For this week’s 2016 Slack chat, the FiveThirtyEight politics team takes a 30,000-foot view of Super Tuesday. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): It’s Super Tuesday! The Tuesday that beats all other Tuesdays. We’ve written a lot about the states that will vote today and who’s favored in each on both the Republican and Democratic sides. So for today’s chat, let’s take a step back: What’s at stake? Can Donald Trump lock up the Republican nomination? Can Hillary Clinton secure the Democratic nomination? What does Ted Cruz need to do to remain viable? How about Marco Rubio?
Let’s start here, though: If the polls are right, and Trump wins 9+ states out of the 11 available, what should the banner headline say on the front page of tomorrow’s New York Times?
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): “Trump Sweeps South To Firm Grip On G.O.P. Race”
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I’d rather do the New York Daily News headline.
micah: OK, Harry, what’s the NY Daily News headline?
harry: My guess is Trump is either in a clown or KKK costume.
natesilver: That’s not a headline, Harry.
harry: “America is not smarter than a 5th-grader.”
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): I’ll go Times. I feel like it’s gonna be one of those “THIS IS HISTORIC” ones. So it’ll be along the lines of, “Trump Firmly in Lead of GOP Race with Super Tuesday Sweep; Clinton Continues Rise, Democrats Increasingly Scared Shitless of Trump Inevitability.” (Because I think you can say “shit” in NYT headlines once Trump wins the nomination, right?)
natesilver: “In Pants, Poop.” I don’t think Democrats are actually scared of Trump yet, though.
clare.malone: I dunno. I think they are definitely taking him seriously. I don’t think you can afford to discount him, given what you see in the GOP field, what happened this fall.
harry: I think some Democrats honestly are scared. You can see it in Greg Sargent’s writing.
natesilver: It might be changing, but if so I think it’s relatively recent. It’s not a perfect indicator, but I was looking at Hillary Clinton’s (boring) Twitter feed. There’s very little in there about Trump.
clare.malone: There was a front page Times story today about Clinton’s team prepping for Trump. (I read the actual factual physical paper this morning, and I think it was above the fold.)
micah: Yeah, I think that’s changing, and if she does as well as we expect tonight, she’ll probably pivot almost fully to focusing on Trump.
harry: Look at what Clinton has done so far this campaign: They have left nothing to chance once they realized the Bernie Sanders threat. They see how Republicans didn’t pay attention to Trump, and look what happened to them.
natesilver: You still have a lot of Democrats who either (i) don’t know how close Trump may soon be to winning the GOP nomination or (ii) are rooting for him because they think he’ll be easier to beat in November. I agree that the Clinton campaign itself probably won’t make that mistake, though.
The Clinton campaign will look really smart, in retrospect, for organizing the hell out of Iowa even before they really had a Democratic opponent and securing their win/tie there.
micah: So, in a world where Trump wins 9+ contests today, fill in the blank: “Donald Trump is the ___________ front-runner to win the Republican nomination.”
clare.malone: Mad Libs!
harry: I concur: Formidable.
micah: And if Clinton meets/exceeds her polling today, do this one: “Hillary Clinton is the ___________ front-runner to win the Democratic nomination.”
harry: A big scandal would need to come to light for her to lose.
natesilver: Harry: “Hillary Clinton is the a big scandal would need to come to light for her to lose front-runner to win the Democratic nomination.”
micah: Yeah, Harry isn’t good at these games.
clare.malone: Yeah, Harry is not great at Mad Libs. I don’t have a good word, though. Nate’s works, I guess. Or something along the lines of … “Inevitable once again.” Because that old HRC inevitability was touch-and-go for a while.
micah: We should try to make “reinevitable” a thing.
