Special Entry on 2016 Presidential Election: The Road to the White House
Summary of latest developments:
With the stage set for Trump versus Clinton general election match-up, all eyes were on the possible vice presidential selections and the impending national conventions where the nominations would be respectively formalized. Ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland where he was officially nominated to be the party's presidential candidate, Trump chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate. Then, ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Clinton chose Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate ahead of her nomination as that party's standard bearer. This election season was peppered by a hacking scandal alleged to have been carried out by the Russians, and aimed at hurting the Democrats. Trump's stances on Russia added to questions about the possible ties between the Republican nominee and Russian autocratic President Putin. Trump's political challenges were amplified when he appeared to attack a Muslim Gold Star family, and after he appeared to call for a "second amendment" solution to the problem of a Clinton presidency. Trump's claim that President Barack Obama founded the terror group, Islamic State, was not well received due to the lack of veracity and the recklessness of the assertion. It was to be seen if a staff shake-up in the Trump campaign, along with a call for the minority vote, would yield positive results. Trump also traveled to Mexico on an impromptu trip; however, he did not address the centerpiece of his immigration policy -- the wall separating the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, Clinton was facing scrutiny over her links as Secretary of State to the Clinton Foundation.
At the start of September 2016, the presidential race was in high gear with Trump rallying sufficiently to keep the contest competitive. Trump was helped by ongoing criticism of the Clinton Foundation, and later, when Clinton referred to half his base of supporters as belonging in a "basket of deplorables" due to their xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, and bigoted views. The veracity of Clinton's statement notwithstanding, Trump was able to pillory Clinton on her critique, while deflecting scrutiny over some of his own problematic remarks about African Americans living hellish lives and having nothing to lose. Trump was also facing some degree of fire for repeating the false claim that he was always against the Iraq war even though he was heard on the radio taking the opposite view. Also problematic for Trump was his foray onto a Russian propaganda media station where he denied claims that the Russians were responsible for hacking sensitive political databases in the United States, while asserting that the United States military was reduced to "rubble." For her part, Clinton was taking fire for the aforementioned "deplorable" comment before being struck by a bout of pneumonia and then being subject to accusations of secrecy over it.
The start of the primary and caucus process --
The presidential campaign process was in full swing at the start of 2016. On the Republican side of the equation, the question was focused on whether GOP frontrunner Donald Trump would be able to hold off his toughest rivals, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. On the Democratic side, the question was one of whether Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton would be able to hold off the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Overall, it was fair to say that Election 2016 promised to be a highly competitive contest, with tough political battles to come in several swing states.
See below for coverage of the candidates, the caucuses, the primary process, and the overall election dynamics.
The Candidates --
The spring of 2015 was marked by presidential ambition as a long list of candidates announced their intent to run for the highest office in the United States. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul, along with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush entered the race for the Republican nomination. They were soon joined by Fox News commentator Ben Carson, former Arkansas Governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, all of whom joined the ever-expansive Republican field. The expansive nature of the Republican field was further tested with the additions of Governors John Kasich of Ohio and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Governor John Gilmore of Virginia and George Pataki of New York, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and most dramatically -- businessman and media personality, Donald Trump.
On the other side of the aisle, Hillary Rodham Clinton -- the former first lady, former New York Senator, and former Secretary of State -- made her bid for the presidency as the Democratic nominee official on April 12, 2015. Clinton's fight for the nomination was expected to be less competitive with only Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (an Independent who aligns with the Democrats), former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee (once a Republican himself), former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb challenging her.
Whereas the Republican contest promised to be a competitive exercise in an extensive field of candidates, the Democratic contest clearly favored Clinton who lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama who went onto secure the presidency. The year 2016 promised to be a more successful timeline for Clinton with the Democratic nomination hers to lose with Sanders attracting huge crowds at political rallies and managing to reduce Clinton's advantage in key early primary states such as New Hampshire. Meanwhile, it was to be seen which candidate would emerge victorious from the wide open Republican field.
Positions, Polls, and Political Process (Republicans) --
Going into the first Republican debate, which was scheduled to be held on Aug. 8, 2015, the host media outlet, Fox News, decided that it would invite only a cadre of top contenders (based on polling data) to attend the initial debate exercise. The final list included the following contenders: Donald Trump, who was now at the top of polls tracking Republican contenders, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. The general consensus was that the debate would finally end the domination of the air waves enjoyed by Trump, who was riding high as a result of his anti-immigration and other populist views, as voters turned more towards the establishment contenders.
The debate itself enjoyed high viewership and was marked by several dramatic moments. Most notable were the spectacularly controversial remarks by Trump, who refused to foreclose the notion of an independent bid for the White House, should he fail to win the Republican nomination. Eschewing other political correct behavior, Trump reiterated his call to build a wall on the border to stop illegal immigration while being forced to engage with the Fox news moderators about a slate of arguably misogynistic remarks.
Also of note was a heated contretemps between Rand and Christie involving national security, the sub-par and lackluster debate performances of Bush and Walker -- at one time viewed as likely frontrunners, and the folksy debate display of Kasich that won kudos from "inside the Beltway" political pundits looking for a new Republican "moderate." Another significant takeaway from the debate was the fact that Rubio displayed competence in the debate, while boasting his conservative credentials with a robust defense of anti-abortion stance that provides no exceptions for the health of the mother, rape, or incest. Rubio's stance, which was mirrored by Walker, was likely eclipsed by Huckabee, who said he would use Constitutional amendments to defend the rights of fetuses. Cruz highlighted his hardline anti-terrorism views while Carson argued that his intellectual prowess would ensure that he was prepared to be president.
It should be noted that the second tier of candidates who did not make it to the primetime Fox News exercise participated in a debate scheduled earlier on the same day. There were no major developments coming out of the so-called "happy hour" debate, with the exception of Fiorina who posted a well-reviewed performance and thus earned calls for her to be promoted to the top tier status ahead of the next debate.
Some observers noted that Fox moderators seemed to take a harder line against Trump, presumably with an eye on defanging him and thus opening the door for the more traditional (read: more politically correct) candidates. Trump also suffered a loud chorus of criticism after his remarks about Fox moderator, Megyn Kelly, during a post-debate interview on CNN. In that interview, Trump said: "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever."
However, despite the scandalous follow-up remarks about Megyn Kelly, Trump did not appear to have suffered politically. Post-debate polling data indicated that Trump remained in the top spot among Republican contenders. Indeed, a poll by NBC News showed that Trump was still sporting 23 percent of support -- securely at the top of a highly crowded field, with Cruz in second place with 13 percent, Carson in third place with 11 percent, Rubio and Fiorina both in fourth place with eight percent, and finally, Bush and Walker both in fifth place with seven percent. Other post-debate polls also showed Trump to be retaining his front-runner role. The Morning Call poll showed Trump leading the Republican pack with 32 percent of the vote -- significantly ahead of his closest Republican rival, Bush, who had 11 percent. No other Republican contender enjoyed double digit support although Carson was in third place with nine percent, followed Walker and Rubio with six percent respectively.
Looking at these post-debate results, Trump dismissed the condemnations of his critics, defended his politically incorrect style, and declared that he was "winning big all over the place." This brash declaration was bolstered by subsequent polling data in the third week of August by Reuters/Ipsos showed Trump consolidating his lead with 32 percent of support, well ahead of Bush with 16 percent, and Carson with eight percent. It seemed that his virulent anti-illegal immigration message along with his insults of his rivals, particularly Bush, was yielding results among a Republican base tired of political correctness and restraint. Finally, Republicans had an advocate and a voice for their deeply conservative views, while being attracted to his business success. Trump's political gains were confounding the Republican political establishment who had expected the more orthodox contenders, such as Bush, Walker, Kasich, and Rubio, to gain traction.
As the month of August 2015 went on, Trump continued to dominate the Republican primary contest, gaining more support from conservative voters hostile to immigrants. That issue came to the fore as he removed a Spanish-language television reporter, Jorge Ramos, from one of his new conferences when Ramos demanded that Trump explain his controversial immigration prescriptions. At issue for Ramos was the question of how Trump could conceivably deport 11 million undocumented people from the United States or feasibly construct a secure wall between the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, Trump was also keen to revive his feud with Fox News, as he posted no shortage of messages on the social media outlet, Twitter, attacking Fox anchor, Megyn Kelly.
Trump's bombastic and nativist rhetoric was yielding political dividends as poll after poll showed him consolidating support, and leaving candidates thought to be his toughest rivals far behind. In fact, most polls at this time showed Trump sporting double-digit leads over his closest rivals. Of note was the declining political fortune of Jeb Bush, who had no shortage of establishment and financial backing and was hoping that Trump's star would extinguish so that he could take over the position of frontrunner. However, Bush was mired by a series of gaffes and saw his polling numbers decline to single-digit territory. Taking advantage of the opportunity to eliminate the person who could be his strongest competition, Trump refocused his attention on Bush, mocking the former Florida governor for his "low energy" campaign. The success of Trump juxtaposed against the uninspiring performance of Bush caused no shortage of consternation for establishment political analysts.
By September 2015, with Trump soaring in the eyes of Republican voters, Bush was refocusing his attacks on the frontrunner. Bush launched a website video painting Trump as an unreliable Republican who has enjoyed close ties to the Democratic frontrunner -- Clinton. But Trump had his own ammunition as he attacked Bush for speaking Spanish during speeches and for referring to illegal immigration as "an act of love." Meanwhile, Christie was attempting to be a voice on the immigration issue and Rubio was trying to showcase his foreign policy credentials. To these ends, Christie proposed tracking immigrants in much the same way as parcel delivery services track packages, while Rubio promised to scrap the landmark Iranian nuclear deal forged by the Obama administration and to likewise scrap regulations on the energy industry. Carson, was meanwhile, creeping up on Trump in the polling data. As a result, Trump was soon refocusing some of his vitriol -- thus far, reserved for Bush -- on Carson instead.
A second Republican debate took place on Sept. 16, 2015, and was dominated by attempts by certain key contenders to remain relevant amidst the Trump-dominated contest. To this end, both Bush and Christie leveled attacks against Trump in an attempt to raise their profiles -- and their polling numbers. Carson retained his mild-mannered persona on stage and it was to be seen if his ascent in the standing would be preserved as a result. Fiorina, who had not participated in the first Republican debate, enjoyed the most success in going after Trump, by attacking his business record involving bankruptcy moves and exacting revenge for unflattering remarks made about her physical appearance. At the end of the debate, the Washington punditocracy concluded that Fiorina was the debate winner, while conveniently side-stepping some of her questionable policy positions. Post-debate polling data showed a shift in the standings among the Republicans. While a CNN/ORC poll continued to indicate Trump on top, his lead had eroded somewhat from the 30s range, and he was now at 24 percent. Not surprisingly, Fiorina was catapulted into second place at 15 percent, just ahead of Carson, who slipped to third place with 14 percent. The other big winner was Rubio, who was now ahead of Bush in fourth and fifth place with 11 percent and nine percent respectively. In the fall of 2015, these five candidates were the ones to watch.
Trump's political prospects could be affected by his handling of a question by a supporter at a town hall event in New Hampshire. That supporter said: "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American." Trump went on to address the issue of protecting the country from terror training camps while side-stepping the factually erroneous information about Barack Obama. Critics of Trump railed against the Republican frontrunner for failing to challenge the questioner, and comparing Trump's handling of the situation unfavorably with Obama's 2008 rival for the presidency. Indeed, John McCain, who was presented with a similar scenario during a 2008 town hall, strongly defended his rival by asserting that Obama was a good American with whom he simply had ideological differences. For those critics, Trump's handling of the situation demonstrated his willingness to traffic in shady tactics along with the politics of personal destruction to gain traction with hard-right voters who despise the sitting president. For his part, however, Trump -- who has himself questioned whether Obama was legitimately a native-born American -- appeared undeterred by such feedback and instead said he was not obligated to defend President Obama. Via the social media outlet, Twitter, Trump said: "Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don't think so! If someone made a nasty or controversial statement about me to the president, do you really think he would come to my rescue? No chance!"
The Obama administration weighed in on the controversy with White House spokesman Josh Earnest posing the question: "Is anybody really surprised that this happened at a Donald Trump rally?" He continued by noting that "the people who hold these offensive views are part of Mr. Trump's base." Earnest also used the opportunity to impugn the Republican party for also countenancing similar tactics as he declared: "Now other Republicans have successfully used this strategy as well. You will recall that one Republican congressman told a reporter that he was David Duke without the baggage. That congressman was elected by a majority of his colleagues in the House of Representatives to the third highest-ranking position in the House. Those same members of Congress blocked immigration reform. Those same members of Congress oppose reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Those same members of Congress couldn't support a simple funding bill because they are eager to defend the confederate flag.So those are the priorities of today's Republican Party. And they will continue to be until someone in the Republican Party decides to summon the courage to stand up and change it."
By late September 2015 into early October 2015, Trump remained the frontrunner on the Republican side, although Carson was now nipping at his heels in second place. Carson's declaration that a Muslim should not be president (actual constitutional provisions notwithstanding) appeared to have had no negative repercussions among the Republican base. Instead, it appeared to have bolstered Carson's standing with the party faithful. In third place was Fiorina, with Rubio eclipsing Bush for fourth place. The Republican field of top contenders at this time made it clear that the party's supporters were tired of establishment candidates and instead favoring "Washington DC outsiders" for the position of Republican standard bearer in 2016.
It should be noted that by the close of October 2015, on the eve of another Republican debate, the trends remained roughly in place for the Republicans. Trump was the national frontrunner and held the lead in key states, such as New Hampshire and South Carolina; however, Carson was now in the lead in Iowa and in a highly competitive position against Trump at the national level. The two "outsider" candidates were clearly the preferred options from among conservative voters. Other Republican candidates faring respectably well included Cruz and Rubio. Fiorina was fading fast (presumably due to fact-checking by the media on some of her more dubious claims during the second debate) as was Bush, who continued to defend his brother's questionable and controversial national security record.
The late October 2015 debate was intended to serve as a clarifying enterprise of sorts for voters. However, it evolved instead into an acrimonious affair pitting aggressive CNBC moderators against the Republican field. The Republican National Committee accused the moderators from CNBC of being hostile and posing aggressive questions, while the Republican candidates themselves often engaged in angry exchanges with one another.
