With both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump winning in the overall delegate count on Super Tuesday, adding 203 (Trump) and 453 (Clinton) delegates to their camps respectively, many commentators are now ready to call it: We will see a general election that pits the two New Yorkers against each other. We at GLOBALO agree that this is now the most likely outcome, but we aren’t quite as certain that it has to go this way.
Leaving out super delegates (who can still change their minds at the last minute in case she doesn’t get the majority of the popular vote) Clinton has only won 544 out of 2383 delegates that are needed to win nomination. Similarly, on the Republican side, Mr Trump has 285 delegates pledged to him. He needs a total of 1237 to rap up the race.
Here is the rational for why most in the media are still ready to call winners at this stage:
For Clinton the argument is closely connected with the way that the Democrats award delegates in primary races. Because they are allocated proportionally, this means that the margin by which a candidate wins a state is very important. Hillary Clinton has won the Southern states by large margins of 20 to 30 points. Therefore, Sanders would have to win states where he is expected to do better (those with many white, working class, and liberal voters) by equally big margins. At the moment, however, polls don’t show this kind of lead for Sanders in places like Ohio or Michigan. Even if he wins more states from now on, but wins them with smaller margins, the reasoning goes, he might be able to drag out the contest until the summer, but he won’t be able to get to 2383 before Clinton does.
For Trump the argument is different. His win is expected because he continues to profit from the many contenders in the race, who keep taking away votes away from each other. With Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both winning states on Super Tuesday, this situation is likely to continue. Furthermore the endorsement of Chris Christie means that some establishment candidates are ready to give in to Trump and more endorsements could follow his Super Tuesday win thus furthering the prospect of him being ultimately nominated. The view that he will be the Republican nominee is further supported by the fact that he leads in many many of the states coming up for voting and in nationwide polls.
But there are still some ways it all could go very differently:
I. How it could still go right for Sanders
While a Clinton win is now likely, Bernie Sanders’ supporter still cling to the hope that the Vermont senator will be able to take victory out of her hands. Doing so they make several points.
1. Voting in states that lean heavily towards Clinton is now concluded. The upcoming states are less clearly leaning towards any candidate, with Sanders even leading in some. This argument makes sense especially with a view toward March 15th, when really big states like Illinois and Florida, where Bernie has a reasonable chance of winning, go to the polls. If Sanders can win convincingly on this date he might just be able to open up the race once again.
2. People still don’t know Bernie. This argument draws from the fact, that, when the race started, Hillary Clinton was leading almost anywhere by up to 60 points. In the meantime Sanders has caught up and built an impressive campaign, winning states and polling close to Clinton nationally. Still, Bernie fans argue, there are still many Americans who never really noticed what the Sanders campaign is all about. Bernie, they insist, is still catching up from the days when he was a largely unknown Senator from Vermont. If his overall momentum, that brought him from nobody to serious contender within just a few months continues, he might just be able to defeat Clinton so decisively, that her early lead in the South won’t matter.
3. Black voters are wrong favoring Hillary over Bernie, and they could realize this. According to Sanders’ supporters, the former civil rights activist has a better record fighting for minorities than Clinton. They point to controversial statements she has made in the past about some urban youngsters being “super predators” as well as to her husband’s record regarding criminal justice reform, that disproportionally sent black males to prison. If Sanders is successful in bringing this message across he could be able to cut into Clinton’s lead among minority voters.
In order for Sanders to beat Clinton, a lot has to work out exactly right for the Vermont senator, but it is not impossible at all. This race is not quite over yet.
II. How it could still go wrong for Trump
1.The way Republicans allocate votes. Granted, Trump now really sports a comfortable lead and beating him seems an unlikely proposition. But this is not a coronation, and in the Republican “winner take all” system that most states use to allocate delegates from this point in the race going forward, a few second place finishes in a row could well derail his entire campaign. There is no price for the runner up in many of the coming states, so, other than Clinton, just doing reasonably well from now on won’t do for Trump. He has to keep winning
2. The GOP has only just woken up. After months without attacking Trump, hoping that he would somehow self destruct, the Republican establishment has started to take the threat of a Trump candidacy more serious. From Marco Rubio to former candidate Mitt Romney and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, the party appears increasingly united in its more forceful anti-Trump stance. Now, it might be to late, but once the machine really gets into motion, it can really make a difference very quickly. Just ask Newt Gingrich, the 2012 insurgent candidate, who got crushed after his campaign seemed to get a bit to successful for the taste of GOP leaders.
3. Even if Trump keeps winning, he might not get to 1237. The very thing that works in his favor, namely that Rubio and Cruz are staying in the race, could become a problem for him down the road. If both his rivals keep picking up states here and there until the summer, they might actually win enough delegates between them to block Trump’s clearest path to the nomination. In this scenario, he would still have the most votes, but would rely on the Republican convention to make him the candidate. Sure, if the GOP failed to do so, despite him having won the most votes, the popular backlash could be enormous. But this is Donald Trump we are talking about here and if the Republicans feel that nominating him poses the greater risk, they just might consider doing something radical. In that case it is all but certain that Trump would run as a third party candidate.