THE MORNING PLUM:
Bernie Sanders routed Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin last night by 56-43, unleashing a blizzard of headlines about how he has “momentum.” Sanders will probably win the Wyoming caucuses on Saturday, too. But Sanders may have only netted as few as 10 delegates last night, and the overall dynamics of the contest — she holds a formidable delegate lead that Sanders can only close with big wins in the states to come — probably haven’t changed much.
Indeed, from here on out, the dynamics of the race might actually get more challenging for Sanders. Clinton herself telegraphed what’s next, perhaps inadvertently, in this interesting interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush. Here’s one key exchange:
CLINTON: I don’t understand how you wouldn’t want to elect down-ballot Democrats, starting in this election, which is why I’ve been raising money for the Democratic Party, because I believe the more we build up our organization, the more prepared we are, it will not only help me in November, it will help lift up and elect other Democrats as well.
THRUSH: When he puts his head on a pillow at night, do you think he goes to sleep a Democrat?
CLINTON: [Laughs] Well, I can’t answer that, Glenn, because he’s a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I’m not even sure he is one. He’s running as one. So I don’t know quite how to characterize him. I’ll leave that to him. But I know there’s a big difference between Democrats and Republicans, and I know that Senator Sanders spends a lot of time attacking my husband, attacking President Obama, you know, calling President Obama weak and disappointing.
Clinton has raised questions about Sanders’s commitment to the Democratic Party before, but you very well may see more of this in the days to come, heading into big contests later in April. Here’s why: many of these contests are mostly closed primaries, in which only registered Democrats get to vote. Among them are the New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut primaries. Sanders has done far better in contests open to independents than in closed ones.
The exit polls show that Sanders destroyed Clinton among independents in Wisconsin (also an open primary) by 72-28. While the two tied evenly among Democrats, Wisconsin was favorable ideological and demographic terrain to him when compared to the more diverse Dem electorates to come in places like New York and Pennsylvania, which could see her partisan loyalty as a positive.
The second reason Clinton might continue to raise questions about Sanders’s Democratic bona fides is that he’s now making a bid for super-delegates. Sanders senior adviser Tad Devine has already confirmed that he will try to peel off those super-dels even if he trails in the popular vote and pledged delegate count. The Sanders team is now pointing to yesterday’s win to amplify their case that super-dels will feel pressure to move away from Clinton. Note that Clinton’s remarks above also stress her commitment to building the party at all levels, which could appeal to super-dels (elected and party officials) and keep them in her camp.
Finally, while Clinton’s broadside may seem like nothing more than a rank partisan appeal (and I don’t defend this aspect of it), it also reveals a fundamental and important dispute between the two. Sanders genuinely believes the Democratic Party’s achievements during the Obama era are far less impressive, relative to what might have been accomplished, than Clinton does. Sanders believes that Obama advances on health care, Wall Street reform, and climate change fall well short of the scale of our challenges. But more to the point, he faults the Democratic establishment’s complicity in this: Dem politicians are part of the problem, because they remain in thrall to plutocratic money and weren’t genuinely interested in mobilizing the grassroots to break Congressional gridlock.
Clinton, by contrast, is more sympathetic to the view that structural constraints genuinely limited the scale of what was possible. She believes building incrementally on Obama’s achievements is probably the best we can hope for in the near future. Clinton, of course, genuinely differs with Sanders over what degree of policy change is desirable, on multiple fronts. But she also thinks the most formidable obstacle to any future progressive change — whether incremental or ambitious — remains the Republican Party and its structural and ideological entrenchment, as opposed to the plutocracy’s grip on the bipartisan elite establishment. She argues that this recognition better equips her to preserve the Obama era’s gains and to grind out whatever advances do remain possible in the near term.
Thus far, Clinton’s argument has prevailed over Sanders’s argument in many big, diverse closed primaries. And that might happen again in the ones to come.