Of note was a contretemps between Bush and Rubio, when the former drew attention to the latter's poor attendance record in the Senate and declared, "Just resign and let someone else take the job." In fact, a newspaper in Rubio's home state of Florida had advocated just that course of action since the junior senator missed so many key votes in 2015 alone. However, Rubio was undeterred and instead calmly responded that Bush was only evoking the matter “because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.” The general consensus was that, as with all his other attempts during debates to hit a mark, Bush had again failed to do so, leaving Rubio as the default winner in that exchange. Rubio's prospects were probably also benefiting from the Republican establishment's fear of either Trump or Carson winning the nomination, and with Bush fading fast, they were seeking a new candidate to back.
But Cruz was also a winner in the second debate, as he shifted attention from a question posed on the debt limit , moving instead to condemn the media and the debate moderators. He said, "The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," he said. "This is not a cage match. How about talking about the substantive issues?" In truth, the question regarding the debt limit could not be understood as anything other than substantive, but rather than actually answer that question, Cruz craftily used the opportunity to curry favor with the Republican base who tend to perceive media bias. As such, Cruz gained political favor as a result.
For its part, the Republican National Committee decided to sever its relationship with the NBC network and withdraw from a scheduled debate to be moderated by NBC at the University of Houston. The chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus explained the decision as follows: "The performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters."
At the start of November 2015, Carson was eclipsing Trump as the front runner of the Republican contenders not only in Iowa was also according to some national polls. Carson was also enjoying excellent placement in head to head match ups against the two main Democratic contenders. But Carson had little time to bask in the positive limelight of his new status at the helm of the Republican field; instead, increased media scrutiny resulted in questions about the veracity of his accounts of his personal story. At issues were questions about some of the claims he made in his memoir and during speeches and lectures. CNN investigated Carson's personal story that he was a violent youth who attempted to stab a friend and changed his ways through prayer. CNN was not able to find anyone to corroborate this account. Politico broke another story in which Carson was forced to admit that despite his claim that he was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point, no formal offer was ever made and he never applied in the first place. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Carson's account of hiding two white students from angry black students during a riot the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. could not be independently verified. Overall, these reports of resume embellishment could damage Carson's image and credibility in the public eye and affect his standing in the polls if not within the evangelical Republican base, then certainly nationally.
On Nov. 10, 2015, Republican contenders gathered for another debate -- this one hosted by Fox Business, and with Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee banished from the main stage because of their poor polling numbers. The debate was intended to focus on economic issues, and certainly afforded all the candidates the opportunity to advocate supply side (trickle down) policies including copious tax cuts. However, the encounter was politically dominated by the immigration debate, and particularly the Republican Party's preference for concentrating on border protection, and its penchant for subsuming comprehensive immigration reform under the rubric of "amnesty." To this end, candidates such as Trump and Cruz championed hardline stances while Bush and Kasich outlined the difficulty of rounding up an estimated 11 million undocumented persons and deporting them. While post-debate polling numbers were yet to emerge, social media gave an idea of which candidates had resonated with the base of the party. To this end, Cruz was viewed as the big winner of social media, being mentioned the most of all the candidates, with Rubio close behind; Trump held his own with a respectable number of social media references; Rand Paul gained some traction, and Carson was in negative territory. It was to be seen if this social media register would translate into movement in the polls.
In the third week of November 2015, on the heels of the horrific terror attacks in Paris, France, the dynamics on the Republican side of the race were unchanged. Bush and Rubio were respectively hoping that the national attention on terrorism and foreign policy might act as a boost of sorts for the more traditional or establishment style neoconservative stances. However, it was the strong nativist rhetoric from Trump and Carson -- mostly in response to the possibility of Syrian refugees reaching United States soil -- that had the most resonance. Rather than repelling people, Trump's insistence that the United States deny entry to Syrian refugees, and Carson's comparison of Syrian refugees to rabid dogs, actually appeared to shore up their most ardent supporters.
At the end of November 2015, both of the two Republican frontrunners were encountering some challenges. Outside their respective bases of core supporters, Carson and Trump were facing some strong and unwelcome criticism for their questionable rhetoric. It was to be seen if Carson's visit to a refugee camp in Jordan, where be believed Syrian refugees should remain, would rehabilitate his reputation. But Trump was under further fire for suggesting that all Muslims in the United States be registered in a special database -- a practice disturbingly similar to the registration of Jews during the time of Nazi-controlled Germany. He was also facing scrutiny for his dubious and unverified claim that "thousands and thousands" of people in New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001. Both Trump and Carson were seeing a decline in their support according to polling data in late November 2015; however, both men still retained their number one and two spots in national polling overall, with Cruz and Rubio trailing behind, and the rest of the field in the distance.
In early December 2015, the dynamics in Republican race were somewhat changing in the state of Iowa where polls were showing Cruz overtaking Trump for the lead there. However, Trump continued to dominate the Republican field in the other early primary states on the Republican side, and was also holding the lead against his Republican rivals in most national surveys. Carson appeared to be on a downward slide both in key states and nationally, while Rubio continued to score healthy polling results -- usually in the top five of the Republican field. Despite his financial advantage, Bush continued to sport poor polling results with only one month to go before the voting in the primary elections were set to commence. By mid-December 2015, the top echelon of the Republican contest was now occupied by Trump and Cruz, with Carson and Rubio sitting on the next level below.
In the same period -- the start of December 2015 -- in the aftermath of the appalling Islamic State-inspired massacre in San Bernardino, all the Republican contenders blasted President Barack Obama for what they perceived as a weak anti-terrorism strategy. However, when the Republican frontrunner, Trump, accused Muslims of having a "hatred" of America and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country, his Republican rivals used the opportunity to turn their fire towards him. Trump was also facing criticism from the Obama White House, which said that such a stance should disqualify Trump from serving as president, as well as world leaders from allied countries in the United Kingdom and Canada. It was to be seen if this response would actually have an affect on Trump's positioning at the top of the Republican field. For the most part, the base of the Republican party has embraced Trump's politically incorrect stances.
The Republican field at the end of December 2015 had narrowed with Graham and Pataki joining Walker, Perry, and Jindal by exiting the Republican contest.
As December 2015 came to a close, Trump continued to lead the field by substantial margins at the national level, while Cruz was now positioned in second place, with Carson and Rubio vying for the third place in Republican voters' preferences.
NOTE: See "The Iowa Caucuses" for details related to the landscape in Iowa in January 2016 as well as the coverage of the Iowa race.
Positions, Polls, and Political Process (Democrats) --
In 2015, the trends on the Democratic side of the equation remained the roughly same. Hillary Clinton was the unqualified favorite at the national level -- well ahead of her closest rival, Bernie Sanders, by close to 30 percent points. That being said, Sanders was attracting massive crowds at political rallies, as well as a surge in the Vermont senator's neighboring state of New Hampshire. It was to be seen if his success in New Hampshire could be translated to other states or if would he would trail Clinton in less favorable territory. With some polls showing Sanders cutting into Clinton's lead in Iowa, there were echoes of 2008 as the meme of Clinton's short-circuited inevitability resurfaced once again. But the Clinton versus Sanders show-down was itself being mitigated by the discussion of a new entrance onto the Democratic primary stage in the form of Vice President Joe Biden. While in late summer 2015 Biden was yet to make a decision on whether or not to contest the election, there were suggestions that Clinton's unfavorable ratings were raising alarms and opening the door for another viable Democrat to enter the race.
In September 2015, as news of a possible Biden candidacy began to surface, polling data indicated that most Democratic voters would select the vice president as their preferred candidate for president in 2016 if Clinton's prospects dimmed. This was not good news for Sanders supporters who were touting his large crowds and rallies as signs of an upstart campaign reminiscent of Barack Obama in 2007 and into 2008. Instead, it was clear that the vast majority of Democratic voters preferred Obama's former Secretary of State and his current Vice President to Sanders for the job of Democratic standard bearer in 2016.
The preference for Biden over Sanders as the "alternative option" to Clinton was key since the frontrunner was not enjoying favorable media coverage. At issue was an investigation over the transmission of classified emails on her private email server while she served as Obama's top diplomat, as well as ongoing congressional investigations into the tragic death of the United States ambassador at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi (Libya) four years prior when she served as President Barack Obama's secretary of state. Indeed, polling data by CNN indicated that as Clinton's political woes mounted, the chorus favoring a Biden candidacy was on the increase as Clinton voters moved to the vice president. At the primary level, the beneficiary was Sanders, who was now enjoying a boomlet of support in the first two caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But beyond those first two states, Democratic voters seemed to be looking for the candidate who could deliver a third Obama term and were thus focused on Clinton or Biden. This preference was not good news for Sanders whose political viability could well expire in January 2016 after the Iowa and New Hampshire contests.
Looking towards the general election, Clinton's lead remained in place in mid-2015, but was slipping from a commanding position to a modest one. Polling data by Reuters/Ipsos in August 2015 showed Clinton beating all the major Republican contenders at the national level. Other polls, however, showed Clinton and Sanders respectively in competitive races with several Republican contenders in key toss-up states such as Iowa, Ohio, and Florida.
By September 2015, polling data by CNN showed that Clinton was now in bitter fights with the main Republican contenders, and Sanders was in worse shape. The elevated fortune for the Republicans seems to be due to heavy favorable media coverage for the Republican frontrunner, Trump, which seemed to be boosting the entire field. Of note, however, was the fact that some polls showed Biden -- who had not yet announced his candidacy -- outperforming Clinton and Sanders against Republican contenders both nationally and in key states. However, by October 2015, Biden made clear that he would not be contesting the Democratic primary after all making the race essentially a two person effort between Clinton and Sanders.
Prior to Biden's announcement that he was not pursuing the presidency, the remaining main five Democrats -- Clinton, Sanders, O'Malley, Chaffee and Webb all participated in the first Democratic debate. The endeavor served its purpose by spurring both Chaffee and Webb to later withdraw from the race. While O'Malley and Sanders enjoyed the opportunity to bask in the spotlight, the debate was widely regarded as an overwhelming victory for Clinton who reminded the world why she was so close to winning the Democratic nomination eight years prior against Barack Obama. The debate also served to remind Democratic voters as to why she remained an effective advocate on behalf of Democratic values and causes in the past and in the ensuing years as she served as Barack Obama's top diplomat.
An unforced error by the top ranking House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, that the endless and expensive Benghazi investigation of Clinton was orchestrated to hurt her politically, further changed the political dynamics. First, McCarthy's admission served as a boost for Clinton among the Democratic faithful and independents, by shedding light on what appeared to be a carefully crafted political campaign to damage her political prospects, using tax-payer money in the process. Second, Clinton's own masterful testimony before a hostile Republican-controlled congressional committee regarding the Benghazi investigation in October 2015 spotlighted her statesmanship and leadership credentials. As a result, in October 2015, Clinton was regaining her lead not only against Sanders in polling of the primary races, but also in head to head matches against Republican competitors.
As of the start of November 2015, the three remaining Democratic contenders participated in a forum hosted by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. In that venue, the three candidates were able to showcase their differences. While O'Malley and Sanders said they were opposed to the death penalty, Clinton indicated she wanted to reserve some room for its application in cases of terrorism. While Clinton spoke expansively about crime, the effects of prejudice on the African American community, and the need to temper gun violence, Sanders used his income inequality platform to address social inequities facing minority communities and defended his votes on gun regulations, noting that he came from a rural state where gun rights were essential. Sanders made clear that he was opposed to the Iraq war from the start, and that he opposed the Obama administration's decision to send special forces to Syria, drawing two distinctions with Clinton. O'Malley struck a partisan cord as he proclaimed himself to be a loyal lifelong Democrat in comparison to Sanders who has been a political independent who caucuses with Democrats.
In mid-November 2015, following the second Democratic debate, the dynamics of the race were unchanged. This debate ensued shortly after the Paris terror attacks and allowed Clinton a chance to showcase her foreign policy credentials. By offering nuanced responses, President Barack Obama's former chief adviser, David Axelrod, pronounced Clinton to be the "candidate thinking like a president." Meanwhile, Sanders quickly pivoting from national security back to his familiar territory of income inequality, and O'Malley attempted to stake out national foreign policy ground to the left of the other two contenders. Polling data from various outlets later in November 2015 made clear that Clinton continued to consolidate her decisive lead over Sanders and O'Malley. Clinton was also benefiting from the lion's share of endorsements from influential unions and Democratic super-delegates.
In the first part of December 2015, on the heels of an Islamic State-inspired massacre in San Bernardino, Clinton argued for a more robust air campaign to fight the Islamist extremist terror group but closed ranks with President Barack Obama by eschewing the deployment of ground troops to the Middle East. Clinton's detailed response to the national security threat showcased her foreign policy credentials and offered a contrast to her closest rival, Sanders, who appeared intent on holding fast to his income inequality focus. Polling data at the start of December 2015 showed Clinton holding a commanding lead over Sanders in some of the first primary and caucus states of Iowa, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, and in a competitive race with Sanders in New Hampshire. Clinton was also faring well against Republican contenders in hypothetical head-to-head match ups.
In mid-December 2015, ahead of the final Democratic debate of the year, the primary contest was mired by controversy when Sanders' staffers exploited a security breach in the Democratic National Committee's voter database to illicitly access sensitive voter information about Clinton's supporters. While Sanders apologized to Clinton for the incident during the debate, he also blasted the DNC for temporarily blocking his campaign's access to its own records in response to the illicit access.
As December 2015 came to a close, Clinton continued to lead the Democratic lead by overwhelming margins both at the national level and in most states across the country. Clinton appeared to be focused on holding together the Obama coalition of voters -- women, minorities, immigrants, and the LGBT community -- who contributed to the incumbent president's victories in 2008 and 2012 by embracing the Obama legacy. To that end, during the debates and speeches, Clinton made it clear that she backed President Obama's strategy for fighting terrorism, on gun control, on health care, and on the economy -- key national issues at the close of 2015.
