Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Nothing super about Super Tuesday

Americans often do a much better job of naming things than Brits. If the title of the Apollo Project, the Grand Canyon or the Empire State Building had been decided in the United Kingdom, each would doubtless have sounded a lot less dramatic. ‘Super Tuesday’ is a case in point: the name makes last night’s 11 simultaneous state primaries sound electrifying. But in reality yesterday’s results served to consolidate the race for the White House rather than shake it up dramatically.

Last night ended any lingering notion that Bernie Sanders is a serious alternative to Hillary Clinton. Not only did Clinton trounce Sanders in the southern states as predicted, she also won Massachusetts right on the doorstep of Sanders’ home state of Vermont and is now far ahead in the numbers of delegates needed to win the nomination. There are still several big primaries to go and the recent bitter experience of Iowa and New Hampshire make it unlikely that Clinton is taking anything for granted. But broadly speaking the Democratic primary is over, soon to be replaced with feverish speculation about Clinton’s running mate.

It was also a milestone in the Republican race. Donald Trump – victor in every state bar four last night – is now well on his way to becoming the party’s nominee. Ted Cruz’s wins in Texas and Oklahoma means he returns to second place. Meanwhile, ‘little Rubio’ was left fighting for relevance in the Republican field having carried only Minnesota.

But the excitement of Super Tuesday seems to have caused people to get carried away. The realisation that Trump is set to win the GOP nomination has led otherwise sensible people to talk up the danger that Trump poses not just to the Republicans but to the United States itself. In a piece of pre-Super Tuesday commentary that was not atypical Harvard’s Larry Summers fretted that Trump’s election ‘would threaten our democracy’ while another Financial Times columnist worried that, ‘Trump embodies how great Republics meet their end’. You don’t have to go far to hear a Trump administration being talked about as a real possibility.

In all of this excitement an important fact gets lost: Donald Trump is not going to be elected president of the United States. Super Tuesday did not change that.

Don’t get me wrong – he is now almost certain to be the GOP nominee. The polls suggest the delegate maths is overwhelmingly in his favour, something that is only helped by Cruz and Marco Rubio fighting it out for second place. And when it comes to the general election it will certainly be a tough fight not least because Trump’s presence in the race does seem to boost GOP turnout.

But the fundamentals of what it takes to win the general election have not changed. Minority voters and women voters are still essential to winning the White House. Trump’s bigotry, his lacklustre approach to condemning the endorsement of a former KKK member and sustained sexism matter a great deal. The ability to look like a commander-in-chief also means a lot.

None of this is new. Commentators have been listing the sensible reasons why a Trump victory in November is unthinkable for months now. Unfortunately, there has recently been a collective loss of confidence in these fundamental facts. Chastened by a failure to foresee the sustained rise of Trump, many are now hedging their bets and arguing that there is a real possibility that ‘The Donald’ makes it to the Oval Office.

There isn’t. The ‘but this time it’s different’ argument only holds if you assume that the primary process – when party members choose a standard-bearer – is analogous to the general election – when the public choose a president. Trump’s conduct has only been allowed to pass without denting his poll numbers because none of his rivals have had much incentive to go after him directly. But within hours of the polls closing last night Cruz and Rubio had well and truly taken the gloves off. And this is before Clinton’s general election campaign really gets started.

You cannot offend, frighten or amuse entire sections of the electorate and still win. Relying on that hunch is no less rational than updating your view of the race with every new poll that puts Trump ahead in November. If these fundamentals did not apply then Howard Dean, Herman Cain and Sarah Palin would all have worked in the West Wing.

For all of the ups and downs of this primary season it looks like American democracy will work just fine: Trump will become the Republican nominee and then lose to Clinton in November. There’s nothing ‘super’ about it.


Charlie Samuda is a former adviser to the Labour party and is studying at the Harvard Kennedy School. He tweets @CharlieSamuda


Photo: Frank V

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Charlie Samuda

is a master in public policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School. He tweets @CharlieSamuda


  • Yes, Hilary Clinton is about 85% certain to be the next President of the United States of America. But this is still a naive and complacent article.

    Some straightforward questions, Charlie. Where do you think American self-confidence will be after four years, let alone eight, of a Hilary Clinton presidency? What do you think Sanders’ activists will feel about it? Do you think these people are likely to go away? Where too? Do you think Hilary Clinton will be able to respond sufficiently to their concerns? Do you think even if she wanted too a post mid-term Congress/Senate would let her?

    And what of The Donald? What if he isn’t even fighting this election but the next one? What if another four years of establishment gridlock gives him even greater purchase? Where do his people go? He could run a different campaign next time – maybe not even on the Republican ticket – that is less offensive to minorities whilst retaining his authoritarian, protectionist, populism. Do you think a plague on all houses is going to have any less purchase in four or eight years time? Do you think Washington will actually get its bipartisan act together or just continue virtue-signally to a fundamentally divided nation?Do you think the hostility towards a nakedly plutocratic campaign finance system is going to dissipate? And, perhaps most important of all, do you think the economic trends and global outlook look secure enough to salve the anger?

    I’ll tell you what I think. Either Hilary Clinton is going to be the greatest President since FDR or the nightmarish reckoning is only being postponed. And when it comes to those two scenarios, Clinton leaves little hope for optimism.

  • I dont know where you plucked the figure “85% certain” that Clinton will be the next president, she is with most bookies firm favorite but at odds of 1:2 which equates to 60% probability.
    Trump has surprised everyone so far including his own party. The momentum is with him.

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  • My own odds. The bookies have to hedge – I think 85% is about right mainly because I think its pretty certain that Clinton will be nominated and that is less so with Trump. Not because he won’t win the most delegates – he will. But there remains a wider possibility that the GOP establishment will take an anti-democratic turn and find a machinist way to deny him the nomination.

    At the same time, I think the likelihood of successful litigation being brought against Clinton recedes without a GOP establishment candidate standing. Corporate America would back Sanders over Trump, let alone Clinton. Higher Taxes are one thing, authoritarian populism on free trade quite another.

    They have other ways of silencing apple-cart turning Presidents too mind if you know what I mean… Trump will be stopped, by hook or by crook.

  • I dont own a car. I dont need one. I live in Scotland and because im over 60 Ive got a free bus pass. The truth is I have too much money for my own good. What has money got to do with anything?

  • You seem to know more about this than I do. But your percentages dont match the bookies odds.
    I dont know about the litigation you talk about. I dont know who Corporate America is. I dont know about apple carts. What I do know is that Trump speaks a language that a lot of Americans understand.

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