(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
April 19, 2016 at 9:25 AM EDT


If Hillary Clinton racks up a big win in New York today, it will only temper Bernie Sanders’s arguments for keeping up the fight — it will not put an end to them. Faced with increasingly difficult delegate math, Sanders will continue to argue that he may be able to lure super-delegates from Clinton, on the grounds that he would be the tougher general election opponent against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. And that’s fine — Sanders has every reason and incentive to fight on until all the votes are counted.

But Republicans may not agree with this assessment. While RNC chair Reince Priebus likes to suggest otherwise, Sahil Kapur talked to GOP strategists who said they actually view Clinton, not Sanders, as the tougher general election foe:

“Republicans are being nice to Bernie Sanders because we like the thought of running against a socialist. But if he were to win the nomination the knives would come out for Bernie pretty quick,” said Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign.
“There’s no mystery what the attack on him would be. Bernie Sanders is literally a card carrying socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union. There’d be hundreds of millions of dollars in Republican ads showing hammers and sickles and Soviet Union flags in front of Bernie Sanders.”
“Hillary Clinton is a much more centrist candidate in comparison,” Williams said, and she would have a better chance of winning over moderate and undecided voters, despite numerous polls showing that many Americans, even in the Democratic Party, don’t view her as honest and trustworthy. “Bernie’s numbers are better than hers right now because she’s been in the political arena for 30 years getting beat up,” he said.
Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Clinton would be a tougher opponent due to her foreign policy fluency, “her toughness as a candidate,” and the “Clinton attack machine” around her — groups like Correct the Record and Americans United for Change that are active on her behalf. He added that there’s less room for the GOP to define Clinton than Sanders as “out of the mainstream.”
“Her negatives are set in. There’s no American out there who doesn’t have a definite opinion on Hillary Clinton,” Heye said. “That’s just not the case with Bernie. The fact that some of his success has been looked on with bemusement, I think, speaks to that.”

Of course, maybe these GOP strategists would really prefer to face Clinton, and are playing mind games here. The Sanders campaign points out that many, many polls show him faring better against Trump or Cruz than Clinton does. And that’s true. What’s more, there are plenty of reasons to question Clinton’s strength as a general election candidate.

But allow me to highlight what I think is an under-appreciated aspect of this whole “electability” argument.

This current situation is in many ways unprecedented, and makes it harder than ever to gauge which candidate is more electable this fall. We have one Democratic candidate who has been a major national figure for 25 years, and has been subjected to unrelenting national attacks for just as long, and one Democratic candidate who legitimately is significantly more liberal than many in the party.

And so, it’s at least possible that two decades of attacks on Clinton are baked into her polling against the GOP candidates. Nor can the possibility be dismissed that some of Sanders’s positions (middle class tax hikes as part of a transition to single payer, which he defends on the grounds that Americans would benefit overall) could be made into liabilities, if Republicans prosecuted attacks on them effectively. There is a danger in being too risk averse, of course, but that doesn’t mean there is no chance that Republicans could successfully use these positions to paint Sanders as an ideological outlier, as those GOP strategists suggest above.

Of course, the fact that Sanders is a relative unknown nationally, at least compared to Clinton, could conceivably play in his favor — if he could successfully rebut GOP attacks on his proposals and background, he might arguably end up having less baggage in a general election than does Clinton, given her dismal personal ratings. And the rise of negative partisanship — in which voters are motivated more than ever by dislike of the other side — could also help mitigate any negatives about Sanders.

The point is that gaming out the electability argument — either way — is made harder than ever by the fact that the juxtaposition of these two particular figures has created such a strange and unique situation.


* THE FINAL FORECASTS, DEM SIDE: FiveThirtyEight’s final forecast gives Hillary Clinton a 99 percent chance of winning New York today, projecting a 56-41 spread. HuffPollster’s polling average puts the race at 55-42.

If Bernie Sanders comes close tonight, there will be a lot of noise about how this could “change the narrative.” But the real narrative is that the delegate math is what matters, and he has to win big in a lot of upcoming states to change it.44

* THE FINAL FORECASTS, GOP SIDE: FiveThirtyEight’s final forecast gives Donald Trump a better than 99 percent chance of winning New York today, projecting that he’ll beat John Kasich and Ted Cruz by 54-25-19. HuffPollster’s polling average puts the race at 54-22-19.

That means Trump has a good shot at a huge delegate haul today, and next Tuesday, it’s on to states like Pennsylvania and Maryland, where he’s also expected to clean up.

* WHAT CLINTON AND TRUMP HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH TODAY: The Post overview of today’s contest sums it up:

A big win for Trump would bring him closer to securing an outright majority of Republican delegates — an outcome that remains in jeopardy and has prompted rival Ted Cruz to mount a spirited campaign to force a contested convention. For Clinton, a victory would give her a boost of momentum and perhaps a new mandate to more openly pivot her campaign to prepare for the general election.

In other words, after today’s voting, it may look more like we’re getting a Trump-versus-Clinton general election match-up.

 * CLINTON COUNTS ON BLACK VOTERS YET AGAIN: A good point about today’s New York voting from Maggie Haberman:

Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s rival, spoke derisively during their debate in Brooklyn last week of her previous wins in the South, comments in which voters could hear a thinly veiled jab at primaries with lots of black voters….Clinton has struggled to energize her supporters in the state, as younger voters, college students and disaffected working-class white voters have turned toward Mr. Sanders. She will need a large black vote to buoy her here once again.

It would be an interesting outcome if Sanders’s efforts to downplay Clinton’s wins in the south ended up helping her win a big one in New York.

 * MAJORITY WANTS VOTE ON GARLAND, BUT THAT WON’T MATTER: A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds:

Fifty-two percent of registered voters said that the Senate should vote on the nomination of Merrick Garland, whom Obama tapped for the job last month. Three in ten say that lawmakers should leave the court seat vacant until the next president takes office, and 18 percent have no opinion.

Yeah, whatever. The GOP strategy of inaction is all about making the base happy, and the poll also finds that Republicans say by 56-24 that the seat should remain vacant until next year, when the president will be someone other than Obama, which is all that matters.

* AND MEET THE WOMEN WHO ARE STICKING WITH TRUMP: Joshua Green has a fun look at a demographic that appears to be sticking with Trump throughout the primaries: white married Republican women. Here’s what’s driving it:

It’s mainly a function of the starkly different political views held by single and married white women….the difference in outlook is a function of age and ethnicity. Married women tend to be older and whiter than their single counterparts — and older white people are Trump’s core demographic.

As Green notes, Trump (who recently patched things up with Fox’s Megyn Kelly) now appears to realize he’ll need this demographic to prevail over Ted Cruz. Of course, his impulsive desire to insult women may prove overwhelming.

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