The Atlantic (Opinion)
By David Graham
March 1, 2016
They call it Super Tuesday, but for everyone other than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, March 1 wasn’t a great night. The Democratic and Republican frontrunners racked up wins Tuesday, along with delegates, as each consolidated a lead.
Could it have been a better night for either of them? Absolutely. As expected, Clinton lost Vermont to favorite son Bernie Sanders, but she also lost in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Minnesota. Trump was the big winner among the Republicans, but he lost states he was expected to win and saw his margin of victory slip below what polls had predicted in others.
Even as the election results were rolling in, a debate raged over just how good a night it was for Trump. It’s undeniable—despite the protestations of anti-Trump pundits—that winning more states is better than winning fewer. As the clock struck midnight on the east coast, Trump could claim victories in Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. He even squeezed out a win in Vermont, where John Kasich came in a close second. Proportional-allocation rules for delegates, however, mean that although Trump will win the most delegates, his rivals will also take quite a few. According to New York Times projections, Trump was likely to take more than 200 delegates, trailed by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. That would give Trump more than 400 delegates, but he’s still a long way short of the 1,237 needed to lock up the nomination. The problem for the other candidates, and for the many Republicans who find Trump unacceptable, is that none of his rivals is close to him.
It was a pretty good night for Cruz, who won his home state of Texas and scored a victory in the neighboring state of Oklahoma, too. Or at least it was a good night, scored against the expectations Tuesday morning. It wasn’t that long ago, however, that Cruz’s advocates were touting the many contests in Southern states—the “SEC Primary”—as his firewall, where he would clean up in states heavy on evangelical voters. Judged against those expectations, it was a disappointing evening for the Cruz team. Looking ahead, he faces a stretch of states that aren’t likely to be as friendly to him. Still, Cruz used his remarks in suburban Houston to paint himself as the only hope for stopping Trump.
“God bless the Lone Star State. And God bless the great state of Oklahoma,” Cruz said. “So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely, and that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives, and for the nation. After tonight, we have seen that our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump.”
Without naming Rubio or John Kasich directly, Cruz called on both of them to leave the race. “The candidates who have not yet won a state, who have not yet won significant delegates, I ask you to prayerfully considered coming together, united,” he said.
As those comments suggested, things were bleaker for Rubio, who had a roller-coaster evening. Early in the night, analysis—or was it wishful thinking?—suggested Rubio might be able to win in Virginia, a state with a high concentration of well-educated, wealthier, establishment-friendly Republicans in Northern Virginia. In the end, though, Rubio couldn’t pull out the win there. The Florida senator finally notched a win in Minnesota late Tuesday—his first victory of the campaign. But in several states, Rubio was in danger of failing to cross the 20-percent threshold the party imposes to win any of the statewide delegates allocated on a proportional basis.
Yet when Rubio came out to speak, early in the night, he once again struck the same triumphant pose he has employed time and again, as his campaign finished second or third in contest after contest. “When I am president of the United States, we will not just save the American dream, we will expand it to more people than ever!” he said.
The most telling moment in his speech, however, came a few moments later. "Five days ago, we began to explain to the American people that Donald Trump is a con artist," Rubio said, alluding to the onslaught of opposition research, insults, and barnyard jokes he has directed at the GOP frontrunner, starting with Thursday’s debate. Why did that take so long, though? It may have been too late to save the Republican Party from Trump, and if it wasn’t, it may have been too late to save Rubio. His case as the Trump alternative depends not on beating Trump outright, but on depriving him of an outright victory with delegates ahead of the Republican convention, then wresting the nomination from him there. Rubio’s moment of truth comes on March 15, when Florida votes. If he can’t win the Sunshine State, his campaign is likely over.
Trump leads in polls there so far, and he taunted Rubio by holding his election-night celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Backed by a meek Chris Christie, Trump boasted, joked, meandered, argued, and cajoled, taking questions from reporters and taking shots at Rubio. While Trump could have won more states, and he could have won by larger margins, the victories for both Rubio and Cruz mean neither man seems likely to leave the race. So far, division among Republicans has served Trump well.
Sanders called it an early night, capitalizing on his victory in Vermont. He gave a speech that almost sounded like a requiem for his impressive run. “This campaign is not just about electing a president; it is about transforming America,” he said. “It is about making our great country the nation that we know it has the potential to be. It is about dealing with some unpleasant truths that exist in America today and having he guts to confront those truths.”
Yet Sanders aides promised to fight on to the convention, and later results showed that he had won several states. In addition to Oklahoma, Sanders won in Colorado and in Minnesota—a state he’d campaigned in heavily, as he did in the Sooner State. But he lost to Clinton in Massachusetts, another state where he’d concentrated his energies.
Clinton, meanwhile, didn’t quite pull off the clean sweep of non-Vermont states that she’d hoped for, but she scored wins across the South, including in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas. She is projected to take roughly double Sanders’s delegate total. Clinton has turned her attentions to the general election and to Donald Trump.
“[Our] work is not to make America great again. America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole,” Clinton said. “I believe what we need in America today is more love and kindness.” She delivered some fiery lines as well. "If you cheat your employees, exploit consumers, pollute our environment, or rip off the taxpayers we are going to hold you accountable.”
The story of the night remains the Republican side, though, and Trump’s strong showing. As the dust clears Wednesday, there will be renewed calls for both John Kasich and Ben Carson to leave the race. Kasich insists he has no plans to go anywhere until at least the March 15 elections, when he promises to win Ohio and hopes Rubio loses Florida. Pressure on Kasich and Carson to bow out is nothing new. Rubio, however, will have to work hard to prove that he’s still a viable candidate after a not-so-super Tuesday.
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