Noah Millman

A Post About the Democratic Race

There’s another election happening today, over on the other side of the aisle – but it’s a much less-interesting one, in my opinion. Bernie Sanders has successfully demonstrated the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton among young voters, very-liberal voters, and working-class white voters. The last is going to be a problem for Democrats in a Clinton-Trump contest. The second shouldn’t be a problem at all. The first . . . is an interesting question, since both Clinton and Trump appeal more to older voters than to young ones.

But demonstrating Clinton’s vulnerabilities isn’t the same as beating her, and Sanders is not getting close to the numbers he needs to have a shot at winning the nomination. And he’s going to get further away today. He’s going to lose Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia by decisive margins. Those mostly aren’t surprises given Sanders’s weakness among non-white, and especially black, voters, coupled with Clinton’s Arkansas “roots,” and if Sanders were putting up New Hampshire-like numbers among white voters, he’d still have a very real shot. But he’s not. Based on recent polls, he’d be expected to lose Massachusetts as well – a state he needs to win by a large margin to be on-track to seriously contesting the nomination. He’ll win virtually every vote in Vermont, but that won’t matter – he’s a favorite son there, and almost no delegates are at stake.

That leaves Oklahoma, where recent polls show a close race, Minnesota, where Clinton was dominant in January but where there has been no recent polling, and Colorado, which hasn’t been polled since last year. Sanders needs to win all three, and by comfortable margins, to really be in the game, both in terms of the race for delegates and the ability to shape the media narrative. I don’t think it’ll happen. Colorado is a closed caucus – and Sanders doesn’t do as well among regular Democrats as he does among left-leaning independents. And, whether fairly or not, I think the losses in Nevada and South Carolina have cut into the faith of Sanders voters that he’s got a real shot, and will hurt him even in states where the demographics favor him.

Sanders might pull off a win in one or more of his winnable trio, or even in all three. But I don’t expect him to win by the margins necessary to change the narrative or to presage real contests down the line. Instead, after racking up a huge delegate lead today, I expect the polls to move Clinton’s way in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Florida, all states where she leads by a hefty margin in recent polling already. Barring a Clinton indictment or some other dramatic event from outside the campaign, I expect Sanders to have been reduced to a protest candidacy by March 15th.

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Super Tuesday Predictions

Predicting the future is a mug’s game. But the election is today – so I’m technically predicting the present!

Alabama: In the most recent Alabama polls from late-February, Trump has polled at one side or the other of 40%, with his nearest rivals, Rubio and Cruz, polling one side or the other of 20%. Since then, the endorsement of Senator Sessions is the main news – and that news helps Trump and hurts Cruz. Alabama has a 20% threshold for receiving delegates, and delegates are allocated proportionately within each district and statewide. Cruz was polling below 20% before Sessions’s endorsement of Trump, so there’s a very good chance he comes in below 20% statewide, which would lock him out of at-large delegates, and give Trump a significant boost. Neither Carson nor Kasich are very likely to get any delegates at all. Assuming Trump’s performance is in-line with pre-election polling, and that his performance is fairly uniform across the state, I’d predict the following:

Vote split: Trump 42%, Rubio 22%, Cruz: 17%, Carson 11%, Kasich 8%.
Delegate split: Trump 28, Rubio 15, Cruz 4, Carson 0, Kasich 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a majority of the bound delegates out of Alabama.

Alaska: Alaska has barely been polled – just one poll from mid-January that had Trump barely ahead of Cruz and Rubio and Kasich virtual non-factors. Obviously, a great deal has changed since then – but how that change has played out in Alaska is hard to know. Looking at other states is of limited value, because the best points of comparison – Colorado or Montana – have been polled even less than Alaska has. My gut feeling is that three factors will help Trump: first, Cruz has been fading across the board since South Carolina, so he should be fading in Alaska as well; second, Alaska’s polls won’t close until 1am eastern time, by which point it should be clear that Trump has had a very good day, and that could demoralize non-Trump voters; and third, Alaska allows already-registered voters to register as Republicans when they arrive to vote, which facilitates non-traditional voters participating, and in past contests such voters have favored Trump. On the other hand, Trump was endorsed by Sarah Palin, and that can’t have helped in Alaska where they know her best.

Vote split: Trump 31%, Cruz 28%, Rubio 24%, Carson 10%, Kasich 7%.
Delegate split: Trump 9, Cruz 7, Rubio 6, Carson 0, Kasich 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Alaska.

Arkansas: Arkansas also hasn’t been polled lately – the last poll, from early February, showed Cruz with a narrow lead. But since then Trump has had significant victories, Cruz has faded, and if we look at somewhat comparable states like Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee, Trump is polling stronger than he was in those states at the time of the last Arkansas poll. With a 15% threshold for receiving delegates, there should be a close three-way split of the at-large delegates, and the district delegates should split 2-1 between the winner and second-place finisher in each district.

Vote split: Trump 31%, Cruz 28%, Rubio: 24%, Carson 10%, Kasich 7%.
Delegate split: Trump 17, Cruz 11, Rubio 9, Carson 0, Kasich 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Arkansas.

Georgia: The second-biggest prize of the day has also featured some of the fiercest competition between all five candidates. But there’s also been a lot of polling – and it all shows Trump with a substantial lead, somewhere between where he ended up in South Carolina and where he ended up in Nevada, with Cruz and Rubio fighting it out for a distant second. Like Alabama, there’s a 20% threshold for inclusion, and districts split their delegates 2-1 between the first- and second-place finisher. But recent polling shows Cruz in the low-20s, so I think there’s a better chance he clears the threshold, leaving Trump with only a plurality of the at-large delegates. Moreover, unlike Alabama, Georgia has a large urban center where I’d expect Rubio to do well – and potentially even to beat Trump in a few districts. By contrast, I think Cruz will have trouble winning any districts – but should beat Rubio for second in a bunch.

Vote split: Trump 38%, Rubio 26%, Cruz 21%, Kasich 8%, Carson 7%.
Delegate split: Trump 35, Rubio 21, Cruz 17, Kasich 0, Carson 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Georgia.