Key Dynamics to be considered on the road to the White House --
Republican operatives were initially alarmed about the surge of anti-establishment candidates, given the somewhat extreme views of Trump and Cruz that were highly attractive to Republican voters. They were likewise concerned about the Republican base's predilection in 2016 to shun the so-called "establishment" candidates, such as Christie and Bush. However, as the campaigns have rolled on, and as Trump and Cruz have maintained their dominant positions at the top of the polls, the Republican operatives were becoming resigned to the reality that one of the two, quite likely, were positioned to become the nominee.
Looking at the fact that Trump particularly was tapping into a wave of conservative voters' anger with his unfiltered, politically incorrect, nativist, yet populist rhetoric, some Republican operatives were even coming to the conclusion that Trump at the top of a GOP ticket could actually take the party back to the White House. Thanks to his Iowa victory and his impressive third place in New Hampshire -- a moderate state that was not particularly favorable to him -- conservative Cruz was making it clear that he was the viable alternative to Trump. With no shortage of Evangelical Christian and hard core conservative southern states awaiting him in late February and into March 2016, Cruz would have the opportunity to test this theory.
Of course, there remained a portion of the Republican establishment that was convinced a more traditional candidate, such as Rubio, would ultimately break through and take the party into the November 2016 general election along a more familiar path, and ultimately to victory. However, after Rubio's poor debate performance just prior to the New Hampshire primary, followed by his ensuing disappointing fifth place finish, the pro-establishment faction was looking to other alternatives. Those alternatives included Kasich and Bush, both of whom may have seen their political fortunes revitalized in New Hampshire.
On the Democratic side of the equation, the "smart money" remained on Clinton emerging as the Democratic nominee, given her strong popularity among Democratic base voters. A slim win in Iowa and a loss to Sanders in New Hampshire were unlikely to shift the trajectory of the Democratic primary and caucus process. Indeed, in Democratic Party politics, the mantra was "demography is destiny" and the candidate able to command support of diverse populations that make up the reliable base of Democratic voters would be able to win the nomination. While Sanders was able to attract political independents, many primaries and caucuses were closed contests involving registered Democrats who generally have viewed Clinton favorably and with a sense of loyalty.
Meanwhile, Democratic analysts were looking to the general election and asserting that due to demographic trends, the general election in November 2016 favored any of their candidates. Those demographic trends have shown the United States becoming increasingly ethnically diverse, certainly open to immigrants and minority groups, more secular and less religious, more urban-centered, and significantly, more socio-culturally progressive on issues like LGBT rights, women's reproductive rights, traditional family values, and more inclined than in the past to embrace single life rather than marriage of any kind.
With Clinton securing strong support from women and minority voters, and with Sanders' economic populism attracting a massive youth vote, there was clear evidence that the Obama coalition of voters that secured victory in 2008 and 2012 remained in place in 2016. Given this assessment, Democratic analysts have concluded that the landscape favors any Democratic candidate over the Republican alternative. Of course, the testing of this theory was yet to come on election day.
One fly in the proverbial ointment was the fact that Michael Bloomberg, the founder of the Bloomberg financial news empire and former New York mayor, was considering entering the presidential contest as a political independent. Bloomberg was reportedly alarmed at the lack of quality debate in the presidential contest, saying in an interview with the Financial Times, "I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters." He added that American voters deserved "a lot better." A final decision from Bloomberg regarding his election intentions was expected to come in March 2016.
Note that in February 2016, the presidential landscape was being informed by a key development on the judicial landscape. At issue was the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, during a hunting trip to Texas and the ensuing political ramifications. Of note was the fact that President Barack Obama would now be able to nominate a replacement, and given his two previous nominees now sitting on the highest court -- Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- it was highly likely his third selection would likewise be a liberal-leaning individual likely to upend the conservative male dominated bench. Moreover, the president's nominee -- should he or she be confirmed by the Senate -- would tip the balance of the court in terms of its ideological landscape. Indeed, it would represent a seismic shift in orientation on the Supreme Court where, until the death of Scalia, conservatives outnumbered the liberal wing 5-4.
Faced with such a possibility, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, indicated that the Republican-led Senate would not accept a nomination from President Obama and that the vacancy should be filled by the next president -- preferably, a Republican. In truth, the reality was that the president had a full year left in his tenure and the constitutional right to exercise his authority in this domain. Indeed, in a news conference on the day of Scalia's death, and again three days later, President Obama made clear that he would be nominating a "well qualified" replacement for Scalia on the Supreme Court, in keeping with his constitutional authority, and that the Senate should do its duty in providing "advice and consent" as clearly set forth in the Constitution of the United States.
Republican vying to become the 2016 standard bearer of their party wasted no time making political hay of the matter. In a heated Republican debate ahead of the key South Carolina primary, Ted Cruz warned that his main rival, Donald Trump, should not be trusted to pick appropriate conservative replacement justices. Cruz said, "If Donald Trump is president, he will appoint liberals... Two branches of government hang in the balance, not just the presidency, but the Supreme Court. If we get this wrong, if we nominate the wrong candidate, the Second Amendment, life, marriage, religious liberty, every one of those hangs in the balance." For his part, Trump called for Republicans to prevent President Obama from getting his Supreme Court selection, as he said, “It’s up to Mitch McConnell and everyone else to stop it. "It’s called delay, delay, delay."
On the other side of the equation, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said failure by the Senate to take up the president's Supreme Court nomination would be a "shameful abdication" of the Senate's constitutional duty. Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, emphasized the clarity of the Constitution, as he said, "The president makes the appointment, Senate confirms, let's get on with that business." The other Democratic presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, issued vociferous support for President Obama, and his right to pick a Supreme Court justice. Clinton said via the social media outlet, Twitter, "Barack Obama is President of the United States until Jan. 20, 2017—that is a fact, whether the Republicans like it or not."
Clinton's strong defense of President Obama's prerogative would likely shore up support for the Democratic base of the party, and ultimately aid her in the general election, should she win that party's nomination. Political enthusiasm could also be generated in down-ballot races, with some analysts noting that if the Democrats were able to regain control over the Senate, they would have a small window when they could approve President Obama's selection for the Supreme Court before he leaves office in 2017. With more Republicans up for re-election in the 2016 Senate elections, than Democrats, there was a sense from the Democrats that they could leverage the Republicans' obstruction of the president to their benefit. Indeed, the issue was sure to fire up the Democratic base, which was highly loyal to President Obama, and who were thus likely to be motivated to go to the polls to vote ensure the Democrats take back control of the Senate and give the president his preferred Supreme Court selection.
Note that in March 2016, Bloomberg, who had been considering entering the presidential contest, opted to stay out of it. His decision was based on polling data that showed that he might have trouble winning the election, and would thus risk the White House landing in the hands of unacceptable options, in his view, such as Trump or Cruz.
NOTE: See "The Iowa Caucuses" for details related to the landscape in Iowa in January 2016 as well as the coverage of the Iowa race.
The Iowa Caucuses (Republicans)
As the year 2016 began, and with voting only a month away, the objective for Trump would be survive a possible loss to Cruz in the first voting state of Iowa where the Christian Evangelical voting bloc favored Cruz. Trump would have to sustain a respectable loss in Iowa while racking up victories in the states to follow from New Hampshire and South Carolina to Florida. Meanwhile, Cruz would be hoping that he could , indeed, pull off a victory in Iowa and the momentum from that success would catapult him to other wins across the map. In Iowa, Cruz's biggest competition was likely to come from Carson, who would likewise try to benefit from that momentum. For Rubio, the objective would be to attract the so-called "moderate" vote, starting in New Hampshire, and then consolidating that voting bloc across the board.
In mid-January 2016, with weeks to go ahead of the all-important Iowa caucuses, Trump and Cruz were running neck and neck. Cruz's advantage in that state was eroding, quite likely as a result of Trump's relentless push to question Cruz's eligibility to be president having been born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. Most readings by scholars of the Constitution make clear that even if someone is not born on American soil, being born to an American parent meets the Constitutional bar of being "natural born." That is to say, all children born to Americans whether in or out of the country, and who have not had to go through the process of naturalization for citizenship, are in fact "natural born" citizens, although the issue has never been litigated in the courts. Nevertheless, Trump's effort to question Cruz's eligibility appeared to be having an effect in Iowa -- and to the benefit of Trump, who was expected to secure a strong win in New Hampshire to follow.
With less than two weeks to go until voting began in the Iowa caucuses, the Cruz campaign was faced with three major challenges. Perhaps the most immediate was a call from Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad for voters to reject Cruz due to his objections to ethanol subsidies. In a state that Cruz was either leading or tied with Trump, this rebuke could only be understood as harmful. A second problem for Cruz came in the form of revelations that the Republican presidential candidate failed to disclose to the Federal Election Commission a loan from Goldman Sachs. The loan, valued at approximately $500,000, was used to help fund his 2012 bid for the Senate, which he ultimately won, and was not disclosed in filings, as required by the Federal Election Commission. Perhaps the most problematic development for Cruz was the ongoing aforementioned attack by his main challenger, Trump, that he was constitutionally ineligible to run for president because he was not a "natural born" citizen of the United States. With Cruz having an advantage with Evangelicals in Iowa, Trump was determined to erode the support of his rival. Cruz himself pointed to Trump's convenient -- and fresh -- concern over eligibility when he said in a debate that Trump had earlier claimed there was no issue with his citizenship. He said, "Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed, but the poll numbers have. And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are dropping in Iowa, but the facts and the law here are really clear." Cruz would likely have the opportunity to address the matter legally since a Texas lawyer filed a lawsuit seeking clarification on whether or not Cruz was indeed eligible to be president.
In the same period, various other Republican contenders were gaining endorsements and hoping they would help their political fortunes. Bush gained the endorsement of his former rival for the presidency, Senator Graham, while Trump was endorsed by the failed vice presidential contender, Sarah Palin.
In the days ahead of the first voting -- indeed, just ahead of the key Iowa caucuses, the Republican frontrunner, Trump, expressed confidence regarding his dominant position, even going so far as to declare that he would "shoot someone" in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose any of his voters. Trump was evidently so confident of this position that he was able to continue his ongoing feud with Fox News and decline to attend a Republican debate scheduled to take place only four days ahead of the Iowa caucuses. He was certainly helped by three important endorsements -- those of 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, anti-immigration activist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the conservative evangelical head of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell. Cruz remained a strong contender for Iowa despite Trump's relentless attacks on the Canadian-born candidate's eligibility. Cruz gained the endorsements of former Governor of Texas Rick Perry, conservative talk show host, Glenn Beck, and the head of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins. A more traditional endorsement went to Rubio from the influential Des Moines Register in Iowa, which concluded that he presented the "best hope."
It was to be seen if any of these endorsements actually had an effect on the voting predilections of Republican voters in Iowa. While national polls continued to give Trump a commanding lead over his rival, the race in Iowa was more competitive. Most polling data for Iowa showed Trump leading, with Cruz just behind, and Rubio is a more distant third place, and the rest of the pack trailing significantly behind. This trend held in place with the final Selzer poll -- generally regarded as the gold standard of Iowa polling -- which gave the lead to Trump with 28 percent, with Cruz in second place with 23 percent, and Rubio in third place with 15 percent.
Voting in the Iowa caucuses finally ensued on Feb. 1, 2016. On the Republican side of the equation, the question was focused on whether GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, would be able to hold off his toughest rival, Ted Cruz. Once the votes were counted, it was clear that Cruz defied the polls, which had actually indicated Trump headed for victory. It was a shock result, largely attributed to Cruz's scientific ground game in Iowa, and boosted by the fact that conservative Iowa Republicans likely viewed Cruz's Christian Evangelical credentials more favorably than Trump's celebrity status. Rubio saw a last minute surge and finished a close third on the heels of Trump. This result made clear that Cruz, Trump, and Rubio constituted the top tier of the Republican pack at the start of February 2016
The Iowa Caucuses (Democrats)
At the start of 2016, with voting set to begin in a month, Clinton's goal would be to pull off a win in Iowa, which could conceivably insulate her from a possible loss to follow in New Hampshire. As the neighboring state to Sanders' home state of Vermont, New Hampshire promised to be a high target territory from which the senator hoped to build momentum. However, in the states to follow -- South Carolina and Nevada -- it was very likely that Clinton would dominate until Super Tuesday, when she could very likely be well on her way to closing down the Democratic nomination.
In mid-January 2016, with weeks to go ahead of the all-important Iowa caucuses, the dynamics of the race on the Democratic side was changing in the two first primary and caucus states. In Iowa, polling data showed a close race with Sanders gaining momentum against Clinton. In New Hampshire, Sanders was consolidating his advantage as the senator from the state next door (Vermont) and pulling ahead with a significant lead.
In the third week of January 2016, with less than two weeks to go until the voting began in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Sanders was handily leading Clinton in New Hampshire, Clinton appeared to be hanging on to a small lead in Iowa, and far more decisive leads in the later states of South Carolina and Nevada. At the national level, polling data showed Clinton retaining a strong advantage over Sanders.
It was to be seen if these trends would hold in place until it was time for Democratic voters to cast their ballots. If so, and Sanders was able to pull off back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, the big question was whether or not the momentum could propel Sanders to further victories. The conventional wisdom, though, was that Clinton would likely take Iowa and Sanders would win New Hampshire, and thus keeping the race "alive" through Nevada, South Carolina, and into "Super Tuesday." The other bit of insight from election insiders was that even with a back-to-back losses for Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, she would be able to regain her advantage in the next two contests in South Carolina and Nevada, and then consolidate her position on Super Tuesday.
In the days ahead of the first voting -- indeed, just ahead of the key Iowa caucuses, the Democratic frontrunner, Clinton, was at risk of losing the first contest. With that reality in mind, Clinton urged her supporters to caucus for her in Iowa, and during a televised Iowa town hall hosted by CNN, she reminded voters of her record as a fighter who spent her entire adult life advocating for working people and minorities. At the same event, Sanders' whose insurgent campaign was attracting massive crowds at rallies as well as the youth vote, emphasized the importance to reform Wall Street and address income inequality. O'Malley called on his supporters to "hold strong" for him despite the appeal of his two rivals.
