Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Capital Brief, 24 February 2016
Clinton Position Remains Strong, Trump Gains Big

  • On Saturday, February 20th, Democratic and Republican voters turned out to vote in two different contests – Nevada for the Democrats and South Carolina for the Republicans.
  • Hillary Clinton claimed a sound victory in Nevada at 52.6% against Bernie Sanders’ 47.3%.
  • On February 20th, Donald Trump won South Carolina (32.5%), then Marco Rubio in second (22.5%) and Cruz (22.3%). Then Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Ben Carson each took about 7-8%.
  • As a result Jeb Bush suspended his campaign, ending his bid for the presidency.
  • On February 23rd, Donald Trump won Nevada handily with 45.9%, Rubio placed second with 23.9%, followed closely by Cruz (21.4%), Carson (4.8%), and Kasich (3.8%).
  • In the wake of these two races, candidates have turned their attention to the next primaries: Saturday, February 27th in South Carolina for the Democrats followed by Super Tuesday (March 1st), and Super Tuesday for the Republicans. On March 1st, about a dozen states vote.
  • Clinton’s victory was expected and uncontested in its importance. The margin of victory seems to have no consequence on the electoral dynamic in the Democratic race.
  • During the past several weeks, Clinton has been campaigning intensively on questions of racial discrimination. She has evoked white privilege - a concept that has rarely been spoken of at this level of politics –, honed in on institutionalized racism and espoused the Black Lives Matter movement. She has sought and won the endorsements of a number of very famous Black public figures and released ads touting her history of combatting discrimination. Clinton seems to have understood the crucial importance of Black voters to her White House bid. More immediately, she is looking to ensure a convincing victory in South Carolina, the site of her worst defeat in 2008 and a place where there were accusations of coded racism on the part of her husband while campaigning on her behalf.
  • Many Super Tuesday states are very friendly for Clinton. It is possible that after the last counts of Tuesday’s votes, the path to the nomination may look much clearer for Clinton, but given the climate of resentment of “Establishment” candidates, Sanders still may surprise.
  • The real shifts are occurring on the Right. Trump’s solid win in Nevada (his third consecutive) makes him look increasingly stronger as a candidate – especially given that his popularity increases as his rhetoric toughens.
  • The smaller candidates (Kasich, Carson) will stay in the race through Super Tuesday, but absent any major surprise, they are both unlikely to claim any victories giving them a reason to stay in the race after Wednesday. Their continued presence seems more effective in steering votes away from Rubio.
  • Rubio continues to argue that he is a credible alternative to Trump capable of winning a general election against Clinton. Unlike the Party Establishment, voters seem to disagree so far. With only second and third place finishes, Rubio will need to do very well on Tuesday in order to prove that he is capable of winning something. Routinely claiming victory from third position begins to look less convincing as the race wears on. But support from Kasich and Carson voters could certainly help boost his chances, if they pull out.
  • Ted Cruz’s presence in the race is an element of further division. An ultraconservative candidate, he lacks the support of many conservative groups that back Trump. Given the bitter rivalry between the two, it is unlikely that a considerable part of that support will defect to Cruz. And the Establishment, behind Rubio at this point, finds Cruz even less palatable than Trump. Apart from an Iowa victory, he has not topped third place. Super Tuesday will help to better assess where both Cruz and Rubio stand.
  • What remains clear is that the remaining Republican candidates will likely need to unite around one person among them as an alternative to Trump’s gaining momentum.