Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii held their primaries yesterday. Donald Trump was expected to win Michigan and Mississippi, and he did. Hillary Clinton was expected to win Michigan and Mississippi, and while she won Mississippi, she lost Michigan. Let’s look at a few quick takeaways of what this all means.
Way to Drop the Ball, Hillary
The Real Clear Politics average of polls for Michigan showed her beating Bernie Sanders by more than 21 points. She lost by two points. She did very well in Mississippi, absolutely crushing Sanders, but what the heck happened in Michigan? She had everything going into the race — all the establishment support, good momentum, solid ground operation. By losing a very winnable race, Sanders will take the opportunity to raise roughly a bajillion dollars and be back in play. Instead of the narrative of the race being about Clinton vanquishing her Democratic socialist opponent easily, she’ll have to deal with the fact that voters are struggling to like her and come to terms with her candidacy.
NPR reporter Asma Khalid said exit polls showed that young people came out in force for Bernie and that black women needed to support Clinton overwhelmingly to get her victory. Even though they went 2 to 1 for Clinton over Sanders, it wasn’t enough.
Here’s actual video of the reaction at Clinton campaign headquarters when Sanders was announced the winner.
You Had One Job, Pollsters
Polling has been all over the map this cycle. It’s alarming that people put so much stock in things that are so wrong with such alarming frequency. As mentioned above, Clinton’s average spread over Sanders in Michigan polls was 21.4 points. She lost by two points. In Mississippi, she was supposed to win by 44. She ended up beating Sanders by 66 points.
This isn’t just slightly off but campaign-altering off. I hope internal polls are better. But public polls dictate news coverage and debate dynamics. They shouldn’t be seriously relied upon when they are so wrong so often. On-the-ground reporters could have seen that Sanders had momentum and crowds that Clinton was unable to match.
Marco, Marco, Marco
Marco Rubio has consistently underperformed this campaign. He failed to meet the threshold to secure any delegates in Michigan, Mississippi, or Idaho. That’s a problem he’s had before. He was supposed to have a shot at winning the Hawaii caucus, which would have gotten him a few delegates, but the final results show him placing a distant third, well behind both Trump and Ted Cruz. He needed a good shot in the arm headed into a do-or-die Florida primary. But failing to meet these thresholds, much less win, in these other states means he has to spend the next 48 hours talking about whether to get out of the race instead of discussions that are much more favorable to his fight in Florida.
Cruz, on the other hand, picks up 17 delegates for his second place finish in Michigan, 13 for his second place in Mississippi, and 14 for his decisive win in Idaho — his first western state victory. Cruz also placed second in Hawaii (delegate numbers are yet to be released). Kasich was polling ahead of Cruz in Michigan, but Cruz beat him there. Cruz’s campaign is behind Trump, but he’s staying in the race, and his people are nimble and moving him to events in states where he can pack the most punch.
Media, You Are the Worst
The Donald Trump Show continued on cable outlets last night, adding to the thousands of hours of free coverage the media have lavishly donated to the Trump campaign. Last night’s show was a meandering QVC-style infomercial advertising Trump properties. They carried every last second of it, even when it interfered with Clinton’s speech. Fine, that codependent relationship is the media’s most enduring, even if it kills them. I get it.
However, there is basic math here that the media seem hell-bent on denying. Yes, Trump won Michigan and Mississippi. These are good states to win. He won Hawaii. But he didn’t win them overwhelmingly, so the night’s total delegate allocation doesn’t change the overarching dynamic of the race.
Pay attention to whether the media coverage accurately conveys what this means. Trump needs to win about 54 percent of the remaining delegates to get the nomination.
The bottom line is that the night was good for Trump. He won three states and picked up delegates in four. But it’s not enough. It’s onward to Ohio and Florida. And if Trump doesn’t win both of those, his path is very difficult. If he does, it’s much easier. There has been no consistent momentum, which means that it’s best to sit tight and not declare things over.
Trump defying “momentum” so far:
IA: Pretty bad
NH: Very good
SC: Pretty good
NV: Very good
3/1: Pretty good
3/5: Pretty bad
3/8: Very good
Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) March 9, 2016
Ben Smith of CNBC and Politico had a great tweet last night: “I’ll say it again, pundits (including me) just know nothing about this election year. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.”
If only more journalists could have such awareness of our limitations during a crazy election year. Instead, some of the same media who dismissed the Trump phenomenon at its outset, began declaring he’d indisputably won and the race was completely over beyond a doubt a week or so ago, and are blindsided once again by the slow slog the front-runners are in. This isn’t anywhere near as easy as Obama or McCain or Romney’s paths to victory, and some of them had difficult rows to hoe as well.
It’s fine and good to acknowledge that Clinton and Trump are the front-runners. But considering they’ve been the front-runners all along, Clinton’s setbacks and Trump’s inability to get 40 percent of the vote more than one out of five states are stories to cover as well.