It’s an agricultural term – to winnow – to separate the wheat from the chaff, the useful kernels of grain from what ends up as straw, only useful for spreading on the barn floor, to soak up the steaming droppings from the livestock and then piled far away from everyone, because it stinks to high heaven. Early on, when Hector was a pup, winnowing was done by using a sort of pitchfork – a winnowing fan – to toss everything in the air on a windy day so the useful grain would drop at your feet and the lighter straw would just blow away. That worked, but it was hard work and not at all efficient, and it was boring as hell to watch – kind of like the American political primary process. That’s winnowing too – tossing everything in the air and letting the chaff blow away. It’s not at all efficient, but it gets the job done.
And on the Ides of March this year, when once again no one stabbed Caesar, there was another winnowing:
The Democratic Party moved a lot closer to choosing its nominee on Tuesday night. The Republican Party moved a little closer to chaos.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has won at least three of the five states where Democrats voted on Tuesday, with victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. She also held leads over Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) in early returns from the two other states, Missouri and Illinois. Clinton’s staff said they expected to increase their lead in the race for Democratic convention delegates by about 300 – requiring Sanders to stage a near-miraculous comeback in the coming states.
“We are moving closer to securing the Democratic party nomination and winning this election in November,” Clinton told supporters in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sounding hoarse, she seemed to be offering an olive branch to Sanders – who, so far, has shown little inclination to get out of a race that has given him an unprecedented national following. “I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for the vigorous campaign he’s waging,” Clinton said, giving it a try anyway.
She needn’t bother. Bernie Sanders is the straw in the wind now, and there are the other guys:
On the Republican side, GOP front-runner Donald Trump won a key contest in Florida – a lopsided victory on the home turf of rival Sen. Marco Rubio, which caused Rubio to declare he was suspending his campaign. That brought Trump all of Florida’s 99 Republican delegates, the biggest prize awarded in any state so far. Trump has also been projected as the winner in Illinois and North Carolina, two states with 141 delegates between them. But, because those are not “winner-take-all” states, Trump will likely have to split some of those 141 with other candidates. The GOP race in Missouri remains too close to call, although Trump was also leading in early returns there.
Those will be settled soon – it’s the middle of the evening here in Los Angeles so that will be on the late news, not that it matters. Rubio blew away in the breeze, so this is also settled, or perhaps not:
Trump was denied a victory in another key winner-take-all state, Ohio, which was won by its own sitting governor, John Kasich. That victory doesn’t make Kasich a likely nominee: he has now won a grand total of one state. But, without Ohio’s 66 delegates, Trump now faces a difficult path to reach the majority of delegates he needs to avoid a “contested” GOP convention, in which no candidate enters with a majority of delegates locked up. In that chaotic situation – not seen in the GOP since 1976 – delegates could choose one of the candidates who ran, or someone else entirely. If their choice is not Trump, the party may have to face strong anger from his supporters, or even a third-party candidacy from Trump himself.
Kasich didn’t blow away in the breeze. He will not end up soaking up cow droppings, but Trump was Trump:
Trump spoke to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., where he savored his victory over Rubio in Florida, despite a barrage of anti-Trump advertising. “Nobody has ever – ever, in the history of politics – received the kind of negative advertising that I have… vicious, horrible,” Trump said. But then, he said: “You explain it to me, because I can’t: my numbers went up.” He told supporters that he’d seen anti-Trump commercials during a broadcast of a golf tournament from Trump’s own club, and tried to distract attendees at the tournament from watching.
Yeah, he was whining. Everyone is always picking on him. It’s not fair, and so on – but they’ll pay for this. He’s rich. He can do anything, and they’ll pay for this, just like all of America’s enemies will pay for disrespecting us, and just like Muslims and Mexicans and those Black Lives Matter folks will pay for disrespecting us, and the Chinese too, and the New York Times and the Washington Post too. The list is extensive. That’s his entire campaign, even though, in his statement, he did say he’ll overlook how he’s been deeply wronged and work to unify the party, because he’s really a nice guy, which no one gives him credit for.
