Wisconsin Both Matters, and Doesn’t

This election season has been marked by two different, but related, failures of analysis. On the one hand, numerous zombie candidates who were basically dead men walking were treated with the utmost seriousness for far too long. On the other hand, there have been premature obituaries, for Trump, for Cruz, for Kasich, and even for Sanders.

Today is most likely going to be a good day for those who were once written off. Cruz looks poised to carry Wisconsin and put a price tag on Trump’s many recent stumbles. And Sanders, who is still all but mathematically eliminated, will almost definitely pull out a win.

Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook posted a piece last night that spells out some of the hard facts facing the Sanders campaign. It’s true that it cherry-picks some of the statistics, but his basic point is unassailable. Regardless of what happens in Wisconsin, in order to catch up in the pledged delegates “Sanders has to win the four remaining delegate-rich primaries — New York, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey — with roughly 60 percent of the vote.” And, even then, he’ll have to win over the superdelegates which is a basically impossible task for a candidate who still sees the DNC and the Washington establishment as enemies rather than future allies who he hopes to lead.

Still, as vanilla as this analysis is, it’s true as far as it goes:

Winning Wisconsin, where polls will close at 9 p.m. EDT, would give Sanders a fresh dose of momentum — and perhaps new credibility for his claim that he has a chance to catch Clinton in the delegate count and win the Democratic nomination.

As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” and if Sanders wins Wisconsin, he’ll get some breathing room. It matters a lot whether he wins narrowly, as he did in Michigan, or he wins convincingly, like he’s won most caucuses and the primaries in Vermont and New Hampshire. That’s because a narrow win will only net a half dozen or fewer delegates, and that’s basically a loss for him at this point.

Back before all this started, I tried to identify states (other than New Hampshire) with primaries that Sanders might win. Massachusetts seemed promising, but he lost there. Oregon seemed like a good state for him. But it was Wisconsin that I thought would give him almost a surefire win, provided his campaign was still active at this point. I’ve actually been surprised about how competitive the polling has been there, but it seems likely that the demographics and progressive traditions of the Badger State will send him to victory, and possibly the thumping victory I originally expected. At this point, he needs bushels of delegates, not a small handful of them.

As for Trump, I am beginning to wonder if he can really pull this out. He sat down with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa and the results were just as shocking and bizarre as Sarah Palin’s latest appearance stumping for The Donald in Wisconsin. Woodward and Costa tried mightily to treat Trump like a serious candidate for the presidency, but that just wouldn’t work on any level. It only served as a case study in extreme narcissism worthy of a Nero or Caligula.

Trump’s problem is that most of his delegates are not going to be loyal to him on a second ballot in Cleveland, which means that he most likely will need to win this thing outright. I could be wrong about that. Eugene Robinson certainly thinks I am wrong:

If Trump comes to Cleveland a few delegates shy of a majority, I find it hard to believe the party is going to tell primary voters, “Thanks for your input, but we don’t care what you think.” Sorry, but I just don’t believe the GOP has the fortitude to divorce its angry, energized base.

If the polls out of Wisconsin are correct, Trump is going to lose some ground tonight in his quest to win an outright majority of delegates. Meanwhile, the betting market is giving a 63% probability that Trump won’t reach his goal and the convention will be brokered. Still, the same oddsmakers place Trump’s chances at 2:1, while Cruz is pegged at 4:1 and Kasich is languishing with 9:1 odds.

There are a lot of variables to consider in gaming this all out, but I can’t avoid the sense that the wheels are starting to come off the Trump cart.

I’m not ready to write his political obituary yet, but I’m finally coming around to the idea that Ted Cruz might actually win this thing. And, considering Cruz’s standing in Congress and with the Republican establishment, that was unthinkable at the beginning of this process.

One thing is for sure, this campaign will remain interesting for the foreseeable future.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.