Meanwhile, Clinton had gained key endorsements from no shortage of union groups, cabinet members (past and present), legislators, governors, activists, women's rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL, gay rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, not to mention the lion's share of super delegates key to clinching the Democratic nomination. Perhaps more crucially, ahead of voting in both Iowa and New Hampshire, she also gained fulsome endorsements from the influential Des Moines Register in Iowa, and the Boston Globe from the state next door to New Hampshire. The Des Moines Register particularly noted that the presidency was "not an entry-level position," and that as an "outstanding candidate," Clinton was deserving of the Democratic nomination. It added, "No other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience."
But it was the non-endorsement from the sitting Democratic President Barack Obama that was likely of most value. Throughout, Clinton has embraced the Obama legacy, promising to preserve, augment, and expand it, thus presenting a contrast to Sanders, whose campaign has focused on spurring a "revolution" from the status quo. Of course, Sanders had also recommended that Obama be subject to a primary challenge ahead of his 2012 bid for re-election. With these dynamics in mind, during a podcast interview with Politico, President Obama suggested that Sanders had the "luxury of being a complete long shot" in the 2016 contest, whereas Clinton had the disadvantage of being well-known "in a culture in which new is always better." He said, "I think Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose. I think Hillary came in with the both privilege and burden of being perceived as the front-runner." Obama paid tribute to Clinton's experience, intelligence, and credentials, saying, "Her strengths, which are the fact that she’s extraordinarily experienced, and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out, sometimes could make her more cautious and her campaign more prose than poetry."
Still, the president had an informal meeting with Sanders at the White House, from which the Vermont senator emerged saying that the president had been "fair." As well, Sanders garnered praise from Vice President Joe Biden for his championing of income inequality -- the signature centerpiece issue of the Sanders campaign.
It was to be seen if the chorus of positive seal of approval from various influential persons and organizations would affect the state of the Democratic race as voters in Iowa prepared to make their voices heard. While at the national level, Clinton was holding on to a strong lead according to national surveys, most polling data for Iowa showed a close and competitive race between Clinton and Sanders, with O'Malley far behind. The general consensus was that a win for Sanders in Iowa would be more valuable than Clinton, as she could afford to lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, exiting both those races with some delegates, and then recouping her losses in Nevada and South Carolina to follow, while solidifying her position as the likely nominee in the Super Tuesday states. By contrast, Sanders could benefit from the"winner" headlines in Iowa and New Hampshire, with those successes potentially spurring momentum in the next states.
It should be noted that the final Selzer poll -- generally regarded as the gold standard of Iowa polling -- gave the lead to Clinton with 45 percent, with Sanders close behind with 42 percent, and O'Malley trailing significantly behind with three percent. Of significance was the fact that more Clinton supporters described themselves as committed to caucusing for their candidate than Sanders supporters. There was also no enthusiasm gap of the type that has been reported in the media shown in the polling results. Thus, the Iowa race on the Democratic side would be a simple matter of voter turnout.
Voting in the Iowa caucuses finally ensued on Feb. 1, 2016. On the Democratic side of the equation, the question was one of whether the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, would be able to hold off the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders. With a significant portion of the Democratic electorate in Iowa claiming to either be Socialists or accepting of Socialism, and with Sanders' message of anti-corruption and income inequality resonating with young people, the demographic and ideological terrain in Iowa favored the self-described Democratic Socialist senator from Vermont.
Once the votes were counted and the delegates were attributed, the polling data forecasting a dead heat proved to be predictive. In fact, in short order it was clear that the Iowa Caucus was an ultra-close contest, manifest by a razor thin lead for Clinton, which she maintained against Sanders to the very end. Significant turnout in Iowa among Sanders-friendly demographics and ideological groups meant that Clinton had to rely on her well-established turnout machine inherited from President Barack Obama. That, along with a well-honed message of experienced leadership, ensured hard fought victory for Clinton in Iowa. Of significance was the fact that Clinton made history becoming the first woman to ever win the Iowa Caucuses.
New Hampshire (Republicans)
With the 2016 Iowa Caucuses completed, the action the second week of February 2016 shifted to New Hampshire. In that state, the more secular nature of the Republican population there was believed to favor Trump and Rubio over Cruz. Likewise, the more moderate Republican constituency in New Hampshire could conceivably provide a breakthrough moment for some of the second tier Republican candidates, such as Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. Of course, it was also possible that moderate Republicans in New Hampshire would shun these options, preferring to consolidate "establishment Republican" support for Rubio. It was unclear how the likes of Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina would fare, while Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul would no longer be factors, having decided to exit the race. For Cruz, the objective was clear -- he had to pull off a respectable second or third place finish and then regain momentum in the forthcoming Christian conservative southern states after New Hampshire. With fellow Christian conservatives, Huckabee and Santorum, gone from the Republican contest, it was to be seen of Cruz would be the beneficiary, or if Carson, who was also popular with the Evangelical crowd, would gain a boost. It was unclear who would benefit from libertarian Rand Paul's exit from the race.
The New Hampshire primary was finally held on Feb. 9, 2016. A poor debate performance by Rubio ahead of the New Hampshire primary, along with dogged retail politics by Kasich, and enormous advertising spending by Bush appeared to have upended the race. Trump over-performed expectations securing his first election victory, while Kasich pushed forward to second place. Cruz had pulled off a respectable third place finish in the wake of his Iowa victory, which could conceivably be understood as meeting his personal goals in New Hampshire. Bush managed to keep his candidacy alive with a fourth place finish and thus earned a ticket out of New Hampshire. Rubio, who had been riding high after his third place finish in Iowa and was being touted as the consensus "establishment candidate," had fallen precariously to fifth place due to his debate performance where he was revealed to be highly reliant on talking points. It was to be seen if the damage to Rubio was fatal. Christie, in sixth place, could not pass the 10 percent threshold needed to earn delegates and so would have to decide if his candidacy was viable. That question would also apply to poorest performing candidates -- Fiorina and Carson respectively. Not surprisingly, Christie, Fiorina, and the almost-completely ignored Gilmore, ended their respective quests for the Republican nomination.
New Hampshire (Democrats)
With the 2016 Iowa Caucuses completed, the action the second week of February 2016 shifted to New Hampshire. On the Democratic side, New Hampshire would be a two-person race between Clinton and Sanders, since Martin O'Malley had suspended his campaign following the disappointing results in the Iowa Caucuses. The open primary of New Hampshire was expected to favor Sanders on the Democratic side, with liberally leaning Independents likely to break from the senator from the neighboring state. The fact that Sanders was from a state in the same geographic region as New Hampshire was also expected to work to Sanders' benefit. Clinton herself stated that she expected the voters in New Hampshire to be "neighborly" towards Sanders and thus she had realistic expectations about the state going to her rival. Indeed, the conventional wisdom was that Clinton would put up a valiant fight in New Hampshire and reconstitute her strength in more electorally hospitable states that come after. Of note was the fact that Clinton was commanding strong support among African Americans, who would play a central role in the South Carolina primary, and among Latinos and union workers, who would play a key role in the Nevada Caucuses.
The New Hampshire primary was held on Feb. 9, 2016. The primary result in New Hampshire was in line with expectations. Sanders pulled off a convincing victory of 60 percent with Clinton just shy of 40 percent. His victory appeared to be thanks to a combination of support from younger voters and political independents. This result essentially kept the Democratic contest fully alive, with the two remaining contenders respectively banking victories, votes, and delegates in the first two races in what could well be a long primary season.
South Carolina (Republicans)
On the Republican side, the contest turned nasty ahead of the South Carolina contest. In a debate ahead of the South Carolina primary -- historically known to be a tough contest where contenders go negative -- the Republicans attacked each other with ferocity. Trump, Cruz, and Rubio accused each other of mendacity, Trump blamed Bush's brother for the 2001 terror attacks in the United States and his reliance on his famous family for propping him up in the polls. Trump also managed to find himself embroiled in a quasi-argument with Pope Francis over his plans to build a wall with Mexico -- a move the Pontiff characterized as "not Christian." It was unlikely that the differences between Trump and Pope Francis would significantly impact the race in a state with a high number of Evangelical Christians who were unlikely to be swayed by a Catholic leader's views. Only Carson and Kasich appeared to have remained above the fray -- but it was unclear if such noble stances would actually aid them with votes in South Carolina's famously hardline brand of politics. Rubio was hoping that the endorsement of popular Indo-American South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley would help advance his standing once the voting began.
On Feb. 20, 2016, Republicans finally went to the polls to vote in the South Carolina primary. Soon after the results came in, it was clear that Trump was the overwhelming winner. Assessments of Trump's performance showed that he had won statewide, and managed to attract all types of Republican voters from the deeply conservative crowd in the interior and northern ends of the state, to the more "Establishment-style" Republicans in the state's coastal areas. He was also securing the votes of Evangelical Christians, and thus cutting into Cruz's most favorable sub-group of conservatives. In fact, Trump's state-wide performance in South Carolina meant that not only did he secure the most votes but also every last delegate up for grabs. Noteworthy was the fact that most Republican contenders who won both New Hampshire and South Carolina in the past have gone on to nab the Republican nomination. It was to be seen if history would tell the tale for the future in the case of Trump.
Cruz and Rubio ended in a deadlocked position -- a virtual tie for second place, with the raw numbers putting Rubio slightly ahead of Cruz but not significantly enough to shift to percentage levels. The headline for Rubio would be that Haley's endorsement had an impact, allowing him to safely garner a position in the top tier of the remaining Republican candidates. For Cruz, the headline could not be understood as positive. South Carolina was a state tailor-made for a hardline conservative with Evangelical credentials, and his failure to either win the state or carve out an impressive second place finish was notable. It was to be seen if this was the start of the process of a crumbling southern firewall for the Texas senator. Cruz would also have to contend with a legal case before an Illinois court over his legal eligibility to be president. At issue was the fact that Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother -- circumstances generally understood to meet the criteria for constitutionally considered notions of "natural born" citizenship. However, he would have to make that case in court to remove all doubt.
Meanwhile, with Bush unable to make inroads despite his robust war chest, and even after prevailing on his famous family for assistance, he announced that he was exiting the contest for the Republican nomination. It was to be seen if Rubio would be the beneficiary in terms of support going forward, or if Kasich would take on that role. Rubio was also hoping to attract the high dollar donors that Bush had in his corner but were probably looking for another "Establishment Republican" to back. Despite his poor result in South Carolina, the assessment for Kasich was more benign since there were no expectations that his congenial style and moderate stances would resonate with South Carolina voters. Instead, the general consensus was that Kasich would likely want to remain in the race at least until the primary for his home state of Ohio, where a victory there could boost his prospects. Although Carson also saw no impressive result in South Carolina, there was no indication that he would exit the state -- and certainly not before the Nevada caucus to come days later.
On the Democratic side, polls ahead of the Nevada contest showed Clinton's strong lead precipitously eroding, and auguring a close race. In fact, there were increasing suggestions that Clinton was on a sharp decline, with Sanders poised to take-over as the new Democratic frontrunner. Some voices in the Sanders camp were even forecasting a possible win in Nevada for the insurgent Democratic Socialist. Even the Clinton campaign was signaling some sense of anxiety about Nevada, and lowering expectations with regard to the state.
The main questions posed with regard to the Nevada caucuses were as follows: Would Sanders gain momentum from his strong performance in New Hampshire, which would then propel him to victory in Nevada? Would Sanders be able to widen his support base from Independents and white youth, who were rebelling against the Democratic "Establishment" attracted to his anti-Wall Street message to penetrate core Democratic constituencies, such as women and minorities? Such a breakthrough for Sanders would mean a seismic shift in the Democratic race. On the other side of the equation, would Clinton be able to suture the proverbial bleeding from her disappointing defeat in New Hampshire, and instead re-invigorate her prospects with better performances in Nevada?
These questions were answered on Feb. 20, 2016, when Democratic voters went to caucus sites across Nevada to declare their support for their preferred candidate. At the end of the tallying process, it was Clinton who emerged as the clear winner, despite the reports that the Nevada race was a dead heat. In fact, Clinton secured a decisive victory in Nevada against Sanders, matching her six percent advantage against then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. More significantly, however, was the fact that she over-performed her victory in the delegate department. Having won a landslide victory in Clark County -- the home of Las Vegas -- she was on track to win most of the delegates at stake in Nevada. Clinton could also sigh with relief that her strong leads in key constituencies -- women, minorities, and union workers -- held steady in Nevada, with the former Secretary of State maintaining overwhelming support in these arenas.
The story was quite different for Sanders, whose support was concentrated in rural communities and among university students, thus demonstrating the limits of his candidacy. As intimated above, he was unable to break through significantly with women, minorities, and union workers. Another red flag for Sanders was the fact that despite oft-repeated claims that he was bringing new voters into the fold, in fact, voter turnout was lower than was seen in 2008 when Clinton was facing Obama.
In the days after she secured a compelling victory in Nevada, Clinton also secured the endorsement of the senior senator of that state and the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid. In a fulsome declaration of his support for Clinton during an interview with CNN, Reid said that he was "in awe of" the work he'd done with the former New York Senator during her time in the upper chamber. Sanders, it should be noted, had gained the endorsements of a handful of Democratic House Representatives but had yet to gain even one endorsement from any of his colleagues in the Senate.
The Republicans would vote in the Nevada caucus on Feb. 23, 2016. Trump's objective would be to underline his winning streak with a victory in Nevada. However, caucus states have generally been associated with retail politics, which Trump has eschewed in favor of big rallies, earned media spotlighting, and other forms of wholesale politics. Indeed, his shortcoming in this arena was highlighted by his failure to win Iowa. It was to be seen in Nevada if Trump would find the winning formula for caucus states, or, if he would provide an opening for his rivals, particularly Rubio and Cruz, who might be able to attract the conservative Latino vote in Nevada.
Going into the Nevada caucuses, Rubio had the benefit of a plethora of high-profile Republican endorsements from the likes of Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and former presidential candidate Bob Dole, and perhaps more significantly, Nevada Senator Dean Heller and Nevada Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison. Cruz, on the other hand, went into Nevada with no shortage of challenges. Faced with criticism over a misleading advertisement by his campaign, Cruz fired his main spokesman, Rick Tyler, and spent the morning of the Nevada contest why his campaign was not blighted by dishonest tactics. Eager to maximize the political damage to Cruz, Trump said via the social media outlet, Twitter, "Cruz lies like a dog." But as it turned out, neither the endorsement advantage for Rubio, nor the honesty issue deficit for Cruz, particularly influenced the outcome of the Republican Nevada Caucasus.