Massachusetts: Based on recent polling, Trump should utterly dominate Massachusetts. However, because Massachusetts allocates delegates proportionally based on the statewide vote, with only a 5% threshold for inclusion, there’s a good chance that he doesn’t win a majority of the delegates even if his vote total is in the 40s. The secondary question out of Massachusetts is whether Kasich can outperform, putting meaningful distance between his total and Rubio’s. Based on recent polls, it doesn’t look like it, and I don’t think he will.

Vote split: Trump 48%, Rubio 20%, Kasich 16%, Cruz 12%, Carson 3%.
Delegate split: Trump 19, Rubio 8, Kasich 7, Cruz 5, Carson 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Massachusetts.

Minnesota: I argued yesterday that Minnesota is a must-win state for Rubio. Within the Midwest, Trump polls best in rust-belt states like Michigan; he polls worst in states with a more Western flavor. Minnesota, like Iowa, has a highly polarized electorate, with a more-conservative GOP and a more liberal Democratic party; like Iowa, the GOP electorate is more-religious, more prosperous, and less-driven by racial animus. Rubio should be able to win here, if he can win anywhere. And he was actually leading in the last poll of the state (in January). Since then, Rubio has clearly emerged as the leading establishment alternative to Trump, and has won multiple endorsements in the state. But: since then Kasich has also finally emerged as a factor, Cruz’s star has faded, and Trump has won three impressive victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. I wish there were recent polling of the state on which to base an opinion. The best I can do, though, is to look at neighboring Wisconsin, which was polled around the same time as Minnesota’s last poll, but which has also been polled in February. And in Wisconsin, Trump has gained since January, as has Kasich – but so, more modestly, have Rubio and Cruz. In the Wisconsin poll from January, Trump led by 6 points; in the more recent poll, he leads by 10. If there’s been similar movement in Minnesota, this will be a very close 3-way race. Minnesota allocates its delegates proportionally, with a 10% threshold, so a subsidiary question is whether Kasich and/or Carson clear that threshold to get any delegates.

Vote split: Trump 28%, Rubio 26%, Cruz 25%, Kasich 11%, Carson 10%.
Delegate split: Trump 10, Rubio 9, Cruz 9, Kasich 4, Carson 3, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Minnesota.

Oklahoma: This state should be fertile territory for both Rubio and Cruz. But there’s no sign in recent polls that either has been able to break out of the low-20s, nor make a dent in Trump’s low-to-mid-30s numbers. I’ll give Rubio the benefit of a few points increase because he’s managed the end well in other states where he’s campaigned heavily, but unless he has a surge comparable to Iowa, he should fall short. Oklahoma’s delegate allocation system, however, virtually guarantees a fairly even split of delegates, because in each district the top three candidates who earn above 15% of the vote get 1 delegate each.

Vote split: Trump 34%, Rubio 27%, Cruz 24%, Carson 8%, Kasich 7%.
Delegate split: Trump 15, Rubio 13, Cruz 12, Carson 0, Kasich 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Oklahoma.

Tennessee: You’d think the state with the third-largest delegate prize on Super Tuesday would have been polled more than once since last November. But at least it was polled in February, and it showed Trump with a commanding lead of 18 points, with Cruz and Rubio fighting a close fight for second place. Assuming that poll is accurate, Trump is in a position to dominate Tennessee, because either Cruz or Rubio could fall below the 20% threshold necessary to earn delegates either at the state or the district level. However, I’m skeptical that Trump is quite so far ahead. Moreover, I’d expect Rubio and Cruz to perform better in different areas of the state, with Rubio doing best in the most prosperous urban and suburban areas.

Vote split: Trump 38%, Cruz 24%, Rubio 23%, Carson 9%, Kasich 6%.
Delegate split: Trump 26, Cruz 15, Rubio 14, Carson 0, Kasich 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Tennessee.

Texas: The big kahuna of Super Tuesday is a must-win for Ted Cruz – and based on recent polling, he’s in a very good position to claim a victory. The more interesting question is whether Rubio will clear the threshold for getting at-large and district-based delegates. Texas allocates its delegates proportionally, with a 20% threshold for inclusion. Within each district, if at least one candidate clears the 20% threshold, the top candidate earns 2 delegates with second place getting 1. If Cruz leads and Trump comes in second in most districts, Rubio could be almost shut out of the district vote. That’s unlikely – Rubio will probably come in second, or conceivably even win, in some of the more prosperous urban and suburban districts. But it’s a fair bet that he’ll considerably lag his proportion of the vote. Meanwhile, if he gets less than 20% statewide, he’ll be shut out of the at-large delegates. Based on recent polling, that’s a very real possibility – and since I believe Cruz and Rubio are competing for many of the same votes, to the extent that Cruz closes strong in his home state, that hurts Rubio more than it hurts Trump.

Vote split: Cruz 39%, Trump 29%, Rubio 19%, Kasich 7%, Carson 6%.
Delegate split: Cruz 85, Trump 50, Rubio 17, Kasich 0, Carson 0, RNC 3

Cruz wins a majority of the bound delegates out of Texas.

Vermont: There aren’t a lot of delegates at stake – but Vermont could still matter in terms of expectations, and in terms of the game of “getting to eight” (a candidate must win an absolute majority of bound delegates from at least eight states to have his or her name placed in nomination). The latest poll out of Vermont, from mid-February, showed Trump with a double-digit lead and his nearest competitors in the mid-teens. Trump’s hand has only strengthened since then. If Kasich gains among more moderate voters, and Trump makes significant gains, it’s possible that none of Trump’s competitors in the state could crack 20%. In which case, none of them would receive any delegates. And even if one of them did crack 20%, Trump would still garner an absolute majority. I think Kasich is going to fall just short of the threshold, but that Rubio will clear it.

