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So it’s eyes down for a full house again. By now, the networks have run out of names for these four and five state primary events occurring throughout March, so it’s just second super Tuesday. Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii are all up for a vote tonight on the Republican side, Michigan and ole Miss alone for the Democrats. Your correspondent is covering this from a Rodeway Inn outside of Pontiac, north of Detroit. Rodeway is one of my favourites of the cheap chain motels, for its sense of utter placelessness and a pervasive sense of failure. Place used to be a Sleep Inn. I know this because when they removed the sign on the wall in the reception, they didn’t even bother to paint over the mark it left … so Sleep Inn just recedes into the paintwork. I will, Sleep Inn, I will.
This spot is good enough. There’s a Fuddruckers burger joint next door, an Applebee’s for fine dining, a Sonic drive-thru for sundaes … all the food groups. Have to take an Uber to get booze — from a wooden vape shack near the freeway, where the guy sits amid $4 bottles of vodka, in a cone of bullet-proof glass — or buy alcohol wipes from the gas station and boil them up in the coffee maker. Not bad, but the real find, the grail is the TV, which has every channel you could want. CNN, Fox News, MSNBC — the crazy lefty one — Comedy Central and C-Span, the congressional channel, which plays back-to-back election rallies. Plus all the other ones, the main networks, also USA network (SVU marathons, 12 in a row), TBS (Seinfeld on endless repeat). Plus two channels playing old forgotten movies. There’s a Cyd Charisse one on now. Seriously, you never get all the channels one TV. This is the TV at the end of the world. I am thinking of covering the rest of the campaign from here. I suspect this is what heaven will be like.
Gah, where were we? OK, work must be done. This is an important primary night for several reasons. For the Democrats, it may be the point at which Hillary gets two wins, and the pressure on Bernie Sanders to suspend his campaign becomes insistent — and the appearance of his campaign increasingly quixotic. Hillary will win Mississippi by a huge margin, and there’s a clean-sweep trigger in the state’s rules, so Bernie might not get any of its 40-odd delegates. The kicker is Michigan, with 147 delegates. If Bernie could win this one — and he’s running between five and 20 points behind, depending on which crappy poll you read — his campaign has a claim to make: that Hillary can’t win the vital north-eastern rust-belt states that have been devastated by the free-market trade policies she supported during the ’90s and after. That is particularly significant because of what might happen on the Republican side. Delegate-wise, neither will get much ahead of the other. It’s all in the brag.
On the Republican side, Hawaii and Idaho are not of great importance, though either or both may give Rubio a stray win. Mississippi is important because Ted Cruz needs to win it, and most likely will, the shiny buckle on the Bible belt. He is likely to come third in Michigan. The key battles are between Trump and John Kasich for first — with Trump leading by three points, or 10 points. A good second strengthens Kasich’s claim for the vote in Ohio — and that he should stay in to the end, and that Rubio should drop out.
Thus all eyes are on Rubio. Two fourth placings in Michigan and Mississippi would strengthen the argument that he should drop out before his home state of Florida comes around on the 15th. There would be good motives to drop out and avoid the final terrible loss. Having given up his Senate seat, he may want to keep his powder dry and use his delegates as a bargaining chip in the convention to get the VP slot.
But will there be a contested Republican convention? Let’s have a look.
The exact maths of this are fiendishly complicated in the detail, but the broad-brush picture is this, in several different scenarios:
Trump needs 1237 delegates to prevail before the convention (they’re delegates bound to vote for the nominee on the first ballot, and sometimes beyond that).
After Super Saturday — jaysus — three days ago, he has 380, and Cruz has 300 (I’m rounding totals, to make it a little clearer). Rubio has 150, Kasich 40.
Trump will come out of tonight’s contest with between 450 and 500 delegates, Cruz with 340 to 380.
On March 15, the primaries become winner take all (mostly), and on that day, there are 285 winner-takes-all and 70 proportional delegates at stake. The winner-takes-all states include Florida and Ohio with 170 delegates. If Trump wins all winner-takes-all states, his total goes up to around 750-800.
Such a victory — over John Kasich in Ohio and Marco Rubio in Florida — suggested (until this weekend) he would win all the other winner-takes-all contests, and by the start of June he would either be on the edge of winning or just over it, with 1200-1250 delegates.
Then, on June 7, there’s a final mega primary with California, New Jersey and New Mexico, and a single win would take him over.
Should Trump lose both Florida and Ohio, he’d get to June with about 1020-1040 delegates. He’d need Californa plus one other to take him over. If he lost Ohio or Florida only, he’d need California only. However that presumes that, having lost Florida, he would win every other winner-takes-all contest — and after Cruz’s solid wins in “closed” primaries on Saturday, that looks unlikely.
Trump loses both Florida and Ohio, and a couple more on the way. The main contenders for this would be: a loss to Cruz in Utah, on the 22nd (due to the social conservatism of Mormons), a loss to Kasich in Delaware and/or Connecticut (if he’s still in the race) on April 26. That would leave him at 950-970 on June 1, and he would need a grand slam of the June 7 states to prevail.
Trump wins Florida and Ohio, but in doing so knocks both Rubio and Kasich out of the race. The Republican Party centre holds its nose and pushes a vote for Cruz. With no split in the anti-Trump vote, Cruz manages to win half a dozen winner-takes-all states and keep Trump from the 1237 threshold. Cruz is then selected at the convention. If, in that scenario, Cruz took California, his claim would gain strength.
Trump wins Ohio but not Florida. Rubio stays in, and he and Cruz manage to grab two or three winner-takes-all states. Trump has fewer than 1237, but Cruz and Rubio have a few hundred each, forming a ticket on the basis of delegate totals, or demands from others (e.g. Kasich might demand that Cruz take the VP slot, in exchange for his delegates). In the reverse of that, a Cruz-Kasich ticket becomes the go.
Trump wins both Ohio and Florida, and both Kasich and Rubio drop out of the race. With Trump having now thoroughly frightened and alienated scores of Republicans, they unite behind Cruz, who — with 55%-65% of the vote, wins practically every state. That leaves Trump stuck at about 700-800, with Cruz passing him, on the way to the magic 1237.
So that’s why tonight’s votes are so significant. They may tell us which lane we go down. But Cruz is much closer to Trump than anyone thought he would be at this point — and there are far more scenarios in which the thing has to be sorted out in the Convention, than not.
When it happens, I will be here, covering it from the Pontiac Rodeway.
“Did anybody call here asking for Vandelay Industries?”
“I better feed you, if you’re going to keep the strength in your hand.”
— Dan Dailey to Cyd Charisse, Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956)