After a confusing caucus process with rampant irregularities reported, it was Trump who claimed a compelling victory -- essentially outperforming his closest rivals by approximately 25 percent in this highly coveted state. Those closest rivals were Rubio and Cruz who were again fighting for second place, as was the case in South Carolina, but nevertheless trailing significantly behind. In fact, the strength of Trump's victory, coupled by his distinctive delegate advantage, edged the real estate businessman and reality television celebrity more in the direction of clinching the Republican nomination. Despite the desperation felt by the Republican establishment to see a more orthodox candidate secure the nomination of the party, the fact of the matter was that Trump had now decisively won three out of four contests, and was leading in the polls is the lion's share of Super Tuesday states to come.
South Carolina (Democrats)
The Democrats would vote in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27, 2016. Armed with the highly coveted endorsement of one of the top Congressional Democrats, Representative Jim Clyburn, and boosted by a convincing Nevada victory, Clinton was looking for a big victory in South Carolina, which would test the theory that she was holding the so-called "Obama coalition" of voters together. At issue would be her ability to secure and consolidate the backing of women, African Americans, other minorities, and unions to carry the day. Her strong performance among these key groups held together in Nevada, but would tested even more aggressively in South Carolina -- the first bulwark of her "southern firewall."
For Sanders, coming off a defeat in Nevada, the goal in South Carolina, where he was not expected to fare well, was to defy expectations, attain a respectable loss, and regroup in the Super Tuesday states. Those first two objectives, however, were not to be met.
Once the votes were counted in South Carolina, it was clear that Clinton had over performed even the generous polls as she secured a landslide victory of 75 percent to Sanders with 25 percent. That 50 percent margin of victory also constituted a crushing defeat for Sanders in a state with a culturally diverse profile. In fact, Clinton appeared to have outperformed Barack Obama's margin of winning the African American voting, and even went to far as to garner close to 100 percent of the vote of older African Americans. She dominated among women of all ethnic backgrounds, and she managed to win every county in South Carolina.
In her victory speech, Clinton issued a message of inclusiveness and unity as she declared, “Today you sent a message. In America, when we stand together, there is no barrier too big to break.” To thunderous applause, she challenged Donald Trump's notions of nationhood and his nativist rhetoric, saying, “Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again, America has never stopped being great. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers."
For his part, while Sanders conceded defeat in South Carolina, he signaled he was in no hurry to exit the race. He said, "Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning. We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it’s on to Super Tuesday." But with the exception of a handful of states including his own home of Vermont, it was unclear how Sanders hopes to challenge Clinton's clear advantage in forthcoming contests.
The general consensus was that this blowout victory in South Carolina had emphatically augmented Clinton's standing as the frontrunner, ahead of the Super Tuesday states. There she was hoping to score big victories and distinguish herself as the likely Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States. Clinton's campaign appeared to be banking on that likelihood, as it telegraphed to the media that the goal for Clinton was to lock down the race in March 2016 with an "insurmountable lead of delegates," by relying on Democratic base voters. Of particular note would be the strong support she receives from women, African Americans, and Latino voters.
Super Tuesday (Republicans)
Going into the Super Tuesday states, polling data confirmed that Trump was the candidate with momentum and the clear Republican frontrunner. A nationwide CNN/ORC poll released on the eve of the Super Tuesday contests showed Trump in a dominant position with 49 percent; His closest rivals were Rubio with 16 percent and Cruz with 15 percent. Carson and Kasich were trailing far behind at 10 percent and six percent respectively. This polling result indicated that Trump was consolidating his support despite a late term attack plan by Rubio and Cruz against him.
Rubio, in particular, was advancing a concerted effort to attack Trump's character by branding the television celebrity and businessman "a con artist." Trump did himself no favors by failing in an interview to disavow any tacit endorsement from the racist enclave known as the KKK. While he later distanced himself from any association with the entity, his less than emphatic response on the first try was being pilloried by his rivals and the media. It was to be seen if Rubio's attacks as well as Trump's own error would result in a shift at the polls, or if Trump would be helped by endorsements from former rival, Chris Christie, and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. With "establishment Republicans" now insisting that Trump should not be the party's standard bearer, the endorsement from two a Republican governor and a Republican senator could only help.
Should Trump manage to weather this sudden storm of attacks on Super Tuesday by winning the lion's share of states, he would be well on his way to clinching the Republican nomination. Cruz's objective was to win Texas and thus justify his continued participation in the contest. It was to be seen if Rubio showed any signs of momentum. For the other candidates -- Carson and Kasich -- it was difficult to see their viability without some significant victory on Super Tuesday.
Ultimately, Trump was the big winner in the Super Tuesday states among the Republicans, winning most of the states up for grabs (seven in total). Cruz had a good night capturing his home state of Texas, the neighboring state of Oklahoma, and the Alaska caucuses, thus providing him with a clear rationale to remain in the race as the anti-Trump option. Rubio won the Minnesota caucus; however, the general consensus was that even though he was favored by the Republican establishment as the favored candidate, he continued to under-perform at the polls. Rubio was also failing to accumulate as many delegates as he needed to stay on the same track as Trump and Cruz. The political fates of Carson and Kasich seemed less relevant since the story coming out of the Super Tuesday states was that Trump was well on is way to securing the Republican nomination. That being said, Carson soon indicated that his path to the White House seemed impossible and would not be attending the next debate.
Actual results were to be recorded in these states at stake on March 1, 2016:
Alabama - won by Trump Alaska caucuses - won by Cruz Arkansas - won by Trump Georgia - won by Trump Massachusetts - won by Trump Minnesota caucuses - won by Rubio Oklahoma - won by Cruz Tennessee - won by Trump Texas - won by Cruz Vermont - won by Trump Virginia - won by Trump
Super Tuesday (Democrats)
Going into the Super Tuesday states, polling data confirmed that Clinton was the candidate with momentum and the Democratic frontrunner. Three polls -- CNN/ORC (55-38 percent), YouGov (55-37 percent), and Morning Consult (51-35 percent) gave her a commanding double digit lead over Sanders at the nation level. State-specific polls out of Texas, Georgia, and Virginia also gave Clinton an overwhelming lead, with positive movement being shown in Massachusetts. In fact, other than his home state of Vermont, the only states Sanders had a chance of making an impact were Oklahoma and the caucus states of Minnesota and Colorado. Without defying the odds on Super Tuesday, it was difficult to see how Sanders would have any meaningful viability as a candidate. Meanwhile, should she win the lion's share of delegate-rich states on Super Tuesday, Clinton would be well on her way to clinching the nomination and establishing herself as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Ultimately, Clinton won the lion's share of states and territories at stakes (eight in total), although Sanders also put some states in his column. Because Sanders was still raising money and won his home state of Vermont by a massive margin (+70), as well as other states by solid margins -- Oklahoma (+10), Minnesota (+15), and Colorado (+16), he would likely make the argument that he should remain in the race. The fact of the matter, though, was that he was not actually meeting his delegate targets and, as such, the actual road to the nomination was bleak. On the other side of the equation, Clinton won big in several delegate-rich states -- Alabama (+58), Arkansas (+39), Georgia (+43), Massachusetts(+2), Tennessee (+37), Texas (+34), and Virginia (+29). She also won American Samoa. Of note was the fact that Clinton outperformed her delegate targets overall, while simultaneously outperforming the polls in the southern firewall. As such, she was setting the path to secure the Democratic nomination.
Actual results were to be recorded in these states at stake on March 1, 2016:
Alabama - won by Clinton American Samoa - won by Clinton Arkansas - won by Clinton Colorado caucuses - won by Sanders Georgia - won by Clinton Massachusetts - won by Clinton Minnesota caucuses - won by Sanders Oklahoma - won by Sanders Tennessee - won by Clinton Texas - won by Clinton Vermont - won by Sanders Virginia - won by Clinton
Super Saturday and Sunday (Republicans)
Several states were contested by the Republican contenders on March 5, 2016; these included the Kansas caucuses, the Kentucky caucuses, the Maine caucuses, and the Louisiana primary. Once the votes were counted, Cruz had won the Kansas and Kentucky caucuses, while Trump had claimed victory in Maine and Louisiana. This rather surprising result with two wins each for Cruz and Trump, while shutting out Rubio and Kasich, suggested that the Republican race was settling into a two-man contest between Trump, as the frontrunner with the most delegates, and Cruz as the only viable anti-Trump option, given his healthy delegate haul.
On March 6, 2016, the Republican contest in Puerto Rico was at stake. Rubio was set for a big win in that United States territory. That being said, even with Puerto Rico to be added to Minnesota haul, Rubio remained in the same position as Kasich in having to win their home states of Florida and Ohio respectively to protect them from fading to fringe status. Carson, at this point, had already exited the race.
Super Saturday and Sunday (Democrats)
Several states were contested by the Democratic contenders on March 5, 2016; these included the Kansas caucuses, the Nebraska caucuses, and the Louisiana primary. Once the votes were counted Sanders had won the Kansas and Nebraska caucuses, and thus showing that he could do well in small caucus states with homogenous populations. Clinton claimed victory in Louisiana -- another state within her southern firewall due to its culturally diverse profile.
The Sanders campaign was pointing to these successes in the caucuses to prove that he remained a legitimate threat to Clinton. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter was that the path to the nomination required acquiring the most delegates and despite Sanders' two victories on March 5, 2016, it was Clinton who netted more delegates. In fact, by keeping the Nebraska contest close and then overwhelmingly winning Louisiana, Clinton ended that day with more delegates and consolidated her commanding lead along the path to the Democratic nomination.
On March 6, 2016, the Maine caucuses was at stake and was won by Sanders. The dynamics of the race, however, remained the same as before with Clinton retaining her significant delegate advantage.
March 9 states (Republicans)
Om March 9, 2016, Republicans were battling in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, and Hawaii. Trump effectively built on his frontrunner status by locking down solid victories in Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii. His delegate lead in relation to the other contenders was clear, positioning Trump very strongly ahead of impending contests when he could, conceivably, lock down the nomination. Cruz won Idaho, while securing respectable finishes in Michigan and Mississippi; as such, Cruz was making it clear that he was consolidating the anti-Trump vote. Armed with an endorsement from his former rival, Fiorina, Cruz was emerging as the main threat to Trump's ascendancy. With a strong finish - albeit not a victory -- in the industrial mid-west of Michigan, Kasich hoping to stay relevant until his home state of Ohio, where he hoped to pull of a win. Meanwhile, Rubio's prospects were dimming. He was trailing Trump and Cruz in the delegate fight quite significantly, and the test for him would be whether or not he could win his home state of Florida.
March 9 states (Democrats)
On Democratic side, Sanders showed that he was still in the game with a narrow shock win in Michigan, while Clinton secured a huge victory in Mississippi. At the end of the day, Clinton was walking away with significantly more delegates -- in fact, she could end up with more delegates out of Michigan despite Sanders' popular vote due to the distribution of the votes there. Sanders would not be helped by his performance in Mississippi where Clinton soundly trounced him. However, Sanders' "symbolic" victory in the industrial mid-west state of Michigan with his anti-trade message would (1) allow him to shape the media narrative going forward, and (2) could propel him to other victories in states with similar profiles, such as Missouri, Wisconsin, and Ohio. That being said, despite underperforming the polls in Michigan, Clinton's slight loss there, along with a massive victory in Mississippi, meant that she was building her store of delegates, and making it more difficult -- if not impossible -- for Sanders to catch up. Stated differently, the fundamentals of the race on the Democratic side remained the same.
March 12 (Republicans)
On March 12, 2016, Republicans voted in Washington D. C. and Wyoming. Rubio was the winner in the nation's capital while Cruz emerged with the most delegates in Wyoming.
March 12 (Democrats)
On March 12, 2016, Clinton won the Northern Mariana Islands Democratic caucuses, effectively adding to her delegate haul.
Super Tuesday, March 15 (Republicans)
A slate of significant states were on the boards for the March 15 Super Tuesday contests of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri. With both Florida and Ohio being delegate-rich "winner take all" states for the Republicans, the candidate capable of capturing them both would progress well along the path to the Republican nomination. A split win between these two states, however, could result in a scenario where no one candidate could conceivably secure enough delegates to secure the nomination. As such, both Rubio and Kasich were aiming to win their respective home states, not only in a bid to preserve their own viability, but also to deny Trump an easy path to the nomination.
Of particular note was an increasingly fractious and poisonous political climate on the Republican side, with protesters interrupting Trump rallies to register their outrage over his jingoistic and xenophobic rhetoric, as well as his tendency to incite his supporters to violence against those protesters. Faced with the reality that these events were actually damaging the mainstream image of the Republican Party, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich all seemed determined to try to post strong performances, thus splitting the vote share, as well as the delegates, effectively forcing the nomination to be decided as a contested convention in July 2016. This effort was boosted by the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who issued a scathing rebuke of Trump. But Trump was undeterred and even gained the endorsement of his former rival, Carson.
At the end of the day on March 15, 2016, once the counting was finished, despite the concerted effort to stop Trump, it was in fact the real estate magnate and reality television celebrity who won four states -- Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri. This result consolidated his position as the Republican frontrunner; however, the path to winning enough delegates to clinch the nomination was deemed to be difficult. It was more likely he would arrive at the convention in July 2016 with a plurality of delegates, and armed with an argument that he was entitled to the nomination. For his part, Kasich won his home state of Ohio, thus positioning him to continue in the race, although without a plausible path to actually winning enough delegates to win the nomination. In fact, despite not winning any states on this day, the previous delegate haul of Cruz placed him in a more favorable position to be the anti-Trump option. Rubio's grim failure to win Florida meant he was no longer a viable candidate and, as expected, he suspended his campaign. Meanwhile, Republicans began to prepare for the unprecedented event of a contested convention.
