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After Super Tuesday, Clinton and Trump look beyond primaries

March 2, 2016 at 7:26 PM EDT
After scoring significant Super Tuesday victories, presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are turning their attention towards the general election. Judy Woodruff sits down with Reid Wilson of Morning Consult and Susan Page of USA Today to discuss the aftermath of the nation’s largest primary contest and how the rest of the race promises to play out.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Big wins on Super Tuesday, and impressive delegate leads, have both the Trump and Clinton campaigns starting to set their sites on the general election.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: We have got work to do, but that work — that work is not to make America great again. America never stopped being great. We…

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HILLARY CLINTON: We have to make America whole.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: She wants to make America whole again. And I am trying to figure out, what is that all about? Make America great again is going to be much better than making America whole again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we unpack last night’s results, and how it shapes the road to the White House, with Reid Wilson, chief political correspondent for The Morning Consult, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

And we welcome you both.

So, you know, let’s — they’re focusing, already, to some extent, on the general election, but let’s talk about what they still have to deal with in the primaries.

Susan, what did you make of the Super Tuesday result on the Democratic side?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: On the Democratic side, I think it was a pretty good night for Hillary Clinton. She won seven states. The sweetest victory had to be in Massachusetts.

That’s a state right next door to Vermont. It’s a state that knows Bernie Sanders well. And it’s a state that is famously liberal. And for her to beat Bernie Sanders in Massachusetts, I think, was a sign that while he will still win some states, and he won some states last night, that she is now on a pretty steady path toward the nomination.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you read of what the voters were saying through the exit polls?

REID WILSON, Morning Consult: We still saw a pretty divided Democratic Party.

One half wants a candidate who shares their values, a candidate who cares about people like them. Bernie Sanders is winning that half. The other half is looking towards November. They want an experienced candidate. They want an electable candidate. And those voters are going with Hillary Clinton.

The difference, though, is in the early states, in Iowa, New Hampshire, the sort of optimistic, ideological, idealistic voters were outweighing the experience and electability voters. Now we have shifted to a part of the campaign where those sort of more traditional Democrats looking for a win in involve play a much bigger role in the Democratic coalition.

SUSAN PAGE: But I think the two parties have slightly different problems with their electorates.

With Democrats, it’s not as though Democratic voters supporting Sanders find Clinton unacceptable. The question is, will they be energized, will they be enthusiastic and therefore turn out to vote in November, whereas Republicans have a big problem with a significant numbers of Republican voters who find Donald Trump unacceptable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. And the turnout in Democrats, striking that it’s smaller than it was the last time.

Let’s talk quickly about Bernie Sanders, Susan, and let’s quickly look at the delegate count. Right now, if you’re a — the Democrats, to win the nomination, you need almost 2,400 delegates. Hillary Clinton already has over 1,000.

People are saying, OK, Bernie Sanders, he’s done a great job, but some are saying, why is he staying in?

SUSAN PAGE: Although I think those numbers are misleading, because her numbers are really boosted by her support among those superdelegates, Democratic officials who are automatically convention delegates.

If something happened, if for some reason she hit some huge stumbling block, they could easily turn away to a different candidate. They’re not obliged to vote for her. That said, clearly, the Democratic Party establishment wants Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. And they would like this nomination battle wrapped up as soon as possible and with as few wounds as possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And if you’re Bernie Sanders, what are you hearing right now from the voters and from the Democratic establishment?

REID WILSON: Well, the path that Bernie Sanders has to take to get to those 2,380 delegates necessary to win the nomination is pretty steep.

The way the Democratic calendar is set up, it sort of favors the front-runner. Recall, back in 2008, Super Tuesday gave a state — a U.S. senator named Barack Obama just enough of a lead over Hillary Clinton that he could sort of sustain it through the long, grueling months until he got to those delegates necessary to win.

So what the Sanders campaign has to do right now is, they have to win by increasingly larger shares as the contest goes on. That becomes harder and harder, especially in a party that shows that it’s OK with Hillary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Susan, let’s talk about the Republicans.

You mentioned Donald Trump. We have a little bit of news today, in that Ben Carson let it be known that he will not be staying in the race. I guess he will make the formal announcement later.

What does that do to the field? Obviously, one person less. Does it change anything? There is now so much pressure on the Republicans to do something about Donald Trump.

SUSAN PAGE: I think that it has very little effect.

Ben Carson’s support had gotten pretty low. If you look at it, maybe it boosts Ted Cruz a little bit because of the evangelical Christian nature of a lot of Ben Carson’s support. I think it’s not important. I think it’s not really a significant factor.

What you did have today were wealthy contributors to the Republican Party who are unhappy with the idea of a Trump candidacy seeing if they can do something to stop him. And I think that is not likely to have much more effect than Ben Carson pulling out.

These big donors have not had the kind of effect this year that they have had in years past. So, super PACs that got so much attention early on didn’t save Jeb Bush at all in his candidacy. So it seems to me that a candidate like Donald Trump, who has gotten where he is by attracting Republican voters to primaries and caucuses, is not going to be undone by contributors deciding they’re not happy with him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Reid, what are the Republican voters saying?

A number of them were interviewed in these exit polls. What are they saying about why they are supporting Donald Trump, if they are, and if they’re not, why not?

REID WILSON: Well, again, there is this sort of division as on the Democratic side.

The division on the Republican side, though, is between those who want an electable candidate, Mitt Romney — Marco Rubio — excuse me — Freudian slip. Marco Rubio tends to win those candidates and do much better among them.

On the other hand, there are candidates who — there are voters who want change and who want somebody who will tell it like it is. And that’s the single biggest segment that is voting for Donald Trump. There are a lot of voters out there who feel like they haven’t gotten the straight truth from politicians, not only politicians at large, but even Republican politicians.

A huge percentage of the Republican electorate doesn’t trust their own politicians. They’re Trump voters.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me. I was just going to say, how does one account, though, for the just surprisingly high turnout among Republicans? Maybe if you’re Donald Trump, you don’t think it’s so surprising, but he’s bringing new people into the voting booth, isn’t he?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, two things are happening.

One, we have had this record-size field, so you have had a lot of candidates out there trying to get their voters to the polls. That’s had one effect. But I do think Donald Trump is bringing new and different people to the Republican Party. And if he’s the nominee, he will redefine to at least some extent what it means to be a Republican, what the Republican Party stands for, because these are voters who are not necessarily free traders in the Republican tradition, or for a muscular national defense.

These are people who are focused on the economy at home, worried about their own futures and have an approach to politics that is different from the old Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And these new voters, I think, Reid Wilson, make it harder for those who are trying to come up with a scenario to get rid of Donald Trump.

But, just quickly, let’s look at the delegates on the Republican side. You need 1,237 to win the nomination. Trump has 319. Cruz is at 226. So it’s a lead, but it doesn’t look like an overwhelming lead. You just look at these numbers.

REID WILSON: It’s not, but once again, because of the proportional rules under which this calendar is operating, it is harder and harder as the calendar goes on for somebody to make up even the smallest gap.

The big moments left in this campaign are going to come on March 15, when, under Republican Party rules, states can award delegates on a winner-take-all basis, the two big prizes that day, Ohio and Florida. Both home state candidates in the race, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, if those two can’t win, if Donald Trump wins those states — and he’s ahead in both — then this race is pretty much over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it just gets fascinatinger and fascinatinger every day.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reid Wilson, Susan Page, thank you.

SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.

REID WILSON: You bet.

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