Looking back on recent presidential elections, Super Tuesday has always been the choke point – when the realities for each campaign start coming to light, and the choice of front-runner actually matters. Despite differences in rhetoric and how each campaign rose to where it currently sits, the election strategies for each major party have been largely the same. When Super Tuesday comes around, Democrats stick to one or two candidates, while Republicans offer a wider field that is slowly whittled down over time.
The presidential election of 2012 is a good example of this. President Obama remained the incumbent candidate, so it fell on the Republicans to find the person they felt could do better than John McCain in 2008. By the time Super Tuesday rolled around that year, March 6, their party was down to four major candidates – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.
Ron Paul was the most unique of these candidates, going for a more libertarian vote. He was conservative on fiscal issues, but where social issues were concerned, he didn’t want to see the government getting involved. He advocated for legalizing marijuana – that sort of thing. He was supported by many young Republicans, and thrived with it.
As for the other three candidates, they were largely different shades of conservative. Mitt Romney, who eventually got the nomination, ran on family values, while battling the opinion that his healthcare law for his state, Massachusetts, was similar to Obamacare. Rick Santorum also ran on family values, courting the Tea Party vote, and focused on his Catholic faith, issues like abortion, and gay marriage. Newt Gingrich ran on his legacy as a politician, and was also open to intriguing proposals, such as establishing a moon base by 2020.
Four men, three representing conservatism and the fourth, libertarianism. All four were established politicians. While they had their differences, it could be said that if one dropped out of the race, say Newt Gingrich for example, there would be very little problem with his supporters moving on to Santorum or Romney. Yes, Paul dropping out may have lead to a small schism in the base, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. After all, his son Rand Paul had just become a senator in 2011; he could pick up the mantle for that crowd next time around.
This presidential election is very different. In the same way that Hillary Clinton ran on her legacy as a senator and first lady, and President Obama shot up through the polls and primaries past her, the same could be said now for Clinton and Bernie Sanders. What remains to be seen on Super Tuesday with those two is how much Sanders is able to replicate Obama’s success, if at all, or if this is going to be Clinton’s show if he’s trounced hard enough. The situation is reminiscent of eight years ago.
On the Republican side, things are much different. First, is the number of candidates, five as opposed to 2012’s four. This may seem like a small difference at first, but it is important. Not only does it represent a more divided Republican party than four years ago, the differences among the candidates are much more pronounced than before, leaving a party that, if it isn’t careful, might break apart in the upcoming months, rather than unite and rally around a single candidate.
First, there is Donald Trump, who has campaigned on loud rhetoric and radical ideas, but has historically been more moderate. Nonetheless, his speeches and ideas have lead to a significant amount of his supporters saying that nothing could change their minds about him. He has run on his outsider status as a businessman and mogul in reality television. If he were to lose the Republican nomination and attempt to run a third party campaign, this would cut deeply into the support of any other candidate who might secure the nomination.
Ben Carson has similarly run as an outsider candidate who hasn’t held public office before. The difference, however, between him and Trump is that Carson does not have the same penchant for loud rhetoric. Where Trump is loud, Carson is more soft-spoken. He is near the bottom in the polls, and this can be partially attributed to the fact that, like his attempt at being the “outsider candidate” is being crowded by Trump, he also faces stiff competition in the other audience he tries to court: the religious conservative.
Ted Cruz has been courting the religious conservative and evangelical vote ever since his run for the Senate. He is among the farthest right of the candidates and has stuck his claim there for the cycle of the election to moderate success. His win in the Iowa caucus is a result of that. The surprising thing about Cruz, though, is that it’s easy to assume that, due to his father’s Cuban heritage, he is also being supported by Hispanics who vote GOP. This has been shown to be incorrect.
It would also be easy to assume that they might support the next candidate, Marco Rubio, but the exit polls cited in the Daily Beast article show that to be incorrect as well. At least in Nevada, Trump has courted the Latino vote. Rubio, meanwhile, is the establishment candidate, and has one of the highest projected leads over Hillary Clinton, should they go head to head later this year. He has some conservative proclivities, but he is among the more moderate candidates.
The most moderate of them all is John Kasich. The only candidate to have said he will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage last year, Kasich has had some support, especially with independents, but in such a crowded field, he shares the bottom of the polls with Ben Carson.
In this five-man equation, the only candidate who can safely drop out now without disrupting the balance is Ben Carson – his primary audiences are already being dominated by more popular candidates. However, with four other candidates left, things start to get tricky. All we can do right now is speculate. If Kasich drops out, it’s possible that his establishment backers might go to Rubio, while his more conservative friends go to Cruz. This leaves the fate of his moderate backers, which is yet to be determined. But then say that Cruz dropped out – would the religious conservatives supporting Cruz jump ship so readily to Rubio? Would die-hard Trump supporters just not vote if he doesn’t somehow get the nomination?
In only four years, the Republican has gone from three candidates out of four being conservative with the fourth presenting a different viewpoint, to five candidates that are all trying to capture their own audiences. Some overlap, others have similar backgrounds and endorsements, but the differences threaten to split the party, instead of uniting them.
To see the Republican party come together and unite for one candidate would be admirable. However, as we see the elements of the party getting pulled in several directions, this is looking less and less likely the longer it goes on. Super Tuesday will show us who a large portion of Americans are ready to vote for, but even with a decisive victory on both sides, will it really show us presumptive nominees that will unite their party to win? Time will tell.
Featured graphic and cartoon courtesy of ‘DonkeyHotey.’