Super Tuesday, March 15 (Republicans)
A slate of significant states were on the boards for the March 15 Super Tuesday contests of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, and Missouri. Unlike the Republican case, none of these states were "winner take all" propositions in terms of delegates. As such, the goal was to run up the score in delegate-rich portions of the states so that even a narrow loss in a given state would net a significant haul of delegates. The conventional wisdom was that a strong performance in these states, with the delegate goals in mind, should Clinton hit those delegate targets, she would consolidate her standing as the presumptive Democratic nominee. However, a strong performance from Sanders in the industrial Midwest could bolster his argument to remain in the race to the end of the voting cycle.
Once the voting and vote counting was complete, the former scenario played out as expected. Hillary Clinton swept all five Super Tuesday states -- winning Florida by landslide victory, winning North Carolina by huge margins, winning Ohio (which was expected to be close) decisively, winning Illinois despite being outspent there and enduring a barrage of negative advertising, and finally, securing a narrow and shocking win in Missouri.
This result effectively established Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sanders, who was shut out of all five states, was now sidelined to Quixotic campaign. While Sanders issued a statement declaring he intended to stay in the race to the end, the delegate Math was clear and it was unlikely that the media would continue to treat him as a viable contender for the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, Clinton was expected to pivot from the primary process to the general election in her campaign style. Indeed, she was now on her way to making history as the first female presidential nominee of either party.
State of the race in mid-March 2016 --
In mid-March 2016, on the heels of the March 15, 2016, primaries, it was fair to say that the Republican establishment was concerned about "brand damage" to the party, should the frontrunner -- Trump -- become the nominee. Of concern was the strain of nativist, racially charged, misogynistic rhetoric used by Trump as well as a burst of increasingly violent rallies whereby anti-Trump protesters became embroiled in altercations with Trump supporters, and even Trump campaign staff. Cognizant that the only way to circumvent a Trump candidacy, party insiders were looking to either boost the prospects of the only other candidate who had a significant delegate haul -- Cruz. There were no illusions that Cruz could overtake Trump in terms of delegates, especially after the March 15 primaries, where Trump won four out of five, Instead, the goal was to simply cut into Trump's delegate lead and deny him the requisite 1237 delegates to clinch the nomination. Such an outcome would essentially result in a contested convention.
The 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, was explicit in noting that this was his goal as he urged Republicans to vote for Cruz in the upcoming Utah caucuses. Via the social media outlet, Facebook, Romney declared: "The only way we can reach an open convention is for Senator Cruz to be successful in as many of the remaining nominating elections as possible." That move was yielding results as polling data indicated a strong advantage for Cruz. But he would also have to do well in Arizona, which would be contested on the same day, and where Trump had the backing of anti-immigration advocate Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and where Trump's jingoistic arguments held great resonance with Republican voters.
The state of the race on the Democratic side of the equation was also marked by some degree of contestation, with insurgent candidate, Sanders, vowing to stay in the race until the time of the Democratic convention. However, Sanders' path to the nomination was extremely bleak. After Clinton swept all five of the five March 15, 2016, primary states by outperforming the polls, she was building an outstanding delegate advantage that it was almost Mathematically impossible for Sanders to overtake. Cognizant of this fact, the Sanders camp telegraphed that it was hoping to switch some super delegates who add to the total of all delegates and augment any frontrunner as they seek to arrive at the 2383 delegates needed to secure the nomination. However, given his history as an Independent senator without close ties to his colleague in Congress, and given his expressed antipathy to the Democratic establishment, it was unclear what argument a losing candidate could give to super delegates that would persuade them to switch their allegiance from Clinton to him.
Clinton was also helped by another act of tacit approval from President Obama, who during a meeting with Democratic donors said that Sanders' campaign was coming to an end and it was now time to rally around Clinton. While the White House pushed back on the New York Times article that reported this story by noting that there was no endorsement made, it stopped short of denying the actual content of the president's message.
Western Tuesday, March 22, 2016, primaries
The spotlight was on the western United States on March 22, 2016, as Republicans and Democrats voted in Utah and Arizona, and as Democrats held their Idaho caucus. On the Republican side, backed by support from 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, Cruz posted a convincing victory in Utah, denying Trump a win in this state while adding to his delegate count. On the Democratic side, Sanders won huge majorities of votes -- and delegates -- in Utah and in Idaho, which his campaign argued justified his continuing presence in the race. Both Democrats and Republicans were voting in the Arizona primary on March 22, 2016. In keeping with expectations, Trump's anti-immigration message and support from anti-immigration activists yielded results and he was able to win big here. On the Democratic side, despite being outspent by Sanders, Clinton was able to post a significant victory here and effectively erase any gains made by Sanders in Utah and Idaho. As such, Trump and Clinton continued to hold onto their vote total and delegate leads, along with their respective frontrunner statuses.
Democratic Caucuses Saturday, March 26, 2016
Democrats voted in caucuses in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. With the caucus structure favoring Sanders' committed enthused younger voters, it was not surprising that he won all three and added to his delegate count. However, even with her losses in these three states, Clinton also gained delegates and retained her significant lead overall.
Political dynamics at the end of March 2016 --
Among the Republicans, Trump continued to be the frontrunner, although Cruz was starting to consolidate the anti-Trump support. Should Cruz continue to do so, it was fairly clear that no candidate would have the requisite 1237 delegates to secure the Republican nomination. The race would thus be set for a contested convention. With all three remaining candidates essentially walking away from a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, regardless of whom that might be, it was clear that tensions were high.
The battle lines between Trump and Cruz took on a tabloid quality as the two men became ensconced in a feud over their wives. Meanwhile, rumors about Cruz' fidelity surfaced, which only served to heighten the sensationalist aspect of the race, even though Cruz himself denied the claims published in the National Inquirer. Trump had his own problems as his campaign manager was charged in relation to a simple battery case involving a reporter, and as he delivered controversial remarks about downgrading NATO, seeing countries like South Korea nuclear armed to combat their neighbors, and punishing women for having abortions. It was to be seen if these developments would have any effect on the standing of the Republican candidates.
On the Democratic side of the equation, Sanders was emboldened by his string of victories in three western caucus states and thus insisted his campaign had "momentum" as well as a "path toward victory" over Clinton. Indeed, in an interview with ABC News, he even said, "We are going to win this nomination process." However, the reality was that despite those losses in three states, Clinton had such a significant pledged delegate lead already in her, which would grow further following the April primaries, and the favor of super delegates , that she could be understood as the de fact presumptive Democratic nominee. With an eye on changing this reality, Sanders was urging super delegates in states that voted for him to switch their allegiance from Clinton to him. However, Clinton retained the favor of most of these loyal Democrats, who would not overturn the will of the majority of Democrats voting in the primaries. To that end, in addition to the delegate lead, Clinton was also leading handily in the popular vote. Thus the state of the race remained the same.
Wisconsin April 5; Wyoming and Colorado April 9 --
Wisconsin with its proportional delegate divisions were available to the contenders on the Republican and Democratic side of the divide respectively on April 5, 2016.
Among Republicans, the objective was for Cruz to win Wisconsin, thus denying Trump a victory, and possibly facilitating the possibility of a contested convention in Cleveland. That goal was met with Cruz winning the Badger State; for his part, Trump was looking to New York where he could regroup and grab control of the political narrative once again. There was some shift in the state of the race with national polls showing Cruz moving into a tie with Trump. While it was still unclear if that would translate into a race all the way to the convention was to be seen. At the very least, it indicated that Trump's frontrunner status was eroding to some degree.
An internal war was brewing in the Republican Party during the Colorado convention when Cruz walked away with all the delegates there, essentially upending the will of the voters. Although this result was legal under state rules, Trump accused the Republican Party of "rigging" the system.
Among Democrats, the demographics favored Sanders, who was looking for his own victory there and thus an argument to stay in the race all the way until the convention in Philadelphia. As expected, Sanders won the state; however, because of Clinton's delegate lead and the fact that she still walked out of Wisconsin with a reasonable delegate haul, the advantage remained with her. Sanders also won the Wyoming caucus days later; however, he did not do so by landslide results and so Clinton was able to leave Wyoming with only a few less delegates than Sanders/
National polls continued to give Clinton a strong lead over Sanders, who already had a commanding popular vote lead and a delegate lead. With favorable states yet to come, Clinton was maintaining her frontrunner status despite some state victories for Sanders.
A New York State of Mind (April 19)
Republicans and Democrats were looking to the marquis prize of New York on April 19, 2016.
On the Republican side of the political aisle, Trump was, at this time, in an internecine war with the Republican Party, which was making it clear that it sought to derail his prospects and force him to a contested convention where the nomination would go to someone else. For his part, though, Trump was hoping to win his home state in a big way and underline the fact that he had the lion's share of votes. The fact was that there was a process in play that could deny him the delegates needed to clinch the nomination, regardless of the votes.
Among the Democrats, Clinton, who represented the state of New York as senator, was looking to make a stand there, against an increasingly combative Sanders who cast her as "unqualified" to be president. That claim was somewhat upended by respective interviews by the New York Daily News that revealed Sanders to be unprepared to address some of his own core causes such as Wall Street reform, and stood in contrast to Clinton's command of a myriad of issues.
President Barack Obama entered the fray without issuing an actual endorsement of his former Secretary of State as he said, "I want young girls and boys to come here, 10, 20, 100 years from now to know that women fought for equality, it was not just given to them. I want them to be astonished that there was ever a time when women were vastly outnumbered in the board room or in Congress. That there was ever a time when a woman had never sat in the Oval Office."
On the eve of the New York primary, the Sanders campaign was railing against the fact that many Independent voters would not be allowed to vote in the Democratic primary in New York due to its strict registration process and the control over the voting rolls. The fact of the matter, though, was that the deadlines for registration for the Democratic Party in New York have long been in place. Still the issue served only to heighten the Sanders' voting base's anger against the political establishment.
Also of note was an increasingly virulent strain from Sanders supporters against Clinton, for raising money for down ballot Democrats. While they viewed such financial moves as inherently objectionable due to their anti-Establishment inclinations, the fact of the matter was the Democratic Party would be the beneficiary. In that respect, the Democratic contest was not unlike the Republican one with its dividing line among insurgent anti-Establishment candidates fighting for the nomination against the politically classic candidate(s).
It was to be seen if these developments would affect the voters' views and preferences on primary day in New York. To that end, once the votes were counted on April 19, 2016, Trump and Clinton had secured landslide victories in their shared home state.
Trump's victory was a validation of sorts not just in terms of popular vote, and delegate count, but also "morally" as he emerged from the rising tide of criticism as the victor. Still, his overwhelming New York victory would help him capture many more delegates, possibly allowing him to avoid a contested convention. Significantly, should Trump maintain a vote total above 50 percent statewide and in each of the state's congressional districts, he could win all of New York's delegates. Meanwhile, Cruz's poor performance in New York meant that he would not likely be able to overtake Trump ahead of the convention, while Kasich continued to play the spoiler role. Short of upheaval at the convention, Trump after New York was on track to being the presumptive Republican nominee. In his victory speech, Trump said, "We don't have much of a race anymore based on what I'm seeing on television. We are really, really rocking."
On the other side of the political aisle, with the Sanders campaign telegraphing an upset of sorts, with Sanders himself suggesting that Clinton was "getting nervous" and predicting that he would do "very well" in New York, and with his advisers promising to take their fight "all the way to the convention," Clinton's strong performance was both a rebuke to them and a triumph in her own right. In fact, an examination of the votes showed that she had won across the state of New York, over-performing in places such as Manhattan and the Bronx, but also winning all demographic groups, including white men who were normally Sanders' strength. In her victory speech from New York, Clinton advanced a tone of confidence as she declared, "We started this race not far from here on Roosevelt Island. And tonight, a little less than a year later, the race for the Democratic nomination is in the homestretch and victory is in sight."
Atlantic States (April 26, 2016)
The action moved to the eastern seaboard on April 26, 2016, with Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island at stake.
Ahead of this primary, Cruz and Kasich entered a pact of sorts, aimed at denying Trump the needed delegates to clinch the nomination . That pact meant that Cruz would contest Indiana without challenge from Kasich, while kasich would target Oregon and New Mexico without interference from Cruz. The plan, however, was reinforcing Trump's assertion that the establishment Republicans had rigged the system with an eye on denying him the nomination. It was to be seen if the entire matter would impact the race.
Meanwhile, Sanders was outspending Clinton at a rate of 3-1; his aim was to deny Clinton any big wins and perhaps pull of some shock victories of his own.
On April 26, 2016, once the votes were tallied, it was evident that the two frontrunners -- Trump and Clinton -- were on cruise control to victory.
On the Republican end of things, Trump swept the eastern seaboard with landslide wins in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. His margin of victor was so extensive -- in fact, outperforming the polls -- that it was now Mathematically impossible for Cruz and Kasich to catch Trump. Instead, they were reliant on contested convention for any chance to remain viable. Nevertheless, Cruz was advancing the winner aura as his campaign leaked suggestions that he was vetting Carly Fiorina for vice president.
On the Democratic side, Clinton captured decisive victories in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut. Although Sanders won Rhode Island, the distribution of delegates meant that he only netted two delegates more than Clinton in that state. At the same time, Clinton enjoyed blowout victories in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware. As well, although Clinton had a closer race in Connecticut, she still secured a solid victory in that state. The upshot of it was that Clinton outperformed her delegate targets, essentially walking out of all five states with a massive delegate advantage, this ensuring hat Sanders had almost no chance of catching her. In fact, Clinton was 90 percent of the way to securing enough delegates to clinch the nomination.
Indiana (May 3, 2016); West Virginia (May 10, 2016)
All eyes were on Indiana at the start of May 2016, and then West Virginia a week later on May 10, 2016.
Ahead of the Indiana contest, Cruz attempted to gain traction for his candidacy as the anti-Trump option, To this end, he announced that Carly Fiorina would be his running mate, should he become the Republican nominee. The move was a gamble of sorts, but was soon overshadowed by a fierce and highly personalized rhetorical battle between Trump and Cruz. At the end of the proverbial day, the battle was settled at the ballot box with a landslide victory for Trump. As a consequence, Cruz finally admitted he had no path to the nomination and exited the race. Kasich followed suit the next day. The Republican National Committee wasted no time in announcing that Trump was now the party's presumptive nominee.