No one believes that for a minute. His people know what’s what. It’s payback time – choose who you want to humiliate from the ever-expanding list and vote for him. That’s working pretty well, but damn it, there’s that guy from Ohio:
Kasich has largely abstained from attacking Trump so far, but on Tuesday night – with the race narrowing, and his position improving – Kasich took a brief swipe at the front-runner. “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” Kasich said. He took a remarkably different tone than the bombastic front-runner, who focuses on international trade and business deals. Kasich told his audience to make the world better in smaller ways, working harder at their jobs, and being kind to neighbors. At times, he did not seem to be speaking about a political campaign at all.
“We’re all part of a giant mosaic. A snapshot in time. All of us here,” Kasich said, saying that every person in the audience had a purpose from God. “Our job is to dig down and understand that purpose, and never underestimate our ability to change the world in which we live.”
So, do you want an angry Rodney Dangerfield with a team of clever lawyers and a mean streak and a taste for revenge and ridicule, or do you want someone who will listen carefully and think things through and then try to make things better for everyone? The Republicans now have a third choice. Yeah, there’s the nasty theocrat, Ted Cruz, doing half as well as Trump, but a force.
The Democrats don’t have this problem:
In early exit polls reported by ABC News, Democratic primary voters had a split view of the two candidates: they tended to see Clinton as far more electable – but see Sanders as more honest. By a roughly 2 to 1 margin, Democratic voters said Clinton had a better chance than Sanders of beating Trump in a general election matchup across Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Missouri.
But roughly 8 in 10 said Sanders was honest and trustworthy, compared with about 6 in 10 for Clinton. Sanders has dominated among honesty-focused voters all year while Clinton has won those focused on electability by a wide margin.
According to those same early exit polls reported, large majorities of Democrats in Tuesday’s primaries would be satisfied with either Clinton or Sanders winning the Democratic nomination.
Slate’s Josh Voorhees explains the opposite problem:
The outcome in Ohio means vastly different things to the different GOP candidates. For Kasich, it provides a semi-legitimate reason to stay in the race and preserves his ever-so-slim hopes of snatching the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention this summer. For Cruz, it means that he’s now unlikely to get the one-on-one contest with Trump he so desperately wants.
And for Trump? It’s a little more complicated. Ohio was a missed opportunity for the GOP front-runner to take the wind out of the #NeverTrump movement, and his loss makes his road to the 1,237 delegates he’ll need to avoid a contested convention more difficult. But we’ll have to wait to see until the final votes are tallied in the rest of Tuesday’s delegate-rich contests to know whether it was a roadblock or simply a speed bump. It’s possible, for instance, that strong performances by Trump in Illinois and Missouri, where the primaries are of the winner-take-most variety, combined with a victory in North Carolina could be enough to keep him more or less on track to win a majority of delegates before the primary season comes to a close in June.
Trump’s loss, though, will sting – and not just his ego. According to the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight – as well as Benjamin Ginsberg, the GOP lawyer who helped write the delegate rules – without Ohio’s 66 delegates, Trump very well may arrive in Cleveland in July without the delegates he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot. And if that occurs, pretty much anything could happen on the convention floor.
Still, even if Trump is unable to win a majority of delegates during the primary season, it’s looking increasingly certain that his rivals won’t either.
This is a mess:
Expect Kasich and his friends in the GOP establishment to trumpet the Ohio results as proof that the #NeverTrump movement can, under the right conditions, stop Trump. But those conditions will be tough to find moving forward. Kasich is a popular sitting governor – he was re-elected less than two years ago by a nearly 2-to-1 margin – who had the local GOP apparatus in his state working on his behalf, and party elder statesman like Mitt Romney doing the same. His Ohio victory spared him a Rubio-style embarrassment, yes, but it’s hardly something to brag about.
The New York Times’ Frank Bruni agrees, but says no one has anything to brag about:
For party stalwarts, the race for the Republican presidential nomination began in a state of euphoric excitement about a buffet of political talent, with governors and ex-governors galore.
