Democrats Dispirited, Republicans Hobbled by Excess of Spirit

Michael Barone
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Posted: Mar 11, 2016 12:01 AM
Democrats Dispirited, Republicans Hobbled by Excess of Spirit
Bad news for both parties in the primaries and caucuses in the seven days in March following Super Tuesday.

Start with the higher-ratings, higher-turnout Republican race. Donald Trump won two solid victories in Michigan and Mississippi Tuesday, after weak showings in the five contests over the weekend. From March 2 to March 8 he netted 124 delegates, to 125 for Ted Cruz, 41 for Marco Rubio and 27 for John Kasich.

That's not helpful, since it's imperative for Trump to win the 1,237-delegate majority in primaries and caucuses. If he falls visibly short of that after the last primaries June 7, there will be moves to assemble a majority -- call it "brokering" if you want to-for another candidate. Nobody is going to wait until the convention assembles in Cleveland July 18 to make what Trump calls "great deals."

Trump supporters argue it's illegitimate to deny the nomination to the candidate leading in delegates. But in past races such candidates were widely acceptable to Republican politicians and voters. Trump isn't, for reasons as difficult to explain to Trump enthusiasts as their enthusiasm is to Trump detractors.

March NBC/Wall Street Journal and ABC/Washington Post national polls show Trump's support in four-way races at 30 and 34 percent. And in contrast to past years, about half seem durably opposed to the front-runner's nomination. They are as entitled to try to give effect to their views as the Trump-supporting minority is.

Trump would get more than halfway to 1,237 if he prevails in the winner-take-all primaries in Marco Rubio's Florida (99 delegates) and John Kasich's Ohio (66 delegates) next Tuesday. That would force Rubio and Kasich out of the race or leave them splintering the anti-Trump vote among the upscale voters they appeal to.

Kasich is running close behind Trump in Ohio polling, and his local popularity with a downscale-heavy electorate could deny Trump delegates he would otherwise win. The Florida race is more complicated.

Ted Cruz is campaigning there, inviting non-Trump voters to reject Mitt Romney's suggestion that they vote for the candidate closest to Trump in local polling. He's running anti-Rubio ads and got ex-candidate Carly Fiorina into Miami to endorse him.

The risk for Rubio is that his voters, dismayed by his poor March 2-8 showings, will migrate to Cruz. Rubio's argument is that he'd be a stronger candidate in later non-Southern primaries and in the general election.

Trump in his victory monologue March 8 argued that he would bring new people into the electorate and thus, contrary to almost all recent polling, would easily beat Hillary Clinton. He pointed out accurately that in Michigan, as just about everywhere outside Vermont and Massachusetts, Republican turnout was higher than Democratic turnout.

That low Democratic turnout produced a "yuuuge" surprise in Michigan. Recent polling showed Hillary Clinton up 19 points over Bernie Sanders. But Sanders won, 50 to 48 percent. That owed something to the trade issue in a state with nostalgia for auto assembly jobs lost long ago. But it also suggested weaknesses for Clinton in the fall.

As in all Northern and some Southern states so far, Clinton lost white voters to Sanders. She won black voters, but only with about 65 percent of the vote to Sanders' 30 percent, compared with her 89 percent the same day in Mississippi (where Sanders got only 10 percent). That may cause her to double down on issues such as police tactics and gun rights

Black voters in Michigan and the North generally have lived under liberal city governments and often under Democratic state governments. The Flint water crisis, which Clinton talked so much about, was the result of bad decisions by local Democrats, compounded by failures of Republican state and Democratic federal regulators. A vote for the socialist Sanders may, ironically, be a protest against Obama-style big government.

Clinton currently has poll leads in Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania that resemble her Michigan poll numbers -- and may turn out to mean as little. Efforts to woo black voters with stands criticizing police tactics and urging gun control may hurt her with white non-college Democrats like those Sanders carried in Michigan. That may leave her being nominated by party insiders, the superdelegates -- a liability in a year of protest.

Meanwhile, the usually docile Republicans are deeply split, with plenty of people ready to protest whether Trump is nominated or not. These seven days in March have shown Democrats suffering from dispiritedness and Republicans from an excess of spirit.