* SANDERS’ BIG WISCONSIN WIN BRINGS IN FEW DELEGATES: NBC News’s First Read crew does the math and concludes that Sanders gained no ground:
He outspent Clinton over the Wisconsin airwaves by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, beat her by 14 percentage points, 57%-43%, but only picked up a net gain of just 10 pledged delegates. And despite that gain, the percentage of overall remaining delegates that Clinton needs to clinch the nomination actually got smaller (from 34% to 33%), because there are fewer delegates left to win….Clinton must win 33% of remaining delegates to hit the 2,383 magic number (was 34%). Sanders must win 67% of remaining delegates to hit the 2,383 magic number (was 66%).
So there’s still an enormous delegate deficit for Sanders to make up.
* CRUZ’S LANDSLIDE WIN HOBBLES TRUMP: Ted Cruz’s decisive 48-35 victory over Donald Trump in Wisconsin last night will give him at least 33 more delegates, to only three for Trump, per NBC’s calculations. Nate Silver runs the numbers on what’s next:
Our estimate would now project him to get 1,179 to 1,182 delegates total, or somewhere between 55 and 58 short of the 1,237 he’d need to clinch the nomination. Trump could potentially make up the difference by persuading uncommitted delegates to vote for him, although given how poorly Trump’s doing in the delegate-wrangling business, that might not be easy.
Surely an awesome, terrific, great deal-maker such as Trump will have no problem closing that gap.
* IS DEM RACE TIGHTENING IN PENNSYLVANIA? A new Quinnipiac poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among likely Dem primary voters in Pennsylvania by 50-44, which is substantially tighter than previous polls have shown.
We’ll need further polling to see whether there is something to this. But even if there is, keep in mind that Sanders will have to post big wins in states like Pennsylvania (he might have to win there by seven points) in order to close the delegate gap.
* TRUMP STILL ROMPING IN PENNSYLVANIA: The new Quinnipiac poll also finds that Donald Trump holds a solid lead among likely GOP primary voters in the state: he has 39 percent; Ted Cruz has 30 percent; and John Kasich has 24 percent.
It’s a reminder that the race is set to shift to northeastern terrain (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey) that’s far more favorable to Trump than Wisconsin was, meaning there’s still work to do in denying Trump the nomination outright and forcing a contested convention.
* BERNIE BEGINS COURTING SUPER-DELEGATES: The Post write-up of Bernie’s victory contains this nugget:
If Sanders catches Clinton — or gets close — both candidates would enter the party’s convention in July without enough pledged delegates to claim the nomination. That would force the party’s superdelegates…to choose the nominee…The Sanders campaign has started making the case to superdelegates that they should side with him because he is more electable than Clinton against Republican front-runner Donald Trump — a view the Clinton camp disputes.
This will be a very tough case to make if Sanders is trailing in the pledged delegate count and the popular vote, but all signs are that he will try.
* BERNIE OUTSPENT HILLARY IN WISCONSIN: The ad spending tells part of the story of what happened:
The Sanders campaign spent more than $3.3 million on ads in Wisconsin, roughly $1 million more than the Clinton campaign, according to Kantar Media.
Sanders raised $44 million in March, while Clinton only raised $29 million, and another blizzard of cash will likely follow his Wisconsin win. He has the incentive — and the capability — to keep this going as long as possible, and to make it somewhat competitive, too.
* AND HILLARY WHACKS BERNIE FOR MISLEADING YOUNG PEOPLE: In that interview with Glenn Thrush, Hillary also said this:
“There is a persistent, organized effort to misrepresent my record, and I don’t appreciate that, and I feel sorry for a lot of the young people who are fed this list of misrepresentations. I know that Senator Sanders spends a lot of time attacking my husband, attacking President Obama.”
This appears to be mostly a reference to Sanders’s criticism of Clinton for taking large sums from the fossil fuel industry, which has indeed been debunked. But is this the best way to win over young people who are swept up in the Sanders revolution?