Tuesday’s results left the party with slim pickings. John Kasich, who notched a life-and-death victory in Ohio, is the best of the remaining three candidates and would be fiercest in the general election, but has little to no chance of pulling past either of the other two in the delegate count. Those two, Trump and Ted Cruz, are merely different flavors of rancid fare.
But it’s not over:
Many Republicans are still faced with grim calculations, compromises and reckonings. They see a probable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is so personally flawed, politically clumsy and out of sync with this anti-establishment moment that she’s ripe for defeat. Then they look at their own contest and see an outcome that might well ensure her victory.
There’s a reason for that:
There’s no consensus yet among Republicans. There’s more acrimony than clarity. Who’s to say whether former Rubio supporters and donors flock to Kasich, Cruz… or even Trump?
There are traditionalists rooting for Trump over Cruz, and the thinking of some goes like this: Neither candidate can win the presidency. But while Cruz has almost no crossover appeal beyond committed Republicans, Trump might draw enough independents, blue-collar Democrats and new voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania to buoy Republicans in tight Senate races there.
Besides which, he scrambles all rules and all precedents so thoroughly that you never know. Victory isn’t unthinkable. And better a Republican who’s allergic to caution, oblivious to actual information and altogether dangerous than a Democrat who’ll dole out all the plum administration jobs to her own party.
“Cruz is a disaster for the party,” one of them told me. “Trump is a disaster for the country.”
“If Cruz is the nominee, we get wiped out,” he added, with a resigned voice. “And we rebuild.”
They know that now:
In fact, some Republicans have insisted to me that a Cruz nomination and subsequent defeat would have a long-term upside. It would put to rest the stubborn argument, promoted by Cruz and others on the party’s far right, that the GOP has lost presidential elections over recent decades because its nominees weren’t conservative enough.
If anything, those nominees weren’t sufficiently moderate. A Cruz wipeout would prove as much.
It would? These guys don’t believe there is any such thing as climate change. What is “proof” to them? Gail Collins notes how odd this is:
Kasich got more than 40 percent of the vote in Ohio, which might be the only non-Trump-triumphant saga of the night. There was a time, people, when you would really not have been throwing confetti in the air just because a Republican governor who believes “you’ve got to help people that are downtrodden and poor” won the presidential primary in his own state. But we are where we are. …
Right now he certainly seems like the only non-appalling option the Republicans have, even though there are a lot of people in Ohio right now who are shaking their heads in stupefaction at the sight of their governor as the nation’s poster boy for moderation. He’s signed an absolute mountain of anti-abortion bills – nearly half of the clinics in the state have shut down during his tenure. His enthusiasm for giving public funding to private, for-profit schools has been scandalous. And on the economic front he has the usual conservative contempt for taxing residents according to their ability to pay.
But he doesn’t think we should ban Muslims or deport millions of immigrants. And there’s always that thing about the downtrodden. This year, it’s as good as the Republicans can hope for. And the other options are so really, really bad.
That’s why the plot thickens:
Three influential leaders of the conservative movement have summoned other top conservatives for a closed-door meeting Thursday in Washington, D.C., to talk about how to stop Donald Trump and, should he become the Republican nominee, how to run a third-party “true conservative” challenger in the fall.
The organizers of the meeting include Bill Wichterman, who was President George W. Bush’s liaison to the conservative movement; Bob Fischer, a South Dakota businessman and longtime conservative convener; and Erick Erickson, the outspoken Trump opponent and conservative activist who founded RedState.com.
“Please join other conservative leaders to strategize how to defeat Donald Trump for the Republican nomination,” the three wrote in an invitation obtained by POLITICO that recently went out to conservative leaders, “and if he is the Republican nominee for president, to offer a true conservative candidate in the general election.”
It may be too late for that, but there’s this:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Tuesday he wouldn’t categorically rule out accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination if it came to that in a deadlocked convention.