Vote split: Trump 42%, Rubio 24%, Kasich 18%, Cruz 13%, Carson 3%.
Delegate split: Trump 8, Rubio 5, Kasich 0, Cruz 0, Carson 0, RNC 3

Trump wins a majority of the bound delegates out of Vermont.

Virginia: After Minnesota, Virginia should be Rubio’s strongest state. But based on recent polling, he’s far from closing the gap with Trump. He’s gained – but Trump has gained more. I’d expect Rubio to close the gap somewhat through the end of today’s voting, but to a  strong second rather than an outright victory. Because Virginia allocates all of its delegates proportionately to the statewide vote with no threshold for inclusion, it’s extremely unlikely that any candidate wins a majority – nobody is going to “get to eight” through Virginia.

Vote split: Trump 38%, Rubio 27%, Cruz 18%, Kasich 10%, Carson 7%.
Delegate split: Trump 18, Rubio 12, Cruz 8, Kasich 5, Carson 3, RNC 3

Trump wins a plurality of the bound delegates out of Virginia.

Projected delegate hauls:

I haven’t allocated the 3 RNC delegates to any candidate because the rules of how they are allocated seem to vary from state to state, and I just didn’t have time to look them all up. But otherwise, here are my predictions by candidate:

Trump: 235 (40% of total)
Cruz: 173 (29% of total)
Rubio: 129 (22% of total)
Kasich: 16 (3% of total)
Carson: 6 (1% of total)
RNC: 33 (6% of total)

If anything like the above happens, there is no way Cruz is dropping out. Rubio obviously isn’t dropping out. Kasich may argue that he didn’t need to win anything today, and soldier on – or he may bow to increasing pressure and leave. It’s hard to know whether his continued presence splits the establishment vote, or pulls moderate votes of Midwesterners that Trump might win in a three-way contest with Rubio and Cruz. Whether Carson drops out or not, he will not be a factor after today.

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The Establishment’s Last Stand

I’ve got a really, really long column—more of an article, honestly—up at The Week about Super Tuesday and the rest of the race for the GOP nomination. I basically go through each of the non-Trump campaigns and ask: what would it take for them to stop Trump? And the answer is: very probably more than they’ve got.

Key points:

  • Rubio can’t afford to lose everything on Tuesday, because he’s weak in the Midwest. His best shot to win something is in Minnesota, followed by Georgia or Virginia, followed by the border states (Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee). But it’s not looking good for him anywhere, and that’s partly because his message—I am the electable nice guy who is an orthodox conservative—is badly wrong for this election cycle and actually not a great one for the candidate.
  • Cruz can’t afford to lose everything either, because he’s even weaker further down the line, but he’s also more likely to actually win something, starting with Texas. If he outperforms, he could pick up border states like Oklahoma or Arkansas, as well as conservative caucus states like Wyoming or Alaska. His messaging problem: he knows how to sell himself as “Mr. Conservative,” but he doesn’t know how to sell that brand as a good thing.
  • Kasich actually can afford to lose just about everything tomorrow—because with momentum he could put up some wins in the Midwest and be a strong contender in a two-person race with Trump. But he has to come in at least a strong second in places like Massachusetts, Virginia and Minnesota, Rubio has to seriously underperform, and he needs Cruz take a bite out of Trump. None of which is likely to happen. His messaging problem has been providing voters with a cause for his candidacy beyond “I’m not a crazy person.”
  • There’s not going to be a brokered convention—or, if there is, there’s no way the nominee is going to be someone who ran and won less than a plurality of delegates. So if the non-Trump candidates continue to run simply to deny Trump a majority, they are no longer running for the nomination themselves.

It’s long, but that’s because it’s pretty comprehensive. So I do hope you’ll read the whole thing.

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Predictions

You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for my Super Tuesday predictions – but here are my right-down-to-the-wire Oscar predictions.

Amazingly enough, I’ve actually seen all the Best Picture nominees this year. Not sure that’s ever happened before. I haven’t managed to write much about any of them – I think the only one I properly reviewed was “Room,” though I also reviewed “Carol” which is nominated in a bunch of other categories. I had intended to write a long piece about “Spotlight” and “The Big Short,” and to at least say something about “The Revenant” and “Brooklyn,” each of which I thought was interesting and worth writing about. And perhaps I still will do so – but not before the Oscars.

So: here are my predictions, and my feelings about them.

Sound Mixing: I don’t really have a good idea, so I’m going with “Mad Max, Fury Road,” which I think will clean up in most technical categories. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Sound Editing: Again, “Mad Max, Fury Road,” and I feel a bit more confident about this one than I do about mixing. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Song: The only one I’ve heard is “Simple Song #3″ from “Youth,” which I don’t think is going to win, so I’m giving it to Lady Gaga for “‘Til It Happens To You” from “The Hunting Ground.” [UPDATE: I don’t think I was the only one in the audience who was surprised to get this one wrong.]

Score: Of the nominees, I’ve seen “Carol,” “Bridge of Spies” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Of those three, I vote for “Carol.” [UPDATE: Didn’t see “The Hateful Eight,” so don’t feel bad about not getting this one.]

Visual Effects: “Mad Max, Fury Road.” I will be genuinely upset if they decide to honor “Star War: The Force Awakens” instead. Will be disappointed but not surprised if it goes to “The Revenant” – because that bear was pretty awesome. Will be surprised and pleased if it goes to “Ex Machina” which was marvelous. [UPDATE: I am surprised and pleased!]

Makeup: “Mad Max, Fury Road.” “The Revenant” featured some really impressive wounds, though, so they’ve got a legitimate shot at this one. But “Mad Max” was so creative, I’m pulling for it. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Costume Design: “Carol,” because costumes were such a huge part of the story, and were done so well, and because I think people will want to honor “Carol” somewhere. [UPDATE: I thought “Mad Max” would lose one of these technical awards, just picked the wrong one.]

