Fight the Darkness

— John Kasich poster

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have won solid victories in yesterday’s “X Tuesday” (Super Tuesday II, Separation Tuesday, Decision Tuesday?) primaries, which featured Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and (Republican only) the Northern Mariana Islands. Trump won everywhere except Ohio, which was won by its current governor, John Kasich. Hillary Clinton swept the board, denying Bernie Sanders a single win.

Nevertheless, neither victory was as comprehensive as the beneficiaries would have wanted. Trump’s victory in Florida was the most striking, putting away fading star Marco Rubio, by 46 points to 23. Rubio, who had mused earlier about continuing even if he didn’t win the state, announced the “suspension” of his campaign during his concession speech. Elsewhere, Trump prevailed over Cruz — 40% to 37% — in North Carolina, and a squeaker — 40.9% to 40.7% — in Missouri. Delegate wise, these were solid wins, since the states are winner-take-most proportional, giving Trump 600-odd delegates to Cruz’s 400 or so.

Yet Trump was unable to best Kasich in Ohio, another winner-take-all state. Kasich took 47% to Trump’s 36%. Kasich’s win deprives Trump of the state’s 66 delegates and makes it that much more difficult to amass the 1237 pledged delegates he needs (50%+1 of total in case you think, a la Donald Trump, that this is just some “crazy made-up number”) to win on a first ballot. Unless Trump now hits a new average — around 50% of each state from now on — he will fall short.

On the Democratic side, win or lose was less important than the result, since all states are proportional. Nevertheless, Bernie Sanders had bad luck, losing 49% to 51% in Illinois, and 49.6% to 49.4% in Missouri. North Carolina was less of a massacre than other Southern states, 55% to 41%, and Florida was on the lower side than he might have hoped — 64.5% to 33.3%. The Ohio vote was also on the low side — 57% to 43% — in a state that team Sanders thought might provide a win after his victory in Michigan.

Sanders was unperturbed by the sweep. He’d already decamped to Arizona for next week’s contest (with Utah and American Samoa, where Crikey is flying me), Superfluous Tuesday, as some are calling it. For the first time, the news stations didn’t carry his speech. They carried Clinton’s triumphalist humdinger, a forceful effort in her standard strip-rust-off-an-oilrig voice, directed squarely at Trump.

Cruz talked about relishing the chance to go up against Trump one-on-one at last, and how the media wanted Trump to win, trying to position himself as the outsider to the outsider. He sounded menacing, but he’d sound menacing if he were offering a muff dive, so, y’know. Trump had another extravaganza with flags — but no table of products — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, a press conference where the press weren’t allowed to ask questions. He congratulated Rubio, didn’t mention Kasich, and talked quite a bit about golf.

However, Trump began the speech with a shout-out to the Northern Mariana Islands, for reasons that soon became obvious. His win of the nine delegates there gave him his eighth state or territory where he’d won more than 50% of the delegates — which, according to Republican convention rules, is a prerequisite for being nominated. The rule was introduced in 2012 to stop Ron Paul being nominated, and left there to help, haha, Jeb. Trump is the only candidate to have done so.

The Democrat result, though less conclusive than the Republican ones, are bitter bread for Bernie Sanders. They now leave him about 300 delegates behind Hillary, 700 to 400, and that’s not counting the party’s superdelegates, unelected and overwhelmingly supporting Hillary. Bernie’s campaign, a protest insurgency that became a real thing, is losing the motivating possibility of victory, and returning to insurgency.

On the Republican side, it gets very, very complicated. Trump is now threatening riots at the convention if he does not get the nomination after having gained a plurality — and to make Cruz or Kasich eligible, they would have to change the rules before the convention. Cruz would need to be within 200 delegates of Trump — say 1000 to 800 — for a blindsiding of Trump to be even plausible.

The nightmare of the GOP is that Trump will be about 50 short of 1237, and there will be a huge split on the floor — and the party will have to be seen to be voting Trump up. There’s an even further complication, since the pledged delegates haven’t actually been chosen yet; they are actually chosen by state conventions, which are happening over the next two months.

Trump’s team may well lose some delegates from that process, as they don’t have control of the party machines, and the arcane rules that govern them. What if Trump gets to the convention with 100 fewer delegates than he was estimated to have? That happened — in the reverse — when Ron Paul’s operatives took control of state apparatuses and upped their delegate count by outmaneuvering campaigns such as that of Rick Santorum, who lacked the expertise. And it was in response to Paul’s manoeuvre that the convention rules were changed in such a way as to now benefit Trump.

So it’s on to Arizona, a border state where Trump should get about 110%. Cruz should get Utah. If Trump wins Utah, you could say that US religious conservatism has all but collapsed. I’ll be covering it live from Pago Pago*. We all fight the darkness in our own way.

*actually, Red Roof Inn, Milwaukee

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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