Thursday, May 5, 2016

California Dreamin'


And then there were three.

The decisions by Ted Cruz and John Kasich to "suspend" their campaigns all but guarantees that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, as if that was ever in doubt. Seriously, for the last two months only a hopeless optimist thought the Never Trump movement was going to prevail. Cruz is so despised by his party, if he were on fire I doubt anyone would put him out; and Kasich ran such a lousy campaign he'd have a hard time getting a date with himself. With opponents like these, Trump was a cinch.

Now Trump gets two months to put together a general election team BEFORE he gets to Cleveland. And that is bad news for one Hillary Clinton. While she is forced to contend with her arch nemesis, Bernie Sanders, who I'm assuming has access to the same calculators the Cruz campaign had, yet for some reason isn't paying much attention to them, Trump can now focus his full attention on her. No more lyin' Ted; from now on it'll be crooked Hillary. You can almost picture the bumper sticker in your mind's eye.

That's why I think it was a strategic mistake by the Clinton campaign to blow off Indiana like they did. It was winnable; all the polls said so. Why she would leave a state like this on the table is beyond me, especially with states like West Virginia and Oregon coming up.

Yes, I know it's over. I said as much in an earlier piece. And I'm sticking by it. The nomination is hers. No way Sanders can catch her. But letting him hang around like this is not good. It allows her to get doubled teamed from both sides of the political spectrum: Trump from the right, Sanders from the left.

But more importantly, it reinforces the impression that she can't finish; that she's a flawed candidate. And with potentially one third of Bernie supporters threatening to sit out the election, the longer this contest goes on, the more difficult it will be to change their minds. There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance and Hillary has blurred it on more than one occasion throughout this campaign.

Like it or not, Hillary is going to have to straddle that line between primary candidate and general election candidate. To some extent she is already doing that. Her campaign recently released an attack ad on Trump that it hopes will be very effective. But she is going to have to put up a much better fight than she did in the Hoosier state. Yes, she's going to get her clocked cleaned in West Virginia and probably Oregon too. You can also pencil in a beat down in Kentucky as well. But she must not lose California.

I don't care what the math says. She has to win the state by hook or crook, even if it's only by a couple thousand votes. She cannot give Sanders the chance to march into the convention in Philly boasting he had her on the run. Winning Jersey and Puerto Rico will be nice, but not nearly as satisfying as winning the Golden State. It'll also give her more leverage against Sanders in shaping the party platform for the fall. If she can go into the convention having won Puerto Rico, California, New Jersey and Washington D.C., she can dictate terms to him instead of the other way around.

And that will be critical because, for all the excitement Sanders has generated from progressives, most of his agenda will be a hard sell in a general election. Aside from his positions on trade, which are almost identical to that of Trump's, there just isn't as much of an appetite for his grandiose vision of America as his supporters believe. Bernie Bots may not want to admit it, but Clinton's incremental approach - particularly on issues like healthcare and wages - is usually how presidential elections are won.

For most of her political life, Hillary Clinton has had to walk and chew gum at the same time. Until she puts away Bernie Sanders, it would behove her to have plenty of Juicy Fruit laying around.

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