Opinion | Politics

Mark Trahant: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on inside track

Hillary Clinton takes a selfie with a supporter after her win in the Nevada Democratic caucus on February 20, 2016. Photo from Hillary For America

#NativeVote16 – And just like that. The math now favors Trump and Clinton
By Mark Trahant

It’s clear that Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton now own the inside lanes to their party’s nominations.

We are at the point where the campaign is all about collecting delegates and both Trump and Clinton are starting to rack up leads. Of course either could still be beat, but for that to happen, there would have to be a sudden and dramatic shift in the primary elections ahead.

Let’s dig into the numbers.

On the Democratic side, according to The Associated Press, Hillary Clinton has 502 pledged delegates to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 70. That’s a little more than about 10 percent of the total.

Bernie Sanders campaigns in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 22, 2016. Photo from Bernie 2016

She’s also positioned to win in South Carolina and again in the Super Tuesday primary on March 1. On that day eleven states will vote and some 880 delegates will be split.

And split is the right word. The growing math problem for Sanders is the way Democrats award delegates, proportionally. So even if Sanders were to win a big state, and win more delegates than Clinton, it’s not enough to make up the gap.

As the Cook Political Report put it (after Iowa and New Hampshire, but before Nevada): “Early primary results can be misleading, but presidential primaries tend to follow clear patterns. In 2008, Super Tuesday produced a virtual tie for Democrats; Barack Obama edged Clinton 847 to 834 in delegates that day. But thanks to Obama’s heavy backing from African-Americans and liberal whites, savvy number crunchers could discern that he was “on track” to build an insurmountable delegate lead in upcoming primaries like Maryland and Virginia. In other words, the race was already over. This time around, close finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire would be good news for Clinton.”

Can Sanders still win the nomination? Yes, but he would have to win a number of one-sided victories, not just winning states, but rolling up significant margins. He would also have to convince the so-called Super Delegates, or elected officials, to back him at the convention.

Donald Trump tapes an appearance on The Sean Hannity show on February 22, 2016. Photo from Twitter

Republicans have different math. Several GOP primaries are winner-take-all. So Trump’s challengers hope they can win in those states and quickly catch up. But that would have to happen really quickly. The so-called SEC Primary, Super Tuesday, has 422 delegates at stake and Trump could sweep.

The best shot for Trump’s challengers — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and nominally, at least, Ben Carson — is for Trump to fall short of winning an outright nomination.

As a recent blog post from John Hudak at Brookings put it this way: “So long as that many candidates remain in the race, it becomes difficult for Trump to amass a majority of delegates heading into Cleveland. Cruz and Rubio may not be able to beat Trump in many of the states to come, but they can be enough of a nuisance to keep him from the type of “clinch” we have seen in previous years after a handful of primaries and caucuses. That moment usually comes early (or early-ish) when it becomes clear someone will march to the convention and the race effectively ends. This year is not one of those years.”

So yes, it’s possible that Trump (or Clinton) will not win their party’s nomination. But after March 1 the math does not favor any of the challengers.

So where does Indian Country stand on this primary election? So far the story is mixed. In Iowa, Bernie Sanders won the only reservation community by a whopping margin. But in Nevada it appears several reservation communities were split. Sanders won the Duck Valley Reservation, but lost on the delegate-rich Walker River Paiute Reservation. As we go forward I’ll try to add up all the numbers and create a tally of some sorts. We’ll call it the #NativeVote16 Primary.

I looked at Nevada’s precinct reports and they are clear as mud. Too many of the boundaries just don’t match reservation lines. I’ll have to come up with another method.

It’s worth saying that elections are as much about policy as they are candidates. So watch both sides and ask: Who are the candidates running for Congress and how are they aligning with presidential candidates? This is important because winning the White House will not be enough. There also has to be a legislative program. And any outsider — even Donald Trump — will have trouble without building a regular coalition. Remember he’s running as a Republican, but he’s also running against the establishment Republicans. That creates a tough line to walk for the Republican in Congress who’s running for another term.

It also opens up lots of opportunity for “outsiders” running for Congress form either political party. And, as I have said before, who’s more outside than an American Indian or Alaska Native? No one.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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