Production Design: “Mad Max, Fury Road.” It’s kind of crazy if they don’t win this one. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Editing: This is a weird one, because the choices are so different from one another. Arguably, “The Big Short” is a pure creation of editing – but I didn’t like the way it was edited, so I can’t vote for it. In the end, I’m pulling for “Mad Max, Fury Road” once again. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Cinematography: This is going to go to whichever film wins Best Director. So I’m giving it to “Mad Max, Fury Road.” I’ll be pretty bummed if “The Revenant” gets it, even though it was beautifully shot. [UPDATE: Honestly, I’m not bummed. “The Revenant” was gorgeous to look at. It’s a perfectly legitimate win. I just wanted Miller to win for Director and was being spiteful.]

Foreign Film: “Son of Saul,” which I haven’t seen, is supposed to be a lock. So, that. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Documentary Feature: I haven’t seen most of them, but my bet is “Amy” because I think sentiment wins. And also because it would be crazy to give it to “The Look of Silence” after “The Act of Killing,” which may be the best documentary I’ve ever seen, lost out to “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” which was, to be fair, very good. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Animated Film: “Inside/Out” has to win this. But I’m rooting for “Anomalisa” because so weird, right? [UPDATE: Got it.]

Adapted Screenplay: It’s going to “The Big Short,” and on some level that’s deserved because that was such a difficult job. But I’m not convinced the result is a success, and I think “Room,” “The Martian” and “Brooklyn” all also were marvelous adaptations. Heck, I’ll throw in “Carol.” They all deserve awards. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Original Screenplay: It’s going to “Spotlight,” and I’m okay with that. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Supporting Actress: I haven’t seen most of the performances, so this is a pretty ignorant vote. But I’m pulling for Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl” because she was so amazing in “Ex-Machina.” [UPDATE: Got it.]

Supporting Actor: I’m rooting for Sylvester Stallone, for “Creed,” partly because he was wonderful, partly because the movie itself was so good (and deserved a Best Picture nomination), and partly because I was less-impressed by Mark Rylance’s turn in “Bridge of Spies” than everybody else seems to have been. [UPDATE: Mark Rylance is a wonderful actor, so I can’t really be too annoyed, but I really don’t get what the big deal was about that particular performance. And both “Creed” and Stallone really earned some love.]

Actress: It’s going to be Brie Larson, for “Room,” and that is richly deserved – which is no knock on Charlotte Rampling, Saoirse Ronan, or Cate Blanchett. (I haven’t seen “Joy,” but I bet Jennifer Lawrence was excellent in it.) [UPDATE: Got it.]

Actor: It’s going to be Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant.” Which is actually fine. [UPDATE: Got it.]

Director: I really want it to be George Miller for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But I’m betting it’s Alejandro Iñárritu for “The Revenant.” [UPDATE: Unfortunately, got it. I was very happy to see Iñárritu win last year for “Birman,” which I thought was wonderful. But if he deserved to win this year, then George Miller deserved to win more. The weaknesses of their respective movies were very similar. But Miller’s world-building was on a whole other level. “Mad Max” is a very simple story, but it’s a visionary tour-de-force.]

Best Picture: This one is actually quite hard. If I were voting, myself, for the film that had the greatest impact on me, I’d be voting for “Room.” If I were trying to pick the most Oscar-y movie that was also well-made on every level, it’d be “Spotlight.”

But it’s probably going to be “The Revenant.”

[UPDATE: Guess I missed this one – but I’m going to give myself partial credit for saying that “Spotlight” is the film that should win if Oscar was being Oscar, and, indeed, it did.]

And we’ll soon see what the Academy thought.

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Rubio Is No Kutuzov

As you might imagine, I’m delighted by any historical comparison that involves Marshall Kutuzov, and so I smiled to read Ross Douthat’s latest column, wondering whether Marco Rubio might be taking lessons from the Russian commander:

[W]hat is Rubio waiting for? What is his campaign thinking?

Most likely, some version of this: Over the last few weeks, as Rubio has mostly ignored Trump and mostly attacked Ted Cruz, Cruz’s numbers have gone downward in the region where he absolutely has to win, the Southland, and Rubio’s have steadily improved. Rubio was able to sneak past Cruz in South Carolina, he’s pulled ahead of him in new polls from Georgia and Oklahoma, and he’s even pulled within few points in a new poll out of Cruz’s home state of Texas (though two others show a larger Cruz edge). As a result, it is suddenly possible that on Super Tuesday Rubio will win more delegates across the South than Cruz, which would put the Texas senator’s campaign on life support.

Over that same period, meanwhile, Trump’s battleground numbers have mostly held steady, rather than spiking in the wake of his New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada wins. He’s at 29 percent in the Oklahoma poll, 28 percent in the Texas poll (where his unfavorable number is at 50 percent), and averaging 33 percent in the two most recent Georgia polls. These numbers leave him vulnerable to a last-minute Rubio surge (and in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, late deciders broke for Rubio), and even in victory they don’t promise a runaway lead in the overall delegate count after Super Tuesday.

So if you’re the Rubio campaign, looking at this landscape, you might say: Why change what we’re doing when we’re actually gaining ground? Why give Cruz a new lease on life by starting an ugly war with Trump just days before the S.E.C. primary might all but finish off the Texan’s chances? Why act panicked about Trump when he’s still so many hundreds and hundreds of delegates away from the magic 1,237? Why not do everything you can to get an effective two-man race before you face the slings and arrows of Trump’s outrageousness?

From their perspective, there’s no reason to play Churchill yet because Trump’s advance is less Hitler-in-France than Napoleon-in-Russia, and they’re like Marshal Kutuzov, the much-maligned Russian commander whose wait, wait, wait strategy was vindicated when winter overwhelmed the French. (With winter, in this case, being Trump’s relatively high unfavorable numbers relative to Rubio, his poor performance in general election polls, the ad campaigns that haven’t yet been unleashed against him but will be, etc.)

If this actually works, the Rubio brain trust is going to dine out on their own sang-froid for years.

Douthat goes on to say that he worries very much that it won’t work, because there isn’t time for it to work – if Trump dominates on March 1st, even if Rubio winds up beating Cruz in delegates, then Trump will also be in a strong position to win in the big winner-take-all states of Ohio, Illinois, and (gulp) Florida. And then he’ll be the nominee.

