the political pulse of the state inside and out. When he says Trump is sure to win in the Silver State, I know I can take it to the bank. So I’m predicting Trump wins.
There has been a lot of talk that Marco Rubio has worked hard to build an organization in Nevada. What little polling there is shows he’s in a tight battle with Ted Cruz for second place. I’m going to take Rubio to place and Cruz to show, with John Kasich beating out Ben Carson for a distant fourth.
The key question here is whether anybody but Trump will get any delegates. Despite placing second in South Carolina on Saturday, Rubio (and the rest of the field besides Trump) claimed no delegates; all 50 went to Trump. According to TheGreenPapers.com, Nevada awards 30 Republican delegates: 10 to the statewide winner, four to the winner of each Congressional district, five “bonus” delegates and three party delegates. If Trump wins by a large margin, he may well sweep Nevada’s delegates as well, a fact which will render the remaining order of finish essentially irrelevant.
Barring one of the most stunning collapses in the history of U.S. politics, Hillary Clinton is a shoo-in to win the Democratic primary in South Carolina on Saturday. Her polling leads in the Palmetto State have consistently been massive, and Bernie Sanders has not come within 20 points in a week’s time. For Sanders, anything less than a 20-point loss would be a positive result.
Polling of tomorrow’s South Carolina GOP primary gives Donald Trump a clear lead, so it looks very likely that he will win the Palmetto State. The key question is margin: does he win big, or does he underperform (or even overperform)?
The more interesting race on the Republican side is for second place. The last couple of polls show Marco Rubio overtaking Ted Cruz for second place. This is probably going to be close, but with the recent endorsement of Rubio by Gov. Nikki Haley, I think he does slip past Cruz to take second. Rubio likely will be assisted by the continuing fade of Jeb Bush and the fact that John Kasich appears unable to build on his second-place finish in New Hampshire.
If the South Carolina Republican primary plays out as expected, then it will put Rubio back in front of the establishment pack and probably mark the moment when the Bush and Kasich campaigns begin seriously reassessing the point of staying in the race. Both are polling in the low-double digits to high-single digits, and their prospects continued viability will not look hopeful if, as expected, they end up in a battle for fourth place, far behind the top three finishers. Whoever finishes the lowest between these two may hang around long enough to roll the dice at next Tuesday’s Republican caucuses in Nevada, but the loser (especially if it’s Kasich, who doesn’t have Bush’s financial wherewithal) is probably out shortly thereafter. Whoever performs better in this two-man race likely hangs in, just in case Rubio falters again, but the fifth-place finisher is all but certainly going to be out of the race in a matter of days.
Ben Carson, of course, has no chance to be the nominee; at this point and going forward, he can only hurt other candidates. If he places ahead of Bush and/or Kasich tomorrow, it might well do enough damage to whomever he defeats as to end either or both campaigns right away. More importantly, he now remains the only impediment to Cruz in the evangelical lane. Carson has raised a shocking amount of money, so he may stay in regardless of his performance tomorrow, but if he does, it benefits Trump and Rubio.
My predictions, based on the recent polls and trends:
In the Nevada Democratic caucuses, there has been very little reliable polling, and polling tends to be off for the Nevada caucuses at any rate. I expect Hillary Clinton to win a narrow victory over Bernie Sanders, but honestly, this is an educated guess. There just isn’t much data there. If Sanders has gained significant ground among Latinos, he could certainly prevail. There’s just no reliable way to tell yet.
We know, of course, that the Republican majority in the United States Senate is not going to approve any candidate President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. With the death of Antonin Scalia, the conservatives have lost their 5-4 majority on the court and whoever is chosen to replace him will tip the balance. The Republicans would far rather take their chances on the coming election and wait it out in the hopes that they’ll be able to appoint another conservative in January 2017.
Of course, Twitter is abuzz today with all of the potential “blue state” Republicans and halfway reasonable GOP Senators who might be persuaded to join Democrats in approving a nominee, but this is a fantasy. These theories all leave out the facts that there will never be enough aisle-crossers to break a filibuster (which would require any nominee to get 14 Republican votes, not four), or that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) does not even have to call a vote.
So clearly this isn’t going to happen. The next president and the next Senate will select Scalia’s replacement, period.
With this understanding, President Obama and the Democrats should be thinking about how to gain the maximum political benefit from Republican intransigence. And the way to do that is to nominate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to fill the vacancy.
There is no question of Warren’s qualifications. The former Harvard Law professor has impeccable credentials, so Republicans could not claim she is unqualified. It would therefore become clear, if it wasn’t already, that they were blocking her for strictly political reasons, and this would diminish their standing with the few true swing voters.
But there are greater political benefits to be had. First, a Warren nomination would provide a jolt of energy to progressives who adore her, which could be crucial in terms of base turnout in the upcoming election. Secondly, nominating a fourth woman to the court would reiterate that Democrats are the party of equality.
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could take this ball and run with it, hammering the Republicans for blocking an eminently qualified (progressive, female) nominee. Meanwhile, the president can also exploit this situation to hammer the Republicans every day.
There is no need to worry about who would replace Warren in the Senate because, as noted above, there is no chance in hell the Republicans will approve her (or anybody) between now and the next presidential inauguration. So if the Republicans want to play hardball, the Democrats have a great way to win the war by losing the battle.