The West Virginia contest was obviously more of a ratification exercise for Trump who had already been recognized as the presumptive nominee. Nevertheless, his position was reified by the voters of West Virginia who gave him a resounding victory. Trump's attention at this point was no longer on gaining the support of the Republican base, which was clearly on his side, but with the Republican establishment and his Democratic rivals.
To this end, the Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, refused to immediately endorse Trump, spurring a high level meeting aimed at rapprochement on May 12, 2016. Meanwhile, the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, attacked Trump for not releasing his tax returns and suggesting questionable financial findings. Trump insisted he was not releasing his returns due to prevailing audit even though the Internal Revenue Service noted that there was no reason for the Republican presumptive nominee not to release his tax returns. For his part, Trump was directing his fire at the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, by accusing her of "enabling" her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in his extramarital affairs. He also hit Clinton with a harsh attack advertisement for her handling of the Benghazi attack.
On the Democratic side, polls showed a close Indiana race; however, the demography of Indiana was reminiscent of Michigan with white working class workers concerned with trade, and also included an open primary where Independents could enter the race. These conditions favored Sanders and suggested a close finish. Not surprisingly, Sanders was able to pull off a narrow victory here ahead of Clinton at the popular vote level. Clinton's performance across the state, though, meant that the delegates were almost evenly split with Sanders only netting only a handful of delegates more.
The West Virginia contest transpired as expected with a big win for Sanders in a state with a favorable demographic profile -- specifically, in the form of a predominantly white working class population. As the inheritor of the Obama coalition, Clinton was expected to do poorly in this state. Clinton's policy stance in 2016 against coal also likely worked against her in a state trying to preserve this industry even as climate change technological changes were moving energy production in new directions. Thus, Sanders enjoyed a big win in West Virginia, although he netted only seven more delegates than Clinton, essentially leaving the dynamics in place as before.
Kentucky and Oregon (May 17, 2016)
As the presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency, Trump was trying to consolidate power over party while striking against Clinton. While he was no longer faced with opposition from within the party, his challenges were coming through the vetting process. The Washington Post and The New York Times both published stories detailing Trump's treatment of women, while another story circulated about Trump masquerading as his own publicist in the 1990s under the pseudonyms, "John Miller" or "John Barron," during calls with media.
For her part, Clinton won the state of Kentucky and continued on track to becoming the Democratic presumptive nominee for the presidency due to her delegate advantage. Sanders won Oregon but was in no better a position than before. Nevertheless, he continued to attack Clinton and Democratic Establishment despite having no viable path to victory.
The attention on the Democratic side, though, was not on either Kentucky or Oregon despite voting on that day. Instead, it was on the disturbing events that transpired at the Nevada state convention the day before when Sanders' delegates reacted by throwing chairs and shouting down Democratic leaders. At issue was the fact that Clinton, who won the state of Nevada in February 2016 in terms of votes, also won the most delegates on this day. Some Sanders supporters went so far as to issue death threats to the state chairperson, thus spurring both the state party and the national DNC to issue rebukes.
In so far as the state of the race was concerned, Clinton continued to sport an overwhelming delegate lead, and tracked closer to clinching the Democratic nomination. Despite Sanders' desperate declaration that the race was far from over and might be settled at the convention, the fact of the matter was that he could win every remaining contest and still not have enough delegates to catch up to Clinton. For her part, Clinton was no longer spending extensively in the remaining states, instead looking to the general election contest against Trump as the priority. She was also sidestepping Trump's personal attacks as she focused on issues in his campaign events. However, Sanders' continued presence in the race was preventing party unity from actually transpiring, and ensuring that a heated battle would continue on the Democratic side until June 2016.
Virgin Islands (June 4), Puerto Rico (June 5)
The Virgin Islands would vote on June 4, 2016. and Puerto Rico on June 5, 2016.
On June 4, 2016, Clinton won the primary vote overwhelmingly in the Virgin Islands. On June 5, 2016, Clinton won a massive landslide victory in the Puerto Rico primary. In fact, her margins were so significant, she was now less than 50 delegates from clinching the Democratic nomination ahead of the final Super Tuesday contest.
New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and California (June 7)
The final Super Tuesday of the primary season was set for June 7, 2016, with contests to be held in New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and California.
With Trump having secured the Republican nomination, all the action was on the Democratic side. In truth, despite Sanders' focus on California, and his campaign's insistence that a victory in that state could be the game changer it sought, the contest would be over once the polls closed in New Jersey. To that end, Clinton was expected to secure a landslide victory in that state, thus securing enough pledged delegates to ensure that, in conjunction with her already committed super delegates, she would clinch the Democratic nomination. In this way, even if Sanders were to win California, the outcome of the primary contest would remain the same -- with Clinton becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee. Clinton could be helped by the endorsement of California Governor Jerry Brown.
Perhaps unwilling to concede the inevitable outcome to the Democratic contest, and even though President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both tacitly implied the race was almost over, Sanders continued to telegraph incalcitrance. He insisted that he had a path to victory with a possible win in California and the opportunity to flip committed super delegates at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016. In truth, however, such a possibility was to be understood as little more than fantasy. Nevertheless, in an interview on ABC News, Sanders claimed that he would fare better than Clinton in a general election race against Trump. and that the American people should not have to choose between "the lesser of two evils" in the Nov. 8 election -- a clear disparagement of Clinton. Sanders was also lobbying for a debate with Trump -- presumably as an act of theatre to show how a Trump versus Sanders contest would look, bolstering his claim that he was the more electable Democratic option, and perhaps earning some support from superdelegates as a result. But Trump dismissed this option noting that he would not be debating the second place winner of the Democratic race.
On June 7, 2016, voters in the Democratic Party voted in the final Super Tuesday of the 2016 election season. Clinton won the three big prizes -- New Jersey, New Mexico, and California -- by impressive margins, and thus, significantly augmented her delegate advantage. Whereas her landslide victory in New Jersey was expected, her decisive victory in California was regarded by some in the media as a shock since they had been telegraphing a close race. In truth, the polling data aways showed Clinton with the advantage there although Sanders insisted he would win that state. At the end of the day, though, Clinton outperformed the polls, particularly in areas with Latino voters.
In this way, Clinton secured enough delegates to become the presumptive Democratic nominee; she also made history as the first woman to be the standard bearer of either of the two major political parties in the United States.
It should be noted that a day earlier, on June 6, 2016, with the commitments of several Superdelegates, the Associated Press announced that its count now showed Clinton crossing the required threshold of 2383 delegates, and had received enough delegates to become the Democratic nominee. Even before voters cast ballots in key states of New Jersey and California, Hillary Clinton had become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.
As noted above, Hillary Clinton had made history becoming the first woman to stand as the nominee of either of the two major political parties in the United States. For the Democratic Party, coming after the nomination of the first African American as the party's standard bearer in 2008, the nomination of the first woman to that post indicated the party's evolution into a "big tent" entity with woman and minorities in a powerful demographic coalition.
Sanders continued to insist on a contested convention despite having no viable path to victory; he was also looking to influence the Democratic platform. While Sanders continued to suggest he had a chance to win and would take his demand to be the nominee to the Democratic convention, President Barack Obama telegraphed he would waste no time in endorsing the woman he beat in 2008 but who soon became a trusted close adviser in his administration.
Meanwhile, as presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency, Trump consolidated his power over party while striking against Clinton, and defending controversial and racially charged remarks about a Hispanic judge.
Washington DC (June 14)
In June 2016, the stage was set for Trump versus Clinton general election match-up. But before a final movement to the general election, there was still voting taking place on the Democratic side. The final showdown would be in the nation's capital - Washington DC. Clinton, now the Democrats' presumptive nominee, capped off her victories by securing a massive landslide win here.
Perhaps aware that the Democratic contest was at a close and that he was not the winner, Sanders announced that he would meet with Clinton on the night of June 14, 2016, It was unknown what shape that meeting would take; however, the general consensus was that perhaps it was in the direction of reconciliation so that attention could be redirected towards Trump for the general election.
For her part, Clinton had already turned her attention to the general election, using a foreign policy speech to attack Trump on his temperament and general unsuitability to be president.
The General Election
The general consensus in the late spring of 2016 was that Trump and Clinton could be understood as the presumptive nominees of their respective parties. To that end, the stage was now set for a "Trump versus Clinton" general election match-up. Clinton delivered a hard hitting foreign policy speech presaging what might come in that general election by disparaging Trump's statements for their lack of knowledge and good judgement, warning against in temperament, and making the case -- in her view -- for his unfitness to be president.
Polling data showed a competitive contest between Trump and Clinton in the general election in May 2016. This trend indicated that Republicans were coalescing support, however reluctantly, around Trump. Quite possibly, it was also because Clinton was still ensconced in the primary against Sanders and had not yet consolidated support of the anti-Trump vote. But at the start of June 2016, there was some movement, and now, polling data indicated that the advantage resided with Clinton. Polling data showed Clinton by mid-June 2016 starting to hold a consistent and heathy lead over Trump. Its sustainability was to be determined.
Trump would not be helped by the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who made it clear he would not vote for Trump, arguing that the real estate businessman and reality star would usher in "trickle down racism." Of course, it was unlikely that Romney's non-endorsement would actually influence the voting predilections of the Republican base, which had rewarded Trump with its collective seal of approval at the ballot box.
Clinton would be helped by no shortage of Democratic stars ranging from her own husband, former President Bill Clinton, the current commander in chief, President Barack Obama, and the popular senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, who offered fulsome praise in an endorsement of Clinton, while launching no shortage of barbed attacks against Trump. Of particular note was President Obama's stance that he was "fired up" to campaign for Clinton. In a video that was released on social media, President Obama said, "I don't think there's ever been someone so qualified to hold this office. I'm with her. I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Hillary." For her part, the presumptive Democratic nominee said it "means the world" to her that the president was offering strong support. In an interview with Reuters, she said, "It is absolutely a joy and an honor that President Obama and I over the years have gone from fierce competitors to true friends."
On the other side of the partisan aisle Clinton's general election rival had a different view. Trump said of President Obama's endorsement of Clinton, "He wants four more years of Obama—but nobody else does!”
Concerns by Republican politicians in mid-June 2016 increased over Trump's rhetoric regarding a Mexican-American judge, as well as a renewed his call for a ban on Muslim immigration following a massacre at a nightclub. Most went so far as to distance themselves from Trump while at the same time admitting that they nonetheless backed the "Republican nominee." Still, there was some establishment Republican relief in the third week of June 2016 when Trump fired his controversial campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. There were high hopes among Republicans that the shakeup signaled a pivot from primary shenanigans to a more sober general election posture.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, Sanders gave a non-concession video address in which he vowed to assist in defeating Trump yet remained in the race, and vowed to take his demands to the Democratic convention. Clinton, during this period, continued her attacks on Trump by denouncing his racially charged rhetoric, and building on her foreign policy critique of the Republican nominee with one on the economy.
At the start of July 2016, Trump was dealing with criticism over his campaign's alleged use of anti-Semitic imagery in an advertisement aimed at hitting Clinton. On the other side of the equation, the FBI cleared Clinton of wrongdoing in a classified email case dating back to her tenure as secretary of state. However, Republicans refused to accept these findings. Clinton was nevertheless helped by a highly anticipated endorsement by Sanders, who in mid-july 2016 appeared to have come to terms with the reality of the Democratic contest. There were high hopes that party unity would work to her benefit.
In mid-July 2016, the public sphere was alert to an impending announcement of whom Trump would choose for a running mate ahead of the Republican National Convention. To that end, the short list was believed to contain Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Trump announced that he had chosen the conservative Pence to be his running mate.
At the Republican National Convention, the first night featured Trump's spouse Melania Trump, as she made her foray onto the national stage. Her speech was well received until the reporter, Jarrett Hill, broke the story that key components -- which Melania Trump claimed she wrote -- were very likely plagiarized from First Lady Michelle Obama. On the third night of the convention, New Jersey Governor Christie carried out a mock prosecution of Clinton on the basis of a classified emails investigation that was closed by the FBI. Christie's long list of accusations against Clinton was met with loud shouts of "lock her up" from Republican delegates in the hall. Another highlight of the convention involved a speech by Trump's former primary rival, Ted Cruz. But rather than endorse Trump, Cruz urged voters to "vote their conscience" -- a call that evoked outrage from Republican delegates.
On the final night of the Republican convention, Trump accepted his party's nomination in a major 75-minute long speech in which he cast his rival as having a legacy of "death, destruction, terrorism and weakness." He also cast the United States as a nation in decline, eroding from illegal immigrants, at risk from Islamic State, under threat of race-linked violence, and beleaguered by unfair trade deals. Trump's promise was that only he could fix these problems. To this end, he declared, "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."
It should be noted that Trump enjoyed a small post-convention bounce moving up in the polls and even enjoying a lead in some surveys.
On July 22, 2016, ahead of the Democratic National Convention, Clinton chose Virginia Senator Tim Kaine to become the her running mate. Cast as a moderate but with a progressive voting record, Kaine appeared geared to expanding Clinton's lead and attracting centrist and moderate voters in the general election.
Over the course of the ensuing week, Democrats in Philadelphia met to nominate Clinton as their standard bearer . The occasion was punctuated by speeches involving Democratic stars, including her former rival, Bernie Sanders who endorsed her, incumbent Vice President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton and the possible future first husband. Also on the agenda was President Barack Obama who issued a passionate call for supporters to send Hillary Clinton to the White House. Indeed, he enthusiastically emphasized the fact that no man or woman has ever been more qualified fas Clinton to serve as president.
For her part, Clinton accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president, declaring, "It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we will all work together so we can all rise together." Drawing a sharp contrast with her general election rival, Trump, Clinton also said, “We will not build a wall.Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one. And we’ll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy. We will not ban a religion, we will work with all Americans and our allies to fight and defeat terrorism.”