But Rubio hasn’t been Kutuzov, retreating into Russia and waiting for winter, because he never held Russia. Lots of people bought into the idea that he was the “stealth” front-runner, but he was never anywhere near to having a commanding position – not even in his home state. He started out far behind his own rhetorical positioning, and has consistently and badly underperformed his own campaign’s goals in states that are absolutely key to his victory. He is exceptionally poorly positioned for the states that follow Super Tuesday – and there’s no reason to believe that this position will improve if he doesn’t win any states on March 1st. It’s not just that he doesn’t have time to consolidate the non-Trump vote and win. It’s that he was never in a particularly good position to consolidate the non-Trump vote. After all, it’s not like he didn’t have months to consolidate that vote before Iowa.

Rubio’s boosters have seen him as the front-runner in waiting for so long that it may be hard for them to imagine, but it’s worth taking a brief trip through the looking glass to see Rubio for what he is: an insurgent candidate and, arguably, a spoiler.

Think about it. It was Rubio’s entry into the race more than anyone’s that made it difficult for Jeb Bush to consolidate his position as the establishment candidate, and that turned the “establishment lane” race into a personality contest rather than a substantive one. After all, Rubio and Bush disagreed about almost nothing; the entire rationale for Rubio’s candidacy once Bush was in the race was that Bush would be a lousy candidate (which he was), and that he would inherit his support when he faltered.

And, more than anyone, it’s Rubio now who is paving the way for a Trump victory. Ted Cruz looked like he had a real shot, a few weeks ago, to take a bunch of Southern states from Donald Trump. That looks less-likely now – substantially because Marco Rubio has been tearing him down. John Kasich, Trump’s strongest opponent in the Midwest, can’t get much traction because of the still-divided Republican field. But if Rubio had dropped out after New Hampshire, and endorsed Kasich . . .

Of course, that’s completely unfair. Rubio had every right to run – and folks like Jeb Bush have nobody but themselves to blame for their losses. But so is the suggestion that the rest of the field should clear the way for Rubio, the obvious best candidate, to be the nominee. Because, among other things, he isn’t obviously the best candidate. To my mind, Kasich is clearly the best candidate to face off against Clinton (as well as the one who would make the best President). And if all you truly care about is winning, I’m really not sure anymore that Trump isn’t a better choice than Rubio.

Why is Rubio not attacking Donald Trump? Because he doesn’t have a line of attack. Rubio isn’t quite as perfect a foil for Trump as Jeb Bush was – but he’s close. Anybody worried about Trump’s lack of relevant qualifications isn’t going to be reassured by Rubio. Rubio may be younger, but his platform is Bush-restorationist. Trump, the improv artist, is going to have a field day with Rubio, who never goes off script. And then, of course, there’s immigration. The lines of attack for Trump to use against Rubio are very, very obvious – and Rubio has already proven unable to respond effectively to those attacks when they came from Chris Christie and Ted Cruz.

Of course, Kutuzov also understood that a major reason to wait until winter was that Napoleon’s army would beat his if directly engaged. But the difference is that Rubio won’t have the option of never engaging.

Apart from likability and electability (not the electorate’s favorite characteristics this year), Rubio’s only real line of attack against Trump is that he, Rubio, believes the things a Republican is supposed to believe, while Trump is a heretic. Rubio, more than any other candidate in the field, is running on that old time religion, the Bush-era verities. While Cruz and Carson are at least as ostentatious in their religiosity, Rubio is the true faith-based candidate. This is most obvious in foreign policy, where a keen memory for detail can’t hide the fact that his understanding of the world is entirely derived from ideological first principles, but’s it’s true more generally.

Unfortunately, he’s a faith-based candidate who can only persuade those who still count themselves believers. And Trump is demonstrating daily how much fewer of those there are than the conservative movement thought.

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Home State Polls

Take a look at the latest polls from the home states of the five remaining candidates for the GOP nomination.

Ted Cruz’s Texas (March 1) – average of 4 polls covering February 19-23: Cruz leads Trump by 5%.

  • Cruz: 33%
  • Trump: 28%
  • Rubio: 17%
  • Kasich: 8%
  • Carson: 5%

John Kasich’s Ohio (March 15) – single poll covering February 16-20: Trump leads Kasich by 5%.

  • Trump: 31%
  • Kasich: 26%
  • Cruz: 21%
  • Rubio: 13%
  • Carson: 5%

Ben Carson’s Maryland (April 26) – single outdated poll covering January 11-16: Trump leads Cruz by 17%.

  • Trump: 32%
  • Cruz: 15%
  • Rubio: 14%
  • Carson: 9%
  • Christie (no longer running): 8%
  • Bush (no longer running): 4%

Donald Trump’s New York (April 19) – single, outdated poll covering January 31-February 3: Trump leads Cruz and Rubio by 18%.

  • Trump: 34%
  • Cruz: 16%
  • Rubio: 16%
  • Christie (no longer running): 11%
  • Bush (no longer running): 7%
  • Kasich: 4%

Marco Rubio’s Florida (March 15) – single poll covering February 21-24: Trump leads Rubio by 16%.

  • Trump: 44%
  • Rubio: 28%
  • Cruz: 12%
  • Kasich: 7%
  • Carson: 4%

Trump is beating Rubio in Rubio’s home state by nearly as much as he’s beating Rubio in Trump‘s home state – whereas Cruz is winning his home state and Kasich is only a few points behind in his. If Rubio dropped out, and half his voters went to Kasich, Kasich would win Ohio. If Kasich dropped out, and all of his voters went to Rubio, that wouldn’t be enough for Rubio to win Florida.

So, of course, Kasich should drop out and endorse Rubio.

Makes sense.

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Fetch and Carry

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

I hate to throw cold water on Ross Douthat’s pundit fantasy – Rubio getting Kasich out of the way by offering him the VP slot – but . . . wouldn’t that be a huge gift to Ted Cruz? And isn’t Cruz Rubio’s biggest worry over the next week?