Asked about the possibility in an interview with CNBC, Ryan said, “I haven’t given any thought to this stuff.”
“People say, ‘What about the contested convention?’ I say, well, there are a lot of people running for President. We’ll see. Who knows?”
That complicates things, but Michael Barbaro sees this:
The victories were lopsided. The celebrations were effusive. The delegates were piling up by the hundreds. But Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton’s resounding triumphs on Tuesday masked a profound, historic and unusual reality: Most Americans still don’t like him. Or her.
Both major parties must now confront the depth of skepticism, resistance and distaste for their front-runners, a sentiment that would profoundly shape a potential general election showdown between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.
Even as they watched the two candidates amass large margins on Tuesday, historians and strategists struggled to recall a time when more than half the country has held such stubbornly low opinions of the leading figures in the Democratic and Republican Parties.
“There is no analogous election in the modern era where the two top candidates for the nomination are as divisive and weak,” said Steve Schmidt, a top campaign adviser to George W. Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. “There is no precedent for it.”
That means this will not be pretty:
That reality is forcing the Trump and Clinton campaigns to prepare for all-out warfare against each other, an improbably brutal dynamic for a pair of New Yorkers whose paths have crossed, repeatedly, for years – even on the way down the wedding aisle. (Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, attended Mr. Trump’s third wedding, in 2005.)
They are devising appeals that are as much arguments that their all-but-certain opponent would be disastrous for the nation as they are messages trumpeting their own virtues or character.
Aides to both predict that a Clinton-Trump contest would be an ugly and unrelenting slugfest, as she pounces on his business practices and personal integrity, portraying him as unscrupulous robber baron, and he lacerates her over ethical lapses and sudden riches, painting her as a conniving abuser of power certain to be indicted in a federal investigation.
There will be more winnowing, and David Corn suggests this:
A moment of truth is nearing when every Republican – including every elected official, every candidate, and every voter – will be forced to confront a simple and basic question: are you with Trump or against him?
In the weeks and months ahead, this question will dominate American politics. At-risk incumbent Republican senators will be compelled to provide a clear answer – and how they reply could determine whether their party maintains control of the upper chamber. From dog-catcher wannabes on up, every Republican office-seeker will have to say if he or she is standing with the wall-building, Muslim-banning, woman-deriding, Mexican-bashing, violence-encouraging Trump or not. Forget about immigration reform, what to do about ISIS, tax cuts, the debt ceiling, or Obamacare. This will become the fundamental fault line in the party, as Rs – be they conservatives or RINOs – end up on different sides of this irreconcilable issue. …
If the Trump Express does not derail, Republicans, long before the convention convenes, will have to proclaim whether they are on or off the train. And if they are off, what are they willing to do? Rubio accused Trump of being a “con artist.” How can he support any scenario in which a supposed flimflam man can gain control of the US nuclear arsenal? Romney has spoken out against Trump (though he warmly welcomed his endorsement in 2012 after Trump had gone full birther). He would not endorse a non-Trump candidate – he did campaign with Kasich in Ohio – but he urged Republicans to vote against Trump. Will he call for a new party or an alternative conservative?
Once upon a time, Republicans hoped that this election would focus on baggage-heavy Hillary Clinton. Her Tuesday night wins in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina keep her on the path toward the Democratic nomination, and there remains much about her and her past to fuel a passionate nationwide debate. But as of now, the November election is shaping up to be an up-or-down vote on Trump. Before that choice is presented to the general public, Republicans must grapple with Trump. Virtually nothing any Republican says will matter until he or she has announced a stand on Trump. And whether or not the anti-Trumpers create a third party or rally behind a credible independent candidate, there likely is no way for the GOP to avoid a deep fissure. Some GOPers will join Chris Christie on the Trump ride; others will recoil in horror. The Trump Question cannot be ducked – and the Republican Party may not survive this reckoning.
Yes, the Republican Party may blow away in the breeze. It was only straw anyway, and everyone knows the only thing that straw is good for – soaking up hot steaming bullshit. The winnowing will continue.