Tuesday, March 8, is sandwiched between two much more Super Tuesdays. Last week featured 11 contests, including big-ticket ones like Texas, Georgia, and Virginia. Next week's Super Tuesday features two states — Florida and Ohio — that are both giant and winner-take-all for Republicans, as well as proportional contests in Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina.
Tonight's markedly less super Tuesday was pretty meager by comparison. Both parties had primaries in Michigan and Mississippi, and Republicans had a primary in Idaho and a caucus in Hawaii, and that was it. The latter two had results coming in relatively late, but Michigan and Mississippi were where the action was in any case.
Here's who ended the night ahead from those two contests, and who fell behind.
Winner: Donald Trump
Well, that was easy.
Going into the primaries, there was rampant media speculation that Trump was flailing. He had bragged about his allegedly unproblematic dick on national television on Thursday, after all. That's got to hurt him, right? And if you squinted closely enough, you could interpret some Michigan polling as confirming this suspicion:
Trump & Rubio dropped over the weekend; Cruz & Kasich rose. The penis dispute in the debate may be the culprit. pic.twitter.com/eSwuOxMWRt— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 7, 2016
Even some exit polling seemed to back it up:
EXIT POLLS: Marco Rubio not doing well with late deciders in Michigan. John Kasich fares the best: pic.twitter.com/57GAV2VLfH— Shepard Smith (@ShepNewsTeam) March 8, 2016
And yet, no. Trump won by double digits; as of this writing he was 11.5 points ahead of John Kasich, with Ted Cruz right behind. His delegate margin is modest, but he benefits from the utter failure of Marco Rubio, who didn't even reach the 15 percent threshold to get delegates. Kasich getting second also minimizes Cruz's gains — and Cruz is by far the bigger threat to Trump.
Then there's Mississippi, where Kasich and Rubio finished in the single digits and will get zero delegates. That leaves Trump and Cruz. The only poll of the GOP race released this year had Trump with a big lead, but this is a state where Cruz should be expected to outperform. If a Southern evangelical can't win a primary in a state overrun with Southern evangelicals, that's pretty embarrassing. But Trump won there too, by 14.2 points as of this writing.
The GOP establishment had hoped that the debate had changed the dynamics of the race and given the non-Trump forces a boost when they needed it most. That does not appear to have happened. Trump is still easily the frontrunner, and there are no signs he's slowing down.
VIDEO: Donald Trump talks about the size of his hands and ... other areas
Winner: Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders was not supposed to win the Michigan primary. And he won the Michigan primary.
That's what it comes down to, ultimately. Yes, it was close. Yes, Hillary Clinton won a blowout in Mississippi. And yes, she'll probably net more delegates from tonight than Sanders does.
But to borrow terminology from conservative tax cutters, that's a static analysis. A dynamic analysis that looks at not just the raw delegate results of the night but also how they affect momentum in races going forward finds him coming out ahead.
Here's the thing: States like Mississippi have already voted. Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee — they're all in the past. North Carolina and Florida are still to come, but overall, Southern states with large numbers of enthusiastically pro-Clinton black voters came early this year.
And states like Michigan have generally not voted yet. Next week is Ohio, where Sanders is gaining in the polls:
There's also Illinois, a fellow Midwestern state affected by Rust Belt decline, and Missouri. Wisconsin is not until early April; Pennsylvania is in late April, and Indiana is in early May.
Insofar as there's polling, it shows Clinton ahead. A Chicago Tribune poll this week had her crushing Sanders in Illinois, 67 to 25. But she was also leading in Michigan by more than 20 points, and she lost there, not least because Sanders got a lot of independents to vote for him — a factor that's tough for pollsters to predict ahead of time.
Most concerning of all, Clinton defeated Sanders among black Michigan voters 65 to 30. That's a landslide, but it's a substantially smaller landslide than the 90-10 margin she got in Mississippi. If she continues to have trouble winning white voters in certain states, she's going to need as huge a margin among black voters as possible. And Sanders is chipping away at that margin, or at least it's starting to look that way in the North.
Clinton is still the favorite to win the nomination. But Sanders had a very, very good night, following up on big victories in Kansas and Nebraska over the weekend, that could give him a crucial boost going into the much more significant March 15 races.