Think about it. Cruz is positioned as Mr. Solid Gold Conservative in the race. Kasich is running as a self-proclaimed relative moderate. If Rubio offered Kasich the VP slot, he’d be playing right into Cruz’s script. “He betrayed us with the Gang of Eight – and now he’s offered the Vice Presidency to a man who supports Obamacare. What other conservative causes will he betray if we give him the keys to the White House?” Is that really the message he wants out there going into Super Tuesday?

That’s apart from the fact that an overture to Kasich makes Rubio look weak, like somebody who can’t win on his own . . . and there isn’t much of an answer to that charge because it’s true! Rubio can’t win on his own! That’s the premise of Douthat’s column!

And it’s also unnecessary given the geography of the upcoming contests. Kasich has basically abandoned the fight for the majority of Super Tuesday states. He’s not going to be a major factor in Georgia, Oklahoma, or Arkansas – all states where Rubio has polled very competitively in the past month. He may try to make himself a factor in Virginia or Minnesota, two other states where Rubio has polled if anything even more competitively – but so what? Kasich was polling at 2% in Minnesota a month ago, when Rubio was polling in the lead. If Rubio’s stock drops, and Kasich rises to, I don’t know – 10%? – how exactly is that a knock on Kasich, as opposed to an indication that Rubio just can’t close the sale?

Rubio has a path to the nomination. It involves winning at least a handful of states that are effectively three-person races between himself, Trump and Cruz, in Super Tuesday states where the terrain is far from unfavorable for him. If there’s a real split on Super Tuesday, with Cruz winning, say, Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska, Rubio winning Virginia, Minnesota and Georgia, and Trump winning Massachusetts, Vermont, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama – then even though Trump will be the clear delegate leader, there will be three viable candidates. Kasich will collapse, and Rubio can go into the big winner-take-all contests on March 15th having made a credible case for his candidacy – and a far more-credible one than Cruz will have. It’s really not clear to me why Rubio needs to drive Kasich out of the race to make that scenario happen. On the contrary – what he needs to do is out-hustle Cruz, and make a strong case for his own candidacy in forums that are naturally more favorable to a quite conservative candidate like Rubio than states like Ohio and Illinois that Kasich is counting on – but that won’t vote until March 15th.

Here’s the thing: there is no anti-Trump vote to be consolidated. There’s an anti-establishment vote that Trump has consolidated. That vote is not a majority – but the remainder is not so unified in its loathing of Trump that Rubio would magically win a majority if other candidates would just step aside and let him win. Even if Rubio’s plan is the be the Republican Dukakis – the perfectly acceptable candidate who first beats the other acceptable candidates and then beats the unacceptable candidates – he can only get there by actually beating them.

So seriously: stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen. Unless he makes it happen himself.

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Rubio Is a Funny Candidate For the “Establishment”

Is there really an establishment, anti-Trump “lane” of any consequence in the GOP race? I’ve been asking that question for some time, for one simple reason: since Trump’s rise, there have been no strong, center-right establishment candidates in the race.

Trump, Cruz and Carson (and Rand Paul) have been generally understood as anti-establishment candidates whom the political class would be unhappy with. The candidates typically classed as “establishment” or “mainstream” from the beginning were: Bush, Christie, Kasich, Walker, Perry—and Rubio.

But Rubio is a peculiar candidate to be calling “establishment” or “mainstream” for two reasons. First, because his positioning in his Senate election and in terms of his stances on a host of issues is quite right-wing—more right-wing than Trump’s on most issues apart from immigration. And second, because he ran for the Senate, and now for the White House, as an upstart candidate defying a party leadership that wanted him to wait his turn.

You can tell the weirdness of Rubio’s positioning as an establishment favorite by looking at who supporters of different candidates choose for their second choices. The data in a recent NBC tracking poll is highly instructive in that regard.

When you look at Rubio’s own supporters, and ask them who their second choice is, the #1 pick—with 31%—is Ted Cruz. The #2 pick—with 17%—is Donald Trump. 9% go to Ben Carson. So, a substantial majority of Rubio’s own supporters prefer an anti-establishment candidate to any of the other “establishment” choices.

And when you look at the “establishment” candidate’s second choices, while there is a clear preference for Rubio, it’s far from overwhelming. Bush supporters, when asked who they’d pick second, picked “Don’t Know” first, with 23%, then Rubio, with 19%, then Kasich, with 16%. Trump, Cruz and Carson together garnered 32%. So it’s far from clear that Bush dropping out will bring his voters overwhelmingly to Rubio’s side (though Rubio will likely pick up the bulk of his campaign infrastructure).

Kasich supporters, when asked who they’d pick second, gave 24% to Rubio – but gave 21% to Bush and 16% to Donald Trump. Again, hardly an overwhelming preference for Rubio. A similar pattern obtains when you look at Christie and Fiorina supporters. As each establishment candidate drops out, Rubio would expect to garner 20-30% of that candidate’s vote. The remainder goes elsewhere, smeared out among the other remaining candidates, with Trump garnering half to two-thirds as much as Rubio.

Meanwhile, guess which candidate’s voters give the largest share of second-choice votes to Rubio?

That’s right: Ted Cruz. 33% of Cruz voters would opt for Rubio as a second choice, followed by Trump, who gets 26% of Cruz voters, and Carson, who gets 17%.

What we’ve learned from the three contests so far is that, if the electorate in a given state is more conservative (like Iowa and South Carolina), Rubio does well winning late-breaking deciders. If it isn’t (as in New Hampshire), then he doesn’t.

Super Tuesday’s states are mostly on the conservative end of the spectrum – and hence should give Rubio a chance to break through and actually win states like Virginia (where he polled second to Trump earlier in February), Minnesota (where he was leading in a January poll) or Colorado (which hasn’t been polled recently, but where Rubio was strong in a November poll). But by the same token, there are strong opportunities for Cruz to win, particularly in his home state of Texas but also in nearby Oklahoma and Arkansas. And Trump, of course, is strong across-the-board, not only across the southern states but in states like Massachusetts.

