Roger’s Rules

Here's Why the New York Primary Still Doesn't Matter

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, makes matzah at the Chabad Neshama Center, Thursday, April 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

There will be plenty of time for hindsight tomorrow; it will be amusing to consider all the “told-you-sos” and  “this-would-have-happened-if onlys.” I frankly have no idea what will happen in the New York primaries. As I’ve said in this space before, this is one of those “plastic moments” that Marx (Karl, not Groucho) looked forward to with such eagerness. Many of the balls whose usual orbits defined our political consensus have been tossed into the air. No one knows where or how they’ll land, though the lucky punters who happen to guess right tonight will be wrapping themselves in the mantle of wisdom and foresight tomorrow.

No, I have no idea what is going to happen.

But I can say with some confidence what is likely to happen next, given certain outcomes tonight.

Hillary

Most polls have her more than twenty points ahead of Bernie Sanders. If Bernie pares that down to single digits it will be a sober (I’m talking spiritually sober) night in the Clinton HQ. If it’s neck-and-neck, it will be panic time. Could Sanders win outright? Unlikely, but if he does then it will be a not-so-long goodbye for HRC. Look for more coughing fits and other mysterious health issues, culminating in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger withdrawal so that she can “spend more time with her family,” etc.

Trump

Some polls have him 30 points ahead of Ted Cruz and the governor of Ohio. Coming off a string of embarrassing losses to Ted Cruz, this is Trump’s opportunity to win big. Hitherto, Trump has not won a single state with as much as 50% of the vote. Some pundits have predicted that he will take NY by as much as 70%. Other less exuberant souls are eying 60% or a bit more. I think it will probably be less than 60%.

But if it is less than 50%?

It will be so-long, sayonara, thanks-for-coming to Donald Trump. It won’t matter that he wins New York. What will matter is the demonstration that even on his home turf, he cannot collar a majority.

Will that happen? I don’t know. In some ways, it matters more for Trump than for Ted Cruz. Even if Trump were to sweep New York and (as expected) do well in the other pantywaist New England states coming up (e.g., the basket case that is Connecticut), the math and facts of electoral organization augur well for Ted Cruz — and very poorly for Donald Trump. (The governor of Ohio really isn’t part of the discussion anymore, though he may do pretty well in New York tonight.)

Red State’s Michael Harrington posted a much-read column the other day called “The Actual Delegate Count, in a Full Breakdown.” Since it corroborates what I would like to believe, I feel constrained to praise its cogency and superior analysis of the facts at hand. In brief, Harrington argues that no matter what happens in New York (and liberal satellites like Connecticut and Rhode Island), Ted Cruz’s performance thus far, coupled with his formidable ground game, all but assure 1) there will be a contested (but not a brokered) convention, and 2) that Cruz will emerge from that contest as the Republican nominee.

How confident is Harrington about this outcome? Pretty confident. “I see a zero probability chance of a Brokered Convention,” he writes:

I am a statistician saying this. Understand the planet will explode from the inside before a Brokered Convention happens. Have I made myself clear? I hope so. Oh and every star in the galaxy can explode at once before a brokered convention. I really hope people understand how certain I am at this point.

I also declare at this point a 99% chance of a Ted Cruz victory in a Contested Convention. This includes a 75% chance of winning on the second ticket. I also predict an 85% chance of a Contested Convention happening, which means at this point I am predicting in very strong Terms that Ted Cruz is the nominee.

Repeating, Ted Cruz has essentially won the nomination at this point …

And it was only April 16 when he published that column.

Now, Michael Harrington was not speaking under oath. And as far as I know, his pronouncements do not enjoy the same quantum of certitude afforded to the pope when speaking ex cathedra. But it is nonetheless interesting to contemplate his argument.

He makes a number of assumptions, especially about how certain states will vote, that are open to challenge. But his explanation of Cruz’s astonishing success these last several weeks should give the Trumpettes (and both supporters of the governor of Ohio) pause. Ask yourself this: How is it that Ted Cruz has won the last half-dozen or so contests and has also managed to mop up extra delegates from several states? It wasn’t, as Donald Trump whines, because he “stole them.” It is because he has consistently outmaneuvered, which is to say “out-campaigned,” his opponent. He won, Trump lost.

Harrington’s analysis sounds right to me:

Ted Cruz has offices in 10 more States/Territories than Donald Trump does. Ted Cruz tends to have 5 times more staff dedicated to an office from the start. Donald Trump has been closing offices and moving staff around to the next set of elections as well (this would have a profound effect in a general election, very bad). Ted Cruz also usually opened an office months in advance of when Trump would open an office.

Ted Cruz also has secured roughly 4 to 5 times more endorsements than Trump. Additionally his endorsements tend to be more locally empowering and nationally empowering. Comparing “Proxies”, my term for those stars who go out and actively campaign for a candidate, Ted Cruz wins at about an 9 to 1 level.

The offices, endorsements, and proxies help win the delegate war. You need to convince Convention persons, people who are activist locally, that you are both viable and in their interest. Trump has no succeeded on this local level with the activists. Trump has run a “Top Only” campaign where he is the source of votes, money, and influence. Sarah Palin for example has lost most of her effective influence and is a poor national proxy.

Of course, Harrington might be wrong. The world is full of strange contingencies. Planets, I am told, have been known to explode. More worrisome (because more pertinent), demagogues occasionally galvanize the public and win elections.

Yes, New York, with its delegate-rich prize (up to 95 for the Republican, 247 for the Democratic candidate), is important. But at this stage of the race, it is important mostly in a negative sense. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are expected to win by comfortable, if not, indeed, luxurious margins. If they manage that, their performance will have already been factored in, like a company that reports record profits but whose stock doesn’t budge or even declines because investors had already factored in the accomplishment.

The volatility here is all on the downside. If Hillary and/or Trump does well, nothing changes.

If they do poorly, or even if they do less well than expected, they will suffer going forward. A lot hangs on tonight’s primary, but mostly for Hillary and Donald Trump. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders should sleep soundly — and, who knows, they might even have reason to go to bed with a smile.