Earlier, ahead of the start of the Democrats' gathering, attention was redirected to an email leak scandal revealed by Wikileaks. At issue were emails at the Democratic National Committee indicating that stalwarts of Clinton experienced real animosity to Sanders.Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, suggested that "Russian state actors" may have been behind the leak, with an eye on fomenting intra-party animosity and advancing the prospects for Trump, who has said he would improve ties with Russia, In an interview with CNN, Mook said that he did not "think it's coincidental" that the emails were released "on the eve" of the Democratic National Convention. One result of the leaked email scandal, the DNC chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, responded to mounting pressure by saying she was resigning from her post.
Meanwhile, Clinton herself echoed Mook in accusing Russian Intelligence Services of hacking into the DNC computers, saying in an interview with Fox News at the end of July 2016, "We know that Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC and we know that they arranged for a lot of those e-mails to be released and we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin."
Trump did little to dispel the notion of a Putin connection when he urged Russia to commit a cybersecurity breach in order to find and release the deleted private emails Clinton. At issue was a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Clinton's use of a private email and server system being used when she served as Secretary of State. In a media availability with journalists, Trump said, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."
Trump repeated the call via the social media outlet, Twitter, as he tweeted that if anyone had Clinton's emails, "perhaps they should share them with the FBI!"
Clinton campaign manager, Mook, reacted by noting, "This is a national security issue now." He additionally fleshed out the international intervention aspect as he said, "The idea that you would have any American calling for a foreign power to commit espionage in the United States for the purposes of somehow changing an election, we're now in national security space."
The White House election entered the fray, warning that Trump's call to commit espionage posed a national security threat. As well, President Obama himself acknowledged in an interview with NBC News that Russia was quite possibly the hacking operation, as he said, "Anything is possible." President Obama also said, "I know that experts have attributed this to the Russians." He added, "What we do know is that the Russians hack our systems, not just government systems but private systems. What the motives were in terms of the leaks, I can't say directly." President Obama also took the opportunity to point out the fact that Trump's affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin as he said that Trump had "repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin." The United States leader explained, "I'm basing this on what Trump himself has said, and I think Trump's gotten pretty favorable coverage back in Russia."
The post-convention climate was characterized by further controversy when Trump became embroiled in a scandal involving a gold star Muslim family featured at the Democratic National Convention. At issue was the appearance of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani-American parents of fallen Army Captain Humayun Khan, at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. Mr. Khan criticized Trump for proposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, noting that it was unconstitutional. Trump reacted by attacking the family and spurring a public relations firestorm that only increased when other Muslim families of fallen soldiers entered the equation and expressed outrage.
Meanwhile, there was some intra-party hostility brewing when Trump initially refused to endorse both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain in their coming primary contests. While party insiders were eventually able to coax Trump into reversing course, the issue suggested that tensions with the Republican establishment.
Note that at the start of August 2016, polling data indicated that Clinton had received a significant post-Convention bounce and was sporing healthy leads against Trump in a number of mainstream polling surveys. It was to be seen if that lead was sustainable or if it would subside and the race returned to a competitive baseline.
Clinton's advantage was augmented when several prominent American national security experts backed her candidacy for president and commander in chief. Most notably , the former acting head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael Morell, cast Trump as an "unwitting agent" of Russia and urged voters to support Clinton instead. This scathing rebuke of Trump and his capacity to be commander in chief was made clear when Morell said, "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation." Morell's vociferous distaste for Trump was echoed by 50 top Republican national security professionals and trade representatives who issued a joint declaration making clear the following: "None of Us Will Vote for Donald Trump."
For its part, the Trump campaign reacted to this constellation of negative feedback by redirecting attention to Clinton's role in the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. The Trump campaign also dismissed the assessments by these individuals casting them as part of the "failed Washington elite." More importantly, the campaign aimed for a "reset" of sorts by concentrating on the issues as Trump delivered a robust economic address, replete with conservative and market-friendly ideas, before the Detroit Economic Club.
Whatever positive feedback Trump hoped to garner from his economic address was mitigated by Trump's apparent call for a "second amendment solution" to a possible Clinton presidency. While the campaign tried to walk Trump's remarks back by denying they were a call for assassination or insurrection, the political damage was done. Trump's precise words at stake were as follows, "If (Hillary Clinton) gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know."
For her part, Clinton was being criticized in the media for mischaracterizing FBI Director Comey's assessment of her email use following a federal probe into that matter. She was also facing questions about whether she used her position at the State Department to advance the interests of the Clinton Foundation.
A week later, Clinton, along with her running mate, Kaine, were placing pressure on Trump by releasing their tax returns. For her part, Clinton, along with her husband former President Clinton, earned $10.75 million in 2015, and paid 34.2 percent federal tax rate - reflective of one of the highest tax brackets. Meanwhile, Trump continued to refuse to release his tax returns -- a normal procedure in any presidential contender's effort to provide transparency as he/she seeks the highest office. Trump has said his lawyers advised him not to disclose his returns due to an audit by the Internal Revenue Service; however that entity has noted that there would be no obstacle to Trump's release of his tax records. As well, speculation ran rampant that unlike the Clintons, Trump likely paid little taxes, if any, due to the tax structure that offers deductions for real estate. Gleefully seizing the political opportunity offered by this scenario, the Clinton campaign said via Twitter, "Your move."
Trump spurred outrage when he referred to President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee, Clinton, as the "co-founders" of Islamic State, and asserting that they were responsible for the rise of the terror group. In truth, Islamic State's evolution pre-dated President Obama's tenure in power, therefore rendering Trump's claim impotent and unable to withstand scrutiny. However, the hyperbolic and fact-challenged nature of Trump's suggestion added to prevailing view that his lack of restraint and discipline reflected the wrong type of temperament for the presidency.
As noted by Clinton's senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, in a statement: "This is another example of Donald Trump trash-talking the United States." He added, "What's remarkable about Trump's comments is that once again, he's echoing the talking points of Putin and our adversaries to attack American leaders and American interests, while failing to offer any serious plans to confront terrorism or make this country more secure."
Meanwhile, national security experts continued to pillory not only Trump's lack of message discipline and intemperance, but also critiqued an anti-terrorism speech given on Aug. 15, 2016, casting it as incoherent, contradictory, and even contrary to the Constitution and international law.
By the third week of August 2016, Trump's campaign was enduring an overhaul when Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort resigned amidst allegations on improper lobbying ties to a foreign government. There was no suggestion from the trump campaign than Manafort's resignation was actually linked to his pro-Russian Kremlin ties or lobbying for the former Putinist Yanukovych regime in Ukraine. However, that issue was brewing in the background. Meanwhile, as a nod to the establishment wing of the GOP, Trump hired Kellyanne Conway to manage his campaign. But he also hired the head of the alternative right wing entity Breitbart, Steve Bannon, as the chief executive of his campaign -- an anxiety-provoking decision for some, given Bannon's nativist and ultra-nationalist inclinations.
With the Beltway media of Washington DC eager for a Trump "reset," Trump took advantage of the opportunity offered to go after Clinton, suggesting that she had health problems and calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton Foundation, alleging that there was some sort of personally enriching "pay to play' scheme at stake that benefited Clinton while she was secretary of state. the Clinton campaign reacted by calling for Trump to release his tax returns rather than make salacious allegations.
In the background of these developments was Trump's new addition to his stump speech when he was addressing a rally. To this end, Trump had taken to urging minorities to vote for him, while noting that their living conditions were so bad, they had "nothing to lose." While some critics questioned the utility of this type of outreach to minorities, others noted that the intended address was not minority voters at all. Instead, Trump was trying to shore up his white base of support who would see his words as a sign that he was interested in the plight of non-white voters. It was to be seen is this calculation would actually pay political dividends for Trump.
Making political hay of Trump's infamous pitch of black voters specifically, Clinton ran an advertisement showing Trump asking the question, "What do you have to lose?"and answering that question with headlines of a racial discrimination lawsuit faced by Trump in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, in an interview with MSNBC, Clinton blasted Trump, saying, "I am reaching out to everyone, Republicans, Democrats, independents, everyone who is as troubled as I am by the bigotry and divisiveness of Donald Trump's campaign." She then called on "fair-minded Americans to repudiate this kind of divisive demagoguery" at the ballot box.
For his part, Trump issued his own footage of Clinton in the 1990s discussing the crime bill of the day, where she referenced "super-predators." Because the crime bill has been linked to the high incarceration rate of African-Americans, Trump was eager to remind voters of Clinton's statement from the 1990s and thus erode her strong base of black support. Since that time, Trump was hammering the message that Democrats had done nothing for minorities and he was offering a fresh opportunity. Indeed, he went so far as to refer to the Democratic Party as "the party of slavery." It was to be seen if his message would be received.
At the close of August 2016, Trump traveled to Mexico to meet with that country's president Enrique Pena Nieto ahead of a highly anticipated immigration speech. During his trip to Mexico, Trump did not address the centerpiece of his immigration policy -- the wall separating the United States and Mexico, and specifically, his demand that Mexico pay for it. For his part, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto joined Trump for a joint news conference in Mexico; however, he later cast Trump's demand that Mexico pay for the wall separating their two countries as "outrageous."
Following his Mexico trip, Trump outlined his immigration policy, which largely held in place his hardline policies from deporting every illegal alien/undocumented immigrant and building the aforementioned wall to suspending visas to immigrants from countries where security screening was deemed inadequate. Also on the agenda was a general limiting of immigration to people who would be self-sufficient financially.
Clinton was meanwhile continuing to face questions about the Clinton Foundation while dismissing the allegations about that entity and the ongoing email saga. She also brought in a massive haul of more than $140 million in donations. Her campaign was hoping that the cash advantage could hold her in good stead. It was to be seen if the calculation to concentrate on fundraising while not outright addressing the claims of scandal against her would be to her advantage.
At the start of September 2016, the presidential race was in high gear with Trump rallying sufficiently to keep the contest competitive. Trump was helped by ongoing criticism of the Clinton Foundation, and later, when Clinton referred to half his base of supporters as belonging in a "basket of deplorables" due to their xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, and bigoted views. The veracity of Clinton's statement notwithstanding, Trump was able to pillory Clinton on her critique of his supporters, whom he cast as basic hard working Americans. In fact, this issue appeared to have obfuscated some of Trump's own problematic remarks about African Americans living hellish lives and having nothing to lose. Still, Trump was facing some degree of fire for repeating the false claim that he was always against the Iraq war even though he was heard on the radio taking the opposite view. Also problematic for Trump was his foray onto a Russian propaganda media station where he denied claims that the Russians were responsible for hacking sensitive political databases in the United States, while also asserting that the United States military was reduced to "rubble." For her part, Clinton was taking fire for the aforementioned "deplorable" comment before being struck by a bout of pneumonia and then being subject to accusations of secrecy over it.
Note: As August 2016 entered its final week, most polls showed Clinton running ahead of Trump in national surveys and wining battleground states. But by the start of September 2016, Trump was closing the gap -- at least at the national level. Clinton still held the edge in battleground states, with a more promising chance of winning the electoral college.
Ukraine investigating charges of corruption involving top Trump Adviser
In mid-August 2016, the New York Times -- in a bombshell story -- reported that handwritten ledgers were found in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev that linked Paul Manafort, the chairman of Republican Donald Trump's presidential campaign, to more than $12 million in undisclosed cash payments.
The payments in the so-called "black ledger" appeared to have been dispatched during a period when Manafort served as an adviser to the government of the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The documents also seemed to link Manafort with the Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. There was also a dubious connection involving the purchase of Ukrainian cable television assets.
As such, Ukraine's National Anti-corruption Bureau was investigating the ledgers to see if they constituted evidence of corruption within the former Yanukovych regime. Of note was the fact that Yanukovych was considered a stalwart of the Russian Kremlin.
By the third week of August 2016, a Ukrainian member of parliament, Serhiy Leshchenko, indicated that payments to Manafort were made by the Party of Regions -- the political party of Yanukovych. According to Leshchenko, the payments to Manafort were geared towards financing technological equipment, research services, and election polling.
During a news conference, Leshchenko, a member of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's parliamentary bloc, said, "Manafort didn't work for free in Ukraine, he served the Party of Regions for over 10 years and it is clear that his work was paid." He elaborated, "The money was transferred in cash and it is impossible to trace the transactions, but I have no doubt as to the authenticity of these documents."
For his part, Manafort denied the allegations about him. He declared, "I have never received a single off-the-books cash payment as falsely reported by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia." But Leshchenko reacted to this assertion by stating. "If Mr Manafort denies any allegations, I think he has to be interrogated into this case and prove his position that he was not involved."
Around the same period -- the third week of August 2016 -- the Associated Press (AP) said it has obtained emails indicating that Manafort's company, which had lobbied for Yanukovych, likely did not meet legal requirements. At issue was the lack of disclosure by Manafort in regard to its efforts to advocate and lobby public opinion on behalf of Yanukovych. According to the AP, United States law would require Manafort's firm to register and disclose in detail its role as a foreign agent to the Justice Department.
Russia suspected behind hacking of two US state election databases
In late August 2016, it was reported that two state election databases had been penetrated and United States officials indicated that Russian hackers were responsible.
While the two states were not formally named, media outlets indicated that Illinois and Arizona were the targeted states. In the Illinois case, the voter registration system was breached as hackers stole personal information on approximately 200,000 voters. In the Arizona case, the voter registration system as subject to malicious software. These cybercrimes were the latest in a stream of many attributed to Russia.
Going back to July 2016, the United States government said that cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee were likely carried out by the Russian government.
While Russia has denied any such activity, United States officials made clear that Russia appeared to be trying to influence the United states 2016 presidential election.
Note that in an interview with Bloomberg News, Russian President Vladmir Putin denied his country's involvement n the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. He said, "I don't know anything about it...and on a state level Russia has never done this." Putin added, "Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data?
Delegates on the Road to the Nomination:
1,237 delegates needed to win nomination
2,383 delegates (including super delegates*) needed to win nomination
Primary and Caucus Schedule:
Initial Races in February --
Monday, February 1 - Iowa caucus (R and D; closed to party registrants only) Tuesday, February 9 - New Hampshire (R and D; open primary) Saturday, February 20 - Nevada caucus (D; closed to party registrants only) Saturday, February 20 - South Carolina (R; open primary) Tuesday, February 23 - Nevada caucus (R; closed to party registrants only) Saturday, February 27 - South Carolina (D; open primary)