Don’t Buy the Hype: It’s Still Hillary’s to Lose

By Alex Knepper

My colleague Cinzia Croce argues that pundits downplaying Trump’s surprisingly strong recent polling numbers are falling into the same trap they did when they underestimated him in the primary season. This is a common argument, and in fact many pundits have been making it. Most of them are those who did not analyze Trump correctly before and now have falsely convinced themselves that Trump is an unpredictable and uniquely skilled nominee. But the bad predictions say more about the pundits than about Trump. Speaking as someone who did not underestimate Trump, I am still convinced he has no more than a 20% chance in the general election. Hillary remains the odds-on favorite not just to win, but to win comfortably. The general election dynamics are very different than the dynamics of the Republican primary, as Trump is about to learn the hard way.

Let’s look at the evidence:

1. Partisan ID Means More Than You Want It To – Even Among Independents

Although Cinzia is right to point out that both Hillary and Trump have started to max out their support among their respective partisans, Trump’s lead among independents is both not particularly meaningful — and precarious.

The RealClearPolitics average in 2008 shows John McCain leading a few national polls around this time by almost exactly the same margins as Trump. Not coincidentally, McCain had recently wrapped up his party’s nomination, while President Obama was still locked in a contentious primary battle with Hillary Clinton, whose resolve to fight on until the bitter end kept Obama from fully coalescing Democrats around his candidacy until the summer. Remember the ‘PUMA’ voters, who vowed to support the experienced and moderate John McCain against the naive and unprepared Barack Obama? Remember how half of Hillary’s voters said they’d never back Obama? Neither do I.

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The truth should not be so surprising:  few ‘independents’ are actually independents; the vast majority of them have a pronounced party tilt, and right now a disproportionate number of them are Republicans. Democrats outnumber Republicans partially because a disproportionate number of independents nowadays are Republicans embarrassed to call themselves Republicans. Mitt Romney won the independent vote in 2012, yet still lost by a decisive margin in both the popular vote and the electoral college.

More importantly, the RCP polling average shows 13% of voters are undecided. The real electorate will add up to 100%. Given that a disproportionate share of these undecided voters are independents, we can reasonably infer that they are Bernie holdouts, most of whom will recognize the stakes once the general election begins in earnest, Bernie endorses Hillary, President Obama campaigns for her, and the prospect of a Trump presidency becomes nauseatingly real to his voters. There will be a few crossover Trump/Sanders voters, yes — mostly white men under 40 — but those voters will not be decisive.

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Rubio Holds the GOP Hostage In Florida

By Alex Knepper

The three remaining not-Trump Republican candidates have reached a deal: Marco Rubio is encouraging his supporters in Ohio to vote for John Kasich, Kasich is encouraging his supporters in Florida to vote for Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz is remaining neutral and standing down in each of those states.

Given that Rubio and Kasich are perpetual losers who, combined, are still lagging Cruz in the delegate and states-won count by a hefty margin, a fair-minded observer might wonder what they are still doing in the race at all. Cruz supporters — who, in case we need reminding, actively want Cruz to win rather than just wanting to stop Trump — may question why they are being asked to rally around these losers rather than the losers being asked to rally around Cruz. It is an especially perplexing question if we assume that Rubio and Kasich’s primary goal is to put their principles first and stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination.

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As I said last week, if Rubio really cared first of all about stopping Donald Trump, he should have dropped out after Super Tuesday. If Rubio had dropped out then — without endorsing a candidate — he’d have been out more-or-less in time to keep early votes for him in Florida from coming in, hand Kasich a surefire win in Ohio, and give people two weeks to rally around Cruz in Florida. Then, after Kasich won Ohio, he would drop out and endorse Cruz with Rubio. But it’s time to dispel with this notion that Rubio has an equal chance in Florida as Kasich does in Ohio. Rubio’s home-state advantage has always been overstated — he’s been down by double-digits since Trump first catapulted to the top of the polls — and, judging by the humiliating results of Super Tuesday and the March 8th contests, Rubio is not nationally viable. There ain’t no ‘establishment lane.’ Yet, here we are: because of Rubio’s ambition and vanity, Kasich is still an underdog in Ohio, and Florida is as likely as it was a month ago to fall into Trump’s column.

So why is Rubio still in the race? Because he is not actually concerned with stopping Trump. Rather, he is concerned with remaining viable for what would probably be a vice-presidential offer at a brokered convention, which will only be likely if he manages to collect several hundred delegates. He has essentially held the GOP hostage in Florida: as long as he is still in the race, his built-in home-state advantage ensures that nobody not named Trump can surpass him there, forcing everyone else to rally around him if they want to deny Trump the state’s 99 delegates.

There’s nothing sinister about politicians acting out of self-interest — but I don’t want to hear these fraudulent pieties about how they are concerned primarily with stopping Trump.