Much has been made of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s pledge that he will not accept the Republican presidential nomination if an open convention chooses him this July. We are expected to believe that this mere statement has definitively settled the issue and that there are no circumstances under which the Wisconsin Republican will be the party’s nominee.
Hogwash. Ryan’s statement settled nothing. In fact, his recent behavior — making a highly publicized speech and cutting a web video in which he went out of his way to be statesmanlike — indicates the opposite. These moves give every appearance of Ryan making himself available as an alternative. Even his protestations of disinterest are part of the silly dance expected of candidates.
History shows us that declarative statements are not binding. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt released an open letter in which he said that if he were a delegate to that year’s Democratic convention, he would vote to renominate his vice president, the ultra-liberal Henry Wallace. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Roosevelt was actively working with Wallace’s detractors to ensure the nod would go to Senator Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt as president when FDR died months later.
Politicians lie about their intentions all the time, so why should we automatically believe Ryan?
Oh, but we are told that this pledge is so ironclad that if he broke it, he’d be finished in politics.
Nonsense. There are all kinds of ways to wiggle out of a pledge. Imagine we’re going on the third or fourth ballot at a chaotic GOP convention, and Ryan says this:
“As I have repeatedly said, I did not want the nomination. But many leaders in our party who I respect greatly have told me that I am the only person who can unite our party and lead us to victory in the fall. I cannot in good conscience refuse this call, and so it is with great personal reluctance that I have decided to accept my party’s nomination for president of the United States.”
There. It almost sounds noble, doesn’t it?
Never take any politician at face value if he or she disclaims any interest whatsoever in being president. If the nomination is gift-wrapped and handed to Ryan on a platter, he’ll take it, just the same way he took the speakership he said he had absolutely no interest whatsoever in taking. Don’t be naive. Ryan’s past pledge meant nothing, so why is this one guaranteed to be for real?
If anything became crystal clear tonight, it’s the stark diversity divide between Bernie Sanders‘ supporters and Hillary Clinton‘s supporters. Her big wins in the South tonight demonstrated that her shellacking of Sanders among black voters in South Carolina on Saturday was no fluke.
The one constant throughout the Democratic primaries and caucuses so far has been that the fewer black voters a state or portion of a state has, the more Clinton struggles. She barely won Iowa, got clobbered in New Hampshire, and got clobbered tonight in Minnesota, Colorado, Oklahoma and Vermont, but absolutely destroyed Sanders in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. And while Massachusetts is pretty white, it’s more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire; the small percentage of Massachusetts voters who are black very well could have been the difference for her in that state tonight. Clinton won the cities; Sanders won the lily-white rural areas.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Any candidate who cannot win a significant number of votes in diverse communities cannot win the Democratic nomination. There is no way to put together a coalition in the Democratic Party that doesn’t include voters of color. If Sanders can’t start making serious inroads into communities of color very soon, he has no chance of reversing his fortunes.
The Republican establishment took it on the chin once again tonight, as the big winners were Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio finally got his first victory in Minnesota, but he desperately needed a win in Virginia and couldn’t get it. John Kasich might eke out a win in Vermont (still not called as of 11:25 Eastern), but with only 16 delegates, it won’t count for much.
Trump remains in very solid shape to win the GOP nomination, and Cruz has reestablished himself as Trump’s chief competition. Rubio comes out of tonight looking weaker than ever. Both Rubio and Kasich will come out of Super Tuesday with, at most, one win apiece. That’s enough to keep them alive for their own home state primaries in Florida and Ohio, respectively, two weeks from tonight, but they’re going to have to start winning in some other places to be viable contenders.
One potential YUUUUGE weakness for Trump that emerged tonight: look at his numbers in Minnesota, where he is running a distant third. He also lost Iowa. The results thus far during the primary season indicate that Trump is not particularly strong in the Midwest. This might not cost him the nomination, but it certainly could lose him the general election in November; of all the nation’s different regions, the Midwest is the “swing” region that determines elections.
But that’s down the road. Right now, there’s no reason at all to think that Trump is not still the favorite on the Republican side.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton did herself a huge favor by winning Massachusetts. If Bernie Sanders had won Massachusetts, he would have gotten out of tonight winning all five of his target states and fighting Clinton to a near draw in the number of states won. Even considering the fact that she’ll come out of tonight with a huge delegate lead (by virtue of her crushing victories in the South), if Sanders had won five of 11 states, it would have been a big hit to Clinton in terms of perception. Winning a key state right in Sanders’s backyard was a big win for Clinton.
In short, nothing changed tonight. Trump and Clinton are still well ahead in their respective races, and there is going to have to be a major change in the trajectory of either race to change that fact.
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.
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.
The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has added a major new dimension to the 2016 elections, as what was previously theoretical is now an undisputed fact: the next president of the United States, and the Senate sworn in the first week of January 2017, will determine whether the Supreme Court will have a liberal or conservative majority. Scalia’s death leaves the court with four liberals and four conservatives, so the next justice will become the swing vote.
Of course, it must be immediately understood that the current Republican-controlled Senate will not approve any appointee that President Barack Obama nominates. With Republicans holding a 54-46 majority, the president would have to get four Republican Senators to support his nominee, with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie. While there may be a slight possibility of getting four Republicans, there is no chance whatsoever that the president would get the 14 Republican Senators he would need to break a filibuster. It probably won’t even come to that. It is doubtful that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) would even allow a nomination to come to the floor.
It is not difficult to predict how this issue will play out over the course of the election. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) will angle for votes by promising to filibuster any candidate the president nominates for the remainder of his term. They will also use this opening to undermine Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump by telling conservatives that they can’t trust Trump to appoint a “true conservative” to fill Scalia’s vacated seat. All the other Republican candidates will also promise to appoint a “strict, constitutional conservative,” but Cruz and Rubio, the only Senators in the field, will have the advantage here, and they’ll milk it for all it’s worth.
The Democratic presidential contenders will both stress to their bases the opportunity inherent in this situation to change the composition of the court away from its longtime conservative majority. Hillary Clinton will hammer home to the Democratic base the idea that she is more electable than Bernie Sanders and that it is crucial to nominate the candidate with the best chance to win the election, in order to ensure a liberal majority on the court. Sanders will cast this as an opportunity to bring about revolutionary change and may well float the idea of appointing Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) to the court.
President Obama will likely hammer the Republican Senate at every opportunity between now and the election for refusing to act on his nominee or nominees and leaving a Supreme Court seat vacant for a year or more for political reasons. All candidates of both parties will stress the need for their party to control the Senate in 2017. With Senate control up for grabs this year, this will be a key point of emphasis.
This election just got ratcheted up to Defcon 1.