And the Beat Goes On: Super Tuesday and Beyond

By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, JD
Founder & President, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice

Super Tuesday came and went in  the 2016 US election cycle. And, it wasn’t that super. However, it does have some interesting conclusions and implications not only for the candidates but also for our political process:

Donald Trump remains the frontrunner. That is both troubling and interesting. He won most of the Super Tuesday states and had significant delegate gains. But with 319 total delegates he’s only a quarter of the way to the requisite 1,237 to seal the Republican nomination. While he seems to have both the momentum and the numbers, his support thus far has focused on the disgruntled segments of the GOP who are not happy with “establishment” politics. And while they have voted quite resoundingly, he will need to have wider appeal to secure the nomination and more importantly to be elected as president. During primaries, the tendency is for candidates to reach out to the fringes of the spectrum, but in the general elections for them to reach in to the more moderate and broader middle of the spectrum. Unless he has greater appeal to a broader cross-section of voters, he is not going to win either the nomination or the presidency.

Ted Cruz had some notable gains with his wins in Texas and Oklahoma. But more notable was that he was not able to gain states other than his home state and neighboring state. His likeability continues to limit his appeal to the broader voting community. And although he is not the “establishment” candidate and has taken positions against both his party and the Democrats as a senator, he is still not reaching the wider audience that he needs to secure votes and delegates.
Marco Rubio should be the favorite of most conservatives and “establishment” GOP, but he is still hanging back at third. The reason – the GOP has not developed a focused approach to what they are and what they support. The situation for Rubio is at best reflective of a wider range within the GOP than expected, but at worst indicative of a fractured party.

Ben Carson entered this race because of the tremendous support he received from many conservatives. Most were enthusiastic to have him as a candidate. But as time wears on, that enthusiasm has waned since he has not had the opportunity to demonstrate the greater vision, passion, and energy necessary to be elected as president. He has been steady – which is great in a surgical room, but perhaps not as great on the campaign trail. He certainly has leadership potential, but not presidential potential in this election year. So, it is unfortunate but right that he now shifts gears, consider his supporters, and weigh how he can be effective in another context – either supporting the current frontrunners or supporting the development of a more cohesive conservative movement.

John Kasich, like Carson, has run a noble campaign, but his numbers, like Carson, should give pause to continuing the race. Kasich’s experience, reasoning, and more moderate approach are likely more appealing to many in the moderate section of the GOP and even among Democrats. But if his message is not reaching, and he is not receiving greater momentum, then he too needs to decide where and how he will put his energies and support in the broader efforts for a GOP presidential win.

Bernie Sanders demonstrated exactly what we may have already known. His appeal is generally among white, young voters. His wins were in states that have many white, young voters. But he has yet to connect with a wider audience, and particularly people of color. Unless his approach appeals more to these other segments, his current appeal to a limited group will ensure that Hillary Clinton will seal the Democratic nomination.

Which bring us to Hillary Clinton – of all the candidates on Super Tuesday, she is the one who secured the biggest wins. Her decisive victories in most states will likely give her the numbers to take on the role of “presumptive nominee” for the Democrats. She has proven she is a force and has appeal to a wide cross-section in the liberal community. But there are many within the Democratic Party and certainly within the GOP who would vote for anyone but Clinton. So the general election will still be determined by who the GOP puts up as their candidate and how they can counteract Clinton’s appeal among women and minorities in particular.

Republicans would be wise to consider who is best positioned to win against Clinton at this juncture. Rather than rallying around a particular candidate that relates to a segment, GOP voters need to start weighing who will be the best candidate to counter Clinton in the general election. Without a candidate that can appeal to the broader electorate, the drama of the primary elections is all for not.

So where does that leave the current candidates and more specifically the GOP beyond this Super Tuesday? The candidates need to make some serious strategic decisions about their next steps, their message, and whether or not they can support one of the frontrunners. Galvanizing their supporters around a key candidate(s) now can allow the GOP candidates to focus their attention toward the general election rather than the antics of the primaries.

The Republican Party then stands at a crossroads — will they be the party that will address the demands of the disgruntled segment, or will they be the party to stand on conservative principles to reach a broader community? The conservative message can have broad appeal, but it is not reaching a broad audience – perhaps because of who is delivering the message and/or how that message is delivered. Marco Rubio, and to a lesser extent Ted Cruz, has been dubbed the “establishment” candidate, and that is unfortunate since that moniker makes his message seem “same old, same old” rather than an articulation of conservative values. At the same time, segments within the GOP are disgruntled with the GOP and government for their general lack of responsiveness – and they want something other than “same old, same old.” Even with control of Congress, the GOP was rendered relatively useless against what many Republicans saw as President Obama’s overreach. That frustration coupled with the economy, education, and global issues, has created an increasing discontent. And Donald Trump gives voice to that discontent. So the GOP needs to determine what and who they represent – will they articulate the conservative vision to reach a broader community or will they focus on addressing the disgruntled segment of the community?

While Super Tuesday certainly has its conclusions and implications, the more important discussion is not so much how the candidates are doing, but how the voters are doing in our overall political process. Our US governmental system is predicated on the idea that we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Ultimately it will be the people who determine who wins the presidency, and thus who affects the direction of our government. But the parties, the candidates, and the media play a large part in how the people perceive, determine, and vote. How the parties prioritize their stances, how candidates articulate their connection to the electorate, and how the media portrays both the players and process weighs heavily on how effectively the electorate perceives, determines, and votes.

Given the divisiveness of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, if either wins the respective party’s nomination or even the presidency, we need to seriously evaluate what the electorate’s mindset and reasons are for electing either of them. The reality is that no one president or presidency can dramatically change our government during their tenure. But they can begin a process of changing and impacting the perceptions and priorities of the people they lead. So, beyond Super Tuesday, the general election, or even the presidency, the heart of the matter is how any particular leader influences our political process and more importantly influences our American society toward good or bad change. And that beat goes on well beyond an election cycle. So choosing a president shouldn’t just be one of finding a person that relates to our concerns, but choosing a leader that can have a positive and enduring impact on American society.