Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hold the Coronation

The good news for Hillary Clinton is that, despite losing Michigan Tuesday, she actually netted more delegates than Bernie Sanders. That's because she won big in Mississippi while Sanders eked out a nail-biter in Michigan. The final delegate count for the night: 87 for Clinton and 69 for Sanders.

Another piece of good news is that, because of the way delegates are awarded proportionally in the Democratic Party, Sanders is going to have a very tough time catching Clinton. Not counting Super Delegates, which I don't and no one should until the Convention, Hillary leads him 760 to 546. Looking ahead to next Tuesday, it's conceivable that Sanders could have a repeat performance in Ohio and Missouri, lose big in North Carolina, keep it close yet still lose in Illinois and Florida, and still lose ground in the delegate count.

According to Nate Cohn, of the pledged delegates already awarded - roughly one third, so far - Clinton has won 60 percent of them. What that means is that Sanders, if he hopes to catch her, would have to win the remaining contests by eight points or more. How likely is he to do that? Not very. That's because each time Hillary wins a state, the margin by which he has to win goes up. The simple truth is that if you take away his big wins in Vermont and New Hampshire - both relatively small states - he hasn't routed her in a single meaningful state. Sadly, Sanders is discovering what every trailing basketball team knows all too well: that you can't come back and win the game if you're trading baskets.

And now the bad news. Hillary lost a big state, and not just any big state, mind you, a Rust Belt state. The kind of state Democrats are going to need come November. Worse than merely losing it was how she lost it. She got killed, once again, by the youth vote. It wasn't even close. She also lost the blue-collar and independent vote by a wide margin. This is of key importance because if Donald Trump ends up becoming the Republican nominee - now almost a foregone conclusion - he will target and, yes, probably pick up many of those voters in the general.

But perhaps even more disturbing are the returns that came out of Wayne county where Detroit is. She managed to get only 59 percent of that vote. Considering that the majority of the population is African American, she needed to do much better here. So far she has taken roughly 80 percent of the black vote in virtually every state. If it turns out that Sanders is starting to make inroads into that demographic, he could make life a living hell for her the rest of the way. Worse, he could seriously wound her for the general. It is well established by virtually every pundit that in order to keep the White House the Democratic nominee is going to have to pick up the overwhelming majority of the black and Hispanic vote. If either of those two voting blocks begin to have doubts about Hillary this fall, it's game, set and match. Hello, President Trump.

So, now that we know what happened, what does Clinton do to mitigate any further damage during the balance of the campaign? First off, it's not at all certain that this loss wasn't an outlier. By that I mean the polls going into this primary all showed Clinton ahead of Sanders, some by as much as 15 points. Nate Silver, who's wrong about as many times as there are solar eclipses, put her chances at winning the state at 99 percent. How could all of them be so wrong?

The answer may lie in the fact that this primary, like a number of them, was open. In other words, everyone could vote, not just registered Democrats. While we do not know to what extent this has impacted the Democratic primaries, on the GOP side, it has had a profound affect. Indeed, the only contests that Donald Trump has lost have been closed ones, and he's lost them to Ted Cruz. Ask the Republican base what they think about open primaries and you'll get quite an earful, I'm sure.

But let's assume that it wasn't an outlier; that everyone got it wrong. What happens next? Well, for starters, I wouldn't panic. If memory serves, Barack Obama lost a couple of tough primaries on the way to securing the nomination. These things happen. But there are some things that I think Hillary could do that might go a long way towards making sure Michigan doesn't repeat itself next week.

One, stop hiding from TPP. She endorsed it when she was in the Obama Administration; it makes her look silly backtracking. There's an argument to be made that protectionism simply doesn't work. She has to make it, even if it might mean losing Ohio. Throw the ball in Bernie's court by saying, "Okay, Senator, so you're against NAFTA and TPP. Fine, how do you propose we transition into a 21st century economy? You do know that trade is an important part of our economy and that companies like Toyota produce millions of cars each year employing thousands of American workers. If you slap countries with trade penalties, they'll only retaliate and that'll hurt our workers." By the way, she should memorize her attack; she'll need it against Trump.

Don't let Sanders skate by with giving grand gestures and bold proclamations. Make him explain how he proposes to do what he says he's going to do. Details, details. Remind him he's had almost three decades of being in Washington and in all that time he's barely accomplished anything of significance. Standing up for something is great; getting things done is better. Without getting disrespectful, she needs to put Sanders on the defensive. So far, he has been allowed to portray himself as George Washington and her as Benedict Arnold. It's time Clinton realized what her husband learned two decades ago: there is no virtue in being right if no one knows about it. It's the old "if a tree falls in the forest" meme.

Secondly, she must do a better job of connecting with younger voters. Okay, she's not their darling, I get it; Sanders clearly has the advantage. But no political candidate can ever lose 80 percent of any demographic, let alone the second fastest growing one in the country. Would it kill her to visit a university once? Maybe, say, Ohio State by Monday? And while she's at it, it'd be a nice idea to go to a middle-class white neighborhood and have lunch with some of the locals. Again, she doesn't have to get a majority of their vote, but she can't continue to get blown away like she did in Michigan. She can't go into a general election that far behind in polling in both groups. Trump will eat her alive.

Look, she's never going to win the "most trusted" person in America award, so she should stop trying. Know what? Bill wasn't all that trustworthy either and he still got elected twice. The last paragon of virtue on this planet got nailed to a cross two thousand years ago. The people are electing a president, not a Pope. George Bush was the guy everyone wanted to have a beer with and all he did was waste three trillion dollars fighting an unjust war that lead to the destabilization of an entire region. But he was a real standup guy.

The math favors her and, for now, the electoral map favors her. She doesn't need an overhaul, just a few tweaks. She should dust herself off, put Michigan behind her and focus on next Tuesday. This is going to be a long race, as I said earlier. Bumps and grinds are just a necessary part of the journey; one that Hillary Clinton has been preparing for all her life.

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