Littwin: The weirdness of the 2016 election
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It was another jaw-dropping night on the 2016 campaign trail. And I don’t mean Bernie Sanders’ stunning upset victory over Hillary Clinton in Michigan.
After all, that was just so much politics.
Sure, Clinton was ahead 20 points in the polls, and a Hillary victory in the ultimate working-class state — one that seemed a perfect fit for Bernie and his anti-trade deal, anti-Wall Street message — would have effectively ended the Democratic race. And, yes, now it’s quite possible that the Democratic primary may last longer than the Republican primary, and who would have ever bet a nickel on that?
But, as I was saying, politics.
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What I mean is, there have been upsets before. There have been strange and weirdly unpredictable results that have changed the course of history. But there has never been, in the long history of a great nation, a prime-time victory speech that turned into an infomercial. That’s because there has never been anything like The Donald.
If you were watching the election results Tuesday night, you saw it, because every cable network from Fox to CNN to MSNBC carried every minute of it, because how could they not?
They stayed with it for 45 minutes — never cutting away to Hillary Clinton’s speech or anyone else’s — because Trump, while saying he’d be the most presidential president ever with the possible exception of Abe Lincoln, showed his Oval Office chops by bringing out for our consideration his line of Trump Steaks, Trump Magazine, Trump Water, which turned, yes, into Trump Wine. And you couldn’t turn away, much less cut away.
It’s easy to say the networks were just chasing ratings and that they gave credence to the complaints that Trump is a media creation. But come on. Do you want to watch Clinton say again that she would make the country whole or do you want to watch political pratfalls on live TV?
It was a huge night for Trump. He made fools of Mitt Romney and the #neverTrump movement and the millions of dollars spent in negative ads against him by winning easily in Michigan and Mississippi. So much for the theory that Trump’s momentum was slowing.
Instead, he watched Marco Rubio’s support go into free fall, just a week ahead of the Florida primary, as Little Marco turned into Little Marco! He saw Ted Cruz — who also had a good night — apparently finish ahead of John Kasich for second place in Michigan, which may not portend well for Kasich’s chances next week in his home state of Ohio. If Trump can win in winner-take-all Florida and winner-take-all Ohio, he would probably be unstoppable, even with the fantasy world possibility of an open convention.
So, with so much political news to celebrate, why did Trump go all QVC on us?
That’s the easiest question of the night. You remember Romney’s attack on Trump, in which he called him a phony and a fraud. Well, he also questioned Trump’s business bona fides by asking what had happened to all the Trump brands. And naturally, that’s what really ticked off The Donald who would be president. And so he set up a giant display — giant steaks on a butcher block — and rolled them all out, even though Trump steaks, for starters, don’t apparently exist anymore. Trump says you can buy them for $50 apiece, but, even if the fact-checkers tell us you can’t, who really cares?
Oh, that’s right, Trump cares. He cares so much that he even said he planned to bring back the fraudulent Trump University once he gets all the lawsuits out of the way. And for those who can’t decide whether the Trump campaign is more farcical or more dangerous, this night confused the issue even more.
Meanwhile, it was Bernie’s night, too. Trump and Sanders may work different sides of the room — only one of them, for example, is a demagogue — but they both won with vastly different brands of a populist message. But the difference was that because of her large win in Mississippi, Clinton came away with far more delegates than Sanders, and, on the prediction markets, her chances of winning the nomination slipped all the way from 95 percent to … 94.
But what Sanders showed was that he could win in a diverse, populous state and that his message of “disastrous” trade deals and corrupt campaign funding would carry the day. The win — which surprised Bernie as much as anyone — probably does little to change Sanders’ long-shot chances, but it may change the dynamics of the race.
Clinton already was well into general-election mode before the votes started coming in. Now her campaign is worrying that the “cheap shot” — in David Axelrod’s words — she took at Sanders on the auto bailout during the last debate may have backfired. And it won’t be the last time we’ll hear about it (you can tune in tonight for yet another debate).
Sanders pulled off the Michigan upset by winning with the kids, with the white working class and even with 30 percent of the black vote — a far greater percentage than he was winning in the South. The Clinton electability argument didn’t seem to work. And now Clinton, who must be nearly as embarrassed as the pollsters, faces campaigns next week in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, Florida and North Carolina.
Last I checked, Clinton is 37 points ahead in the Illinois polls, meaning she’s the heavy favorite, and that underdog Sanders has a chance to smash his own come-from-behind record. Why not? Anything is possible in this election season, and the real March Madness is just beginning.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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