Saturday, March 12, 2016
Clinton is in danger of seizing up in Rust Belt after Michigan result
Bernie Sanders for the first time won in a state where a quarter of voters are African American. Photograph: Alan Diaz/AP
It’s been a good season for candidates who can channel the anger of the electorate and we saw that again on Tuesday night, when exit polls continued to turn up in favor of Donald Trump, while Bernie Sanders pulled off a surprise victory in Michigan.
Trump’s victory in Mississippi was so decisive that he was declared the winner in that state moments after the first polling reports came in, and he was declared the winner in Michigan soon after. Ted Cruz netted a win in Idaho, keeping a firm grip on second place in the overall GOP race.
Trump’s continued winning streak – despite talk of a lull in his candidacy – wasn’t the biggest victory of the night. That belonged to Sanders, who managed to pull off something he’s been trying to prove throughout his campaign: that he can compete with Hillary Clinton in states like Michigan, where African American voters make up roughly a quarter of the electorate. Clinton won fewer than two-thirds of African American voters in the state, significantly down from the 80-90% support she’s enjoyed elsewhere.
The victories for Trump and Sanders come after a week when both men’s chances were being played down. Sanders’ campaign had been all but left for dead after he failed to make significant inroads with minority voters on Super Tuesday. Trump faced attacks from the party establishment (most notably Mitt Romney) and scorn from the media establishment for his habit of asking people to raise their hands and pledge allegiance to him at rallies, something Cruz quickly seized upon. “We’ve had seven years of a president who thinks he’s an emperor,” he quipped.
For a fleeting moment on Tuesday, it looked like Trump’s star might finally be fading. After all, on Saturday he only won by a few percentage points in Louisiana and Kentucky, while Cruz won handily in Maine and Kansas. But winning by less is still, to put it in Trump terms, #winning. And Tuesday’s results suggest the weekend was merely an ebb in the candidate’s current.
Trump’s win in Mississippi, in particular, is an embarrassment for Cruz, whose plan was to win over the south – something that, as a devout conservative from Texas, he should have been able to do. But that strategy didn’t work for Cruz last month in South Carolina, where he lost southern evangelical voters to Trump by a landslide, and it didn’t work for him on Super Tuesday, either. Mississippi was, if anything, an unwelcome reprise of what’s beginning to sound like a familiar story for Cruz.
But Trump’s win in Michigan is arguably even more significant, and not just because he squelched John Kasich’s improbable hopes for a win there and by extension Ohio. Michigan is especially valuable politically because it embodies America’s manufacturing industry and is a potential bellwether for the all-important Ohio. The state is just as valuable in a general election.
While Michigan is expected to go blue in a general, Trump’s strong performance there (and Hillary Clinton’s difficulty in running against Sanders there) suggests Trump’s talking points on trade and the perils of outsourcing jobs overseas are resonating.
Sanders spent a lot of time campaigning in Michigan and it’s apparently paid off – he’s performed far better in the state than anyone predicted. And it’s somewhat telling that he’s focused single-mindedly on trade. After all, the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), Bill Clinton’s signature trade deal, are still felt acutely here. And Hillary Clinton was slow to come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and voice criticism of Nafta. Those are trade positions Sanders has long held, and Clinton’s slowness to adopt them gave him another chance to paint her as politically opportunistic.
Clinton thought she had finessed the trade issue, by focusing on other problems in Michigan, like Flint’s lead-poisoned water, and by skewering Sanders over his vote against the auto bailout (his campaign said it was part of a bigger vote against a bailout for Wall Street). But clearly she hadn’t.
And that’s a troubling finding for anyone worried about a Trump presidency: it suggests the Democrats’ likely nominee could have a problem in crucial manufacturing states.
A majority of Democrats and Republicans in Michigan have reported that recent trade deals have given people like them the shaft. On the Democratic side, six in 10 Michigan voters thought trade takes away jobs and the majority of those voters supported Sanders; on the Republican side, four in 10 thought trade costs the country jobs, and the majority of them supported Trump.
Sanders’ and Trump’s big wins in Michigan tonight, and those polling numbers in particular, should have Clinton very, very afraid.