Loser: Hillary Clinton
We'll always have Mississippi, I suppose.
It's important not to overstate Clinton's woes. Before tonight, she was nearly 200 pledged delegates ahead of Sanders, with more than 58 percent of those allocated to date. She is absolutely demolishing him with superdelegates. She's winning the popular vote. She'll net more delegates tonight. She'll probably win the nomination.
But tonight still suggests it could be a long slog à la 2008, with Clinton playing Obama and Sanders playing 2008 Clinton. The losing candidate is winning just often enough to keep raising money and motivating volunteers. As long as that's happening, Clinton can't pivot to the general election, no matter how faint Sanders's chances eventually get.
This dynamic is exacerbated by the frontloading of Southern, Clinton-friendly primaries and the backloading of Midwestern and Rust Belt states where — between Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota — Sanders does quite well for himself. Of the March 15 primaries, Florida and North Carolina are probably safe bets for Clinton, but Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri are now up in the air.
Then there's Arizona and Utah — about which, who knows? — and the Idaho caucus, where, based on Sanders's past caucus success, he's probably the favorite. Same for Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington on March 26 after that. Then there's the traditionally labor liberal Wisconsin, which could be prime Sanders country. The rest of March just isn't super-friendly terrain for Clinton.
Again, she's probably going to win. But just like 2008, it's going to be a much longer primary season than she was prepared for.
The RCP average for MI has Trump in the lead, but it is bad for his quest to get to 1,237. All four are over 15% threshold.— Carthago delenda est (@JayCostTWS) March 6, 2016
Cruz performing better in Mississippi Google Trends than he did in Louisiana where he lost by 4— #NeverTrump (@PatrickRuffini) March 8, 2016
The #NeverTrump movement in the Republican Party thought they were onto something this weekend. They thought that Trump's bizarre debate performance on Thursday — not just the genitals discussion, but getting fact-checked on prescription drugs, getting called out on three separate flip-flops, being interrogated on the fraudulent business model of Trump University — could mark a turning point.
And the weekend's results seemed to back them up. Ted Cruz won Maine and Kansas, and Trump's wins in Kentucky and Louisiana were narrower than expected. Cruz finished the night with more delegates than Trump. The #NeverTrump cause was getting results.
Then tonight happened. Almost as many delegates are up for grabs as on Saturday, and Trump is poised to win a solid majority of them. Maine and Kansas start to look less like omens and more like aberrations.
Worse still, Tuesday featured an absolutely horrible performance by the leading #NeverTrump candidate, Marco Rubio, and further established Ted Cruz as the main alternative to Trump. And the more establishment-oriented #NeverTrump types loathe Cruz.
Welcome back to Earth, #NeverTrumpers. You're still losing.
Loser: Marco Rubio
As of this writing, Marco Rubio got 9 percent of the vote in Michigan and 4.9 percent in Mississippi.
Those are not numbers that viable candidates for the nomination get. They certainly aren't respectable numbers when only four candidates remain. They are the numbers of a pathetic straggler, desperately hanging on to a campaign that any rational observer can tell has no chance at victory anymore. They're the numbers these people get:
It would be one thing if these states were unusually weak territory for Rubio and more favorable terrain was coming soon. But the only state Rubio ever won was Minnesota, a Midwestern state not totally dissimilar from Michigan, and he's polling badly across the board in the March 15 contests. He's in third in Illinois, more than 10 points behind Trump and right behind Cruz in second; he's in third in North Carolina; he's in fourth in Ohio. And he's behind Trump in his home state of Florida, even if he's getting close:
CNN reported Tuesday morning reported that some of Rubio's advisers were privately telling him to get out of the race before Florida votes and avoid the humiliation of losing his home state. "Most of the senator's advisers agree he does not have a path to the nomination and some are advising him to get out ahead of the March 15 primary," reporters Jamie Gangel and Tal Kopan wrote.
The Rubio campaign naturally denied the rumors. But even Rubio seems to have given up at a subconscious level. He told voters tonight, "I believe with all my heart that the winner of the Florida primary next Tuesday will be the nominee of the Republican Party." Given that the winner is going to be Donald Trump, he's not wrong.