But the real point is, when we move to the northeast and the more easterly parts of the midwest, it’s less clear that the territory is so favorable to Rubio. In two Michigan polls from mid-February, Rubio polled 10% and 12% respectively—in-line with Kasich’s polling, and far behind Trump. Illinois and Ohio haven’t been polled recently, but if Kasich can hold out until Ohio he should do very well there, and Illinois is similarly favorable territory for Kasich.

As well as for Trump. Because that’s the thing: Trump is not only a candidate running against the establishment; he’s also the relative centrist in a three-way race with two distinctly right-wing candidates. Rubio is far more palatable to moderate and “somewhat” conservative voters than Cruz is in such a race. But it’s not obvious to me that he’s far more palatable than Trump.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s clear that the GOP establishment is about to line up fully behind Rubio, certainly if reports like these are to be believed. It’s just worth remembering that this is itself a bit of a strange result, and, therefore, it shouldn’t be too surprising if even more centrist, establishment-oriented Republican voters don’t fully fall into line.

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Handicapping South Carolina

If you look at the Real Clear Politics chart of the average polls results for South Carolina, you’ll see a trend that looks somewhat like what Iowa looked like before the caucus, namely: Trump in the lead but dropping, and Rubio steadily rising. Trump’s lead is considerably larger than it was in Iowa pre-caucus, plus he’s held that lead in South Carolina far longer, plus South Carolina is a primary rather than a caucus. But the trend lines are still somewhat similar. So: is a similar surprise in the offing? Will Trump significantly underperform his polls? Will Rubio ride positive momentum (and endorsements by much of the state’s officialdom) to significantly outperform?

It basically depends on whose polls you believe. Thirteen different pollsters have polled South Carolina in February, but only three of them have polled the state multiple times: ARG (four times), the South Carolina House GOP (five times), and Emerson (twice). The other ten have only polled the state once this month. Since pollsters’ methodologies differ, it’s sometimes difficult to know whether an apparent trend is real if it’s generated by the entry of a different pollster.

So I took a look under the hood of the average. Here’s what I found.

First, in none of the three pollsters who polled South Carolina multiple times did I see a material trend away from Trump. In ARG’s first February poll, Trump garnered 35%; in its most recent poll, he garnered 34%. Similarly, in the first SC House GOP poll for February, Trump garnered 35%, and in the most-recent he garnered 34%. Emerson’s first February poll was much later than the other two, so it’s not really comparable, but between its two polls Trump rose from 33% to 36%.

Second, the dip that Trump has taken recently is largely driven by two polls, one from Harper covering Feb 16-17, and one from NBC/WSJ/Marist covering Feb 15-17, both of which showed Trump’s support in the high-20s rather than the mid-30s. Harper showed stronger-than-typical support for Kasich (13%), whereas the Marist poll showed stronger-than-typical support for Cruz (23%). Both actually showed weaker-than-average support for Rubio.

Third, the trend toward Rubio is most-pronounced in the ARG poll. Rubio went from 14% support in their first February poll (2/12-13) to 22% in their most recent poll (2/17-18). This move did not come at the expense of Trump, as noted above – but neither did it come at the expense of any other candidate polled. ARG has consistently shown higher support for Kasich than average (either 14% or 15% in each poll), and has consistently shown lower support for Cruz than average (ranging from 12% to 14%), but neither candidate’s numbers have moved materially in the past week. So if their finding that Rubio is surging is correct, it’s because he’s winning over voters who previously did not declare a preference (the total for the six remaining candidates went from 88% to 96% over the past week).

The SC House GOP poll, on the other hand, shows only modest movement – and that movement is toward both Rubio (up from 13% to 16%) and Cruz (up from 16% to 18%) since February 11th. This move is also fully accounted for by a drop in the percentage registering no preference (total for the six outstanding candidates went from 91% to 96% over the period). None of the other candidates moved materially over the period.

Finally, if I strip out the ARG and SC House polls, and look at the rolling average of the other pollsters, I see no move toward Rubio, a meaningful drop in Trump’s support (driven by the new Harper and Marist polls above), a modest drop in Cruz’s support – and a meaningful rise for both Bush and Kasich.

So here’s what I conclude:

  • Trump is still overwhelmingly likely to win tomorrow.
  • Because of the size of Trump’s lead, if he meaningfully underperforms his polls he’ll still win. But if he does meaningfully underperform, it’ll be because – as in Iowa – there was a late surge in the anti-Trump vote, rather than because his voters are switching.
  • There may be real movement of late-deciders towards Rubio, such that I’d say he is favored to take second place, with Cruz coming in third. Because of Rubio’s support from the press, both mainstream and conservative, even a close second-place finish will be spun as a considerable victory, which will boost his national numbers and also his numbers in his most-winnable Super Tuesday states (most prominently Virginia, Minnesota and Colorado).
  • The candidate with the most to lose right now in South Carolina is therefore Cruz. If he comes in third in South Carolina behind Rubio, he may also come in third in Nevada, and his numbers will likely weaken in states he absolutely must win on March 1st, like Oklahoma, Georgia and Arkansas, to remain viable. If Cruz does come in a strong second in South Carolina, that’ll be a sign of a strong ground game, or of a rise in support for Kasich and/or Bush at Rubio’s expense, rather than movement of voters in his direction.
  • It would be a considerable surprise if either Bush or Kasich makes it into the top three – but it is not by any means impossible. Kasich has consistently placed third in the ARG poll, and Bush has polled a close fourth consistently in the SC House GOP poll. And both candidates have moved up in the past week (albeit from a low base) in the average of the other pollsters. If either Bush or Kasich beats Rubio, despite Rubio’s surge in institutional support, I’d expect Rubio to go into free-fall. If either of them beat Cruz, then ARG wins the pollster of the month award.
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Is Scalia’s Burial Mound the Hill Social Conservatives Should Choose to Die On?