So why are you all choosing stronger words for Clinton than for Trump?
clare.malone: Because math and stuff?
harry: Because a big, big part of the base of the Democratic Party is African-American, and she is winning them 7-to-1. But it’s more than that: The delegate rules on the Democratic side are fully proportional. If Clinton gains a large lead in the delegate count, a Bernie comeback is going to be near impossible.
natesilver: Because the Democratic race isn’t as existentially strange as the GOP race.
clare.malone: I just came from a Trump rally and saw a guy wearing Topsiders. The GOP race is existentially strange indeed.
micah: All right, let’s move to Rubio … what’s at stake for him today? What’s his best case/worst case?
clare.malone: Scoops up some solid second places, I think, gathers a decent number of delegates into his basket.
harry: He wins a state or two, clears the delegate threshold in every state and finishes ahead of Cruz in almost every state.
micah: If he doesn’t win any state — which seems plausible, or even likely — he’s not screwed?
clare.malone: He still has Florida to pin his hopes on, right?
natesilver: He still has Florida to pin his hopes on, but it’ll be tough for him to gain ground in Florida if he doesn’t have anything to hang his hat on tonight.
harry: Yes, and he is losing in every single poll there.
natesilver: Without a win, the morale of Rubio supporters will be low, other candidates are less likely to drop out, his press coverage will be awful, etc. There’s probably a narrow path wherein he runs a lot of strong seconds and beats Cruz all over the place, but a win would really help, perception-wise.
harry: Seems like Rubio folks are expecting to have to rally the troops. If Rubio could somehow manage to win Alaska, Minnesota and Virginia and Cruz wins Texas, it could somewhat dent Trump.
clare.malone: Alaska could be his Super Tuesday lord and savior — whodathunk?
natesilver: “You forgot Alaska” could be the new “you forgot Poland.”
harry: Side note: Bush won that “you forgot Poland” election.
micah: What about Cruz? Is it basically a binary thing for Cruz? Win/lose Texas?
natesilver: Win Texas and hope Rubio has a bad night.
clare.malone: Yeah, I think Cruz is soon to be hitting the booze, alone, no longer a presidential candidate.
harry: He needs a bigger-than-expected win in Texas. Win Alaska (maybe? doubtful). Get over the delegate thresholds in all the Southern states. Have Rubio not win a single state and fail to get over the thresholds in some states.
natesilver: Arkansas and Oklahoma once seemed like winnable states for Cruz also, but Trump has closed strongly in polling pretty much everywhere. I will note that Trump has sometimes underperformed his polling on election day itself, however, while Rubio and Cruz have tended to outperform theirs. So there’s a bit of hope for Cruz/Rubio, just not much.
harry: Arkansas is still a weird state. There isn’t a lot of data there. SurveyMonkey, which has been optimistic on Trump compared to the polling average, had Trump only up 7 percentage points over Cruz there.
clare.malone: An Oklahoma pollster laid out the Cruz problem to me in a way that I thought was really good; he said Cruz won the battle in Iowa but in doing so, lost the war (all this is referring to evangelicals). They are no longer on Team Cruz because they’re getting icky feelings from him, like his team isn’t playing straight.
harry: The “Cruz is a liar” thing really seems to have stuck.
natesilver: Look, maybe one way to put it is that if Super Tuesday goes as we expect — lots of states light up for Trump — we move from the “end of the beginning” to the “beginning of the end.”
micah: Are John Kasich and Ben Carson factors at all?
clare.malone: Carson never; Kasich not today.
natesilver: Kasich’s plan: 1. Win Ohio. 2. ??? 3. Become Republican nominee.
harry: Kasich is a factor in Vermont. He’ll do fairly well there, and it’s possible in doing so that he keeps Rubio from hitting the threshold for viability, allowing Trump to sweep its small delegate prize.
micah: All right, so it seems like the range of outcomes depending on today’s results are Trump Big Front-runner —> Trump Front-runner. But let’s go back to the Democratic race: What’s Sanders’s best-case scenario?
clare.malone: Eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s at the end of the night. Win Oklahoma.
natesilver: Win Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota.
harry: Ha! And Vermont! That won’t keep him close in the delegate count, but it’ll look good.
natesilver: Oh, and Vermont. VERMONT IS A MUST-WIN FOR BERNIE SANDERS.
harry: I want that ice cream, and I want it now. Can we get ice cream after this chat?
micah: Only if it’s Bernie’s Yearning:
Any parting thoughts?
natesilver: To bring this full circle: Our headline tomorrow morning might wind up being a little bit Timesian too, because a Trump sweep or near-sweep would be historically significant.
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