Maybe there is life in the anti-Trump coalition yet.
For all the mainstream GOP disarray over a threatened hostile takeover of the party, the muddled Super Tuesday results suggest that the Cleveland Convention may not necessarily be decorated with gold-plated T’s for Trump.
The Super Tuesday races were made to order for him — not because of geography, but because of voter inattention. With 12 states holding primaries and caucuses on a single day, voters got brief flyover campaigns rather than protracted visits. And, especially on the Republican side, TV commercials were only sporadic because the expense of campaigning over so vast a terrain was daunting, even with Super PAC money.
So unlike in Iowa or New Hampshire, Super Tuesday voters primarily forged their images of the candidates from TV news. And increasingly television coverage of the Republican race is as fair and balanced as in Putin's Russia. It's all Trump all the time, with other candidates getting the kind of attention normally reserved for stories about glass blowing in Mongolia.
This lopsided coverage of Trump and the "Art of the Insult" has almost nothing to do with journalism. As Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS (once known as the "Tiffany Network"), said during a recent speech, "The money's rolling in and this is fun."
He added in a quote that should be inscribed over the gates of the Hall of Fame for Greed, "I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."
This "Bring-it-on-Donald" commitment to reporting the news with depth and discernment may help explain why voters have been slower than expected to react to news of Trump's latest outrages -- from unapologetically retweeting Benito Mussolini (a revered figure in American politics) to refusing to repudiate the KKK.
Unlike the 2016 campaign obsessives, most Americans only pay half-attention to news reports of the latest political furor. That is why the absence of a major anti-Trump ad campaign so far means that many voters only know the boasts and lies that the bilious billionaire tells about himself.
Yet based on frenzied expectations spread by an impatient press corps, Trump under-performed on Super Tuesday. Not only did the half-forgotten Ted Cruz win both Texas and Oklahoma, but Marco Rubio also came close to pulling off the upset of the night in Virginia and appears to have won the Minnesota caucuses. Even John Kasich was running nearly even with Trump in Vermont.
What this suggests is that we will still be counting Republican delegates in three months when the primary calendar ends in California and New Jersey.
The hardest thing for the media to recognize is that you cannot extrapolate the future as a straight-line projection from today. Trump is such a volatile political figure — and the national mood is so jittery — that only the foolhardy will project future primaries with smug self-confidence.
On the Democratic side, though, Super Tuesday may have been the night when the story line went from "Feeling the Bern" to "Feeling the Turn." The Bernie Sanders magic may have worn off and his carriage may have turned into an energy efficient pumpkin.
While the insurgent socialist should never have realistically expected to score well in southern states with high African-American turnout, Massachusetts (the state of the Kennedys and now Elizabeth Warren) should have been a place made to order for a candidate running against Hillary Clinton from the left.
Granted, the Massachusetts race was close. But numbers in the exit polls had to be worrisome for Sanders. The Vermont senator lost voters aged 30-to-45 by a double-digit margin. He fell short among college graduates to Clinton 55-to-44 percent. And married women went for Clinton by a 21-percent margin. Even voters who described themselves as "liberal" rather than "moderate" gave Clinton a narrow edge.
The only reasons why a candidate drops out of a presidential race early are a shortage of money or party pressure. With his online fund-raising continuing at a jaw-dropping pace, Sanders (who only is nominally a Democrat) is likely to hang on through the California primary.
But the Vermont senator may end up campaigning amid a partial news blackout. With Hillary Clinton turning her attention to the November ballot, there may be more drama in a sixth-grade Christmas pageant than in the Democratic race.
What Bernie Sanders may be facing is the ultimate in "rigged systems” – a protracted primary campaign that he almost certainly can't win, and he probably can't even make exciting any longer.
Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is covering his 10th presidential race. A fellow at the Brennan Center at NYU, he is lecturer in political science at Yale and is the author of the forthcoming in June ‘Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.’ Follow him on Twitter at @MrWalterShapiro.
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