I know I’m a bit late to the memorial on this one, but I wanted to respond to Ross Douthat’s call for a “perhaps-foredoomed but still necessary last stand” on the part of social conservatives in response to the passing of Justice Scalia.

The heart of Douthat’s case is the following:

Since 1968, the year that the modern right-of-center political majority was born, Republican presidents have made twelve appointments to the Supreme Court; Democratic presidents have made just four. Yet those twelve Republican appointments, while they did push the court rightward, never delivered the kind of solid 6-3 or 7-2 conservative majority that one might have expected to emerge. Instead, John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Harry Blackmun all went on to become outspoken liberals, Blackmun and Anthony Kennedy went on to author decisions sweeping away the nation’s abortion laws and redefining marriage, Sandra Day O’Connor and Kennedy both ratified Roe v. Wade — and so on down a longer list of disappointments and betrayals.

Meanwhile, none of the four recent Democratic appointees, whether “moderate” or liberal, have moved meaningfully rightward during their tenures. On the crucial cases of the last decade (including the cases Stern lists) they’ve reliably voted as a bloc. The most genuinely unpredictable of the four, Stephen Breyer, is basically crusading to eliminate the death penalty already. The more moderate of President Obama’s two appointments, Elena Kagan, has voted with the more liberal Sonia Sotamayor more reliably (especially in 5-4 decisions) than, say, Scalia voted with John Roberts. And the court’s only actual swing vote remains, of course, a Republican appointee.

So telling Republicans that they should accept a moderate liberal lest they risk a real liberal is likely to inspire a bitter chuckle, since from the perspective of conservatives they risk at least a moderate liberal in practically every appointment anyway. (Including the last Republican president’s, since most fairly or not many conservatives feel they dodged a bullet with Harriet Miers.) And if you’re starting from that kind of disadvantage, you simply can’t afford to throw away even a chance at appointing a real conservative in the name of a play-it-safe compromise: If there’s one thing conservatives have learned from forty years of judicial appointment battles, it’s that when you compromise, you lose.

Further, you lose the most on the issues that animate the party’s socially-conservative voting base — as opposed to donors, think-tankers and the Chamber of Commerce —because it’s social issues where time and again the elite consensus has tugged Republican appointees leftward.

So it’s not just that conservatives have good reasons to be more skeptical than Stern that even a “moderate” Obama appointee would ultimately hesitate to overturn (or at least carefully undercut) some of the precedents he cites; it’s that on certain issues they have extremely well-grounded anxieties. Tell the average conservative voter that they should accept an Obama appointee in the hopes of preserving Citizens United and McCutcheon, and they’re likely to stare blankly and then shrug when you explain the campaign-finance law implications. But tell them that, despite having a fighting chance to replace him with a conservative, they should trade their great champion and bulwark on abortion, marriage and religious liberty — to borrow from one eulogy, “the mighty rearguard in our long and slow defeat” — for an Obama appointee at a moment when social liberalism is ascendant and the legal and cultural consequences of same-sex marriage are beginning to ripple across the country and the courts … well, they’ll look at you like you’re insane.

And they would be right to do so. [Emphasis mine]

I understand exactly what Douthat is saying here. But with respect, if you find yourself in a situation that “when you compromise, you lose,” the solution cannot be “never compromise”—because compromise is the nature of politics. That framing of the problem is a framing that guarantees failure. The only possible solution is to change your political situation so that new, more favorable compromises are possible.

Douthat’s complaint, in essence, is that the GOP is very careful to nominate judges and justices who are pro-prosecutor and pro-business, but are much less-careful to nominate judges and justices who are attentive to the concerns of social conservatives. But is it the case that only full-spectrum conservatives could possibly be attentive to social conservative concerns? Is it at least possible that there are pro-union, pro-defendant judges and lawyers who—perhaps by virtue of their religious faith (Mormon, evangelical Protestant, Orthodox Jewish, etc.)—are especially sensitive to the particular concerns of traditional religious believers?

If that is possible, wouldn’t it be a productive political experiment for a prominent social conservative leader to present President Obama with a list of such judges and lawyers, and say: if you pick one of these guys, we will not oppose their nomination. We will not carry water for the Chamber of Commerce on this one; if you want to make sure there is basically no chance the ACA or your EPA rules or what have you get overturned, that’s fine with us provided you give us someone who might well vote the way Scalia did in Hobby Lobby.

President Obama might well ignore the overture. But it would be useful anyway, and for three reasons. First, it would clarify just who is spurning whom, and just who is truly unwilling to compromise. Second, it would send a very clear signal to the Chamber of Commerce that the strength of their position is far from impregnable – that social conservatives are just as capable of abandoning their erstwhile allies as they are of being abandoned. And finally, it would send a very clear signal to parts of the Democratic coalition – unions, environmentalists, anti-incarceration activists, etc. – that there are opportunities for novel alliances worth exploring.

Justice Scalia, in his dissent in Obergefell v Hodges, noted the problem with having as highly unrepresentative a body as the Supreme Court—with its plurality of Harvard-educated New Yorkers – making value judgments for the country as a whole. Scalia himself  was, of course, one of those Harvard-educated New Yorkers, but his point was that such mal-representation wouldn’t be a problem if the Court stopped making value judgments—an ambition which I would argue is impossible and that I suspect most would agree is unlikely even if possible. So rather than say, “Scalia can only be replaced by another Harvard-educated New Yorker who happens to be a full-spectrum conservative,” why not say “let’s follow Scalia’s advice and make our litmus test be socio-cultural rather than ideological”? This may be going too far, but maybe Harriet Miers—or her Democratic equivalent—is exactly the type of Justice social conservatives should be hoping for, as opposed to a narrowly-dodged bullet.

Because if the only people folks like Douthat can count on to consider their particular concerns are people who also buy into the rest of the right-wing package, and yet some who accept the rest of the package will prove unreliable allies to social conservatives, then social conservatives are simply going to lose and lose again. And it’s not obvious to me how a last stand of the sort he calls for helps to change that.

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