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Bernie Sanders’s three-state sweep doesn’t resolve delegate math problem

March 28, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a sweep of three states in primary contests over the weekend. Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and NPR’s Tamara Keith join Gwen Ifill to discuss why Sanders has a “math problem” despite his wins, Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm gap among younger voters, the GOP’s war of words over wives and whether Donald Trump is making headway with the Republican establishment.

GWEN IFILL: But, first, from Bernie Sanders’ Saturday sweep to the continued war of words between the two GOP front-runners, there’s lots to talk about this Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR, and joining us from Phoenix, Arizona tonight, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Tam, three states for Bernie Sanders this weekend, does that mean he has momentum?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: He’s definitely claiming momentum, but he still has something of a math problem.

Going into Saturday, he needed to win 58 percent off all the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination, pledged delegates. After that huge, huge series of wins by larger margins than his campaign expected, he needs 57 percent of all the remaining delegates. And not all of the states that are coming up are as favorable to Sanders.

There aren’t very many caucuses left, and there are several closed primaries coming up, including in New York state, where Sanders is planning to good up a good fight, planning to contest it, but it’s a state where Hillary Clinton was elected senator twice.

GWEN IFILL: So, Hawaii, Alaska and Washington state were fine victories for what they were, but they don’t actually close the gap that much?

TAMARA KEITH: They close the gap a bit. He did cut into Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead, but it doesn’t change the math fundamentally. He still has a lot of work to do.

And his campaign today in a conference call said that they’re going to keep fighting this all the way, and they think that neither candidate will get a majority of the pledged delegates needed to actually clinch it with just pledged delegates, so they’re going for superdelegates, which are the sort of party establishment people.

And Sanders’ campaign today did announce that it has gotten one superdelegate to support him, one member of Congress, Collin Peterson from Minnesota. That’s not a tidal wave.

GWEN IFILL: So, Amy, that is — there is still on the Clinton side an enthusiasm gap which the Sanders people say will make all the difference. Is there anything to that?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, I think the real challenge for Hillary Clinton has been the fact that Bernie Sanders, to his credit, has really driven the terms of this campaign and this debate. It has been on the terrain he wants to be playing on.

The talk now is about issues that Bernie Sanders has been talking about really since he first got into politics. The talk about income inequality, the rigged economy, this is where the debate has been, trade, et cetera. And this may or may not have been where Hillary Clinton wanted to have the debate, but it’s where she been forced to go.

At the end of the day, though, completely agree with Tamara, where it becomes a math problem. Not only has she secured more delegates, pledged delegates, the people that you get when you win primaries. She’s won more votes than he has as well, so she has more people who have actually turned out and voted for her.

But I think you’re right, Gwen, that what we’re seeing, though, is an enthusiasm gap with a group of voters that is critical in November, and that’s younger voters. We know that it was critical for President Obama in his victories in 2008 and ’12.

What Hillary Clinton is going to have to do is to prove to those younger voters who keep turning out for Bernie Sanders, even though they probably intellectually know he may not be the nominee, but they keep turning out for him because there is something about him that strikes them, and that, she has not figured out how to crack.

GWEN IFILL: Well, there has been something of a war of words between the Sanders camp and the Hillary camp today, on the Republican side, the war of words has been a little less elevated, shall we say?

Let’s listen to Ted Cruz today.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: When it comes to civility, there have been other candidates who have demonstrated a willingness to go to the gutter, to make personal attacks, to make sleazy attacks. I think the people, the American people are sick of that. That has no place in politics. No candidate should be doing what Donald Trump did last week, which is attacking my wife and attacking my family.

GWEN IFILL: So, it’s been well-documented everywhere how much of these attacks and counterattacks have been going on between Trump and Cruz, and even John Kasich has said, please, let’s leave the family out of it.

But I guess the question in this is, how low can they go, Tam?

TAMARA KEITH: That’s question I ask a lot again and again.

And it’s not clear. There is that old saying — and I don’t know who gets full credit for it — I think John McCain is one of the people who gets credit for it — that when you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.


TAMARA KEITH: In this analogy, and I’m not calling Donald Trump a pig here, because I would not do that.

GWEN IFILL: Be careful. No.

TAMARA KEITH: However, the past has proven that people who wrestle with Donald Trump end up worser — worser — worse for wear.


What do you think about that, Amy?

AMY WALTER: Absolutely, it doesn’t do anybody any good.

And, listen, if you’re the Republican Party right now, you are so — just the architects of the Republican Party, or the establishment of the Republican Party, they are desperate to try to figure out a way to bring this party together.

This party has been now fracturing and there is — the divisiveness is significant, and this is not helping at all. And, in fact, if you want to look at the trajectory for the Republican Party in its approval ratings over the course of this campaign, it’s only gone like this.

This is not helping the overall — whoever the nominee ends up being. This is not helping the image of the Republican Party. This isn’t helping Republicans in Congress. And this is going to be the major challenge for Republicans going forward, which is, how do they unify these disparate parts of themselves, when the candidates can’t even have a civil conversation, nonetheless agree on the direction forward?

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you both about the story in The New York Times today Nick Confessore wrote about the fact that the Republican establishment finds itself in such a corner, because the big donors, the big people who go to the cocktail parties didn’t see the Trump train coming.

TAMARA KEITH: It’s a challenge.

And there is this thought that the Chamber of Commerce Republican Party is not the Republican Party of people who went through a wrenching recession, who feel like their lives are not back, even if the jobs report says they are. Their wages are stagnant. You know, they don’t know how they feel about trade deals.

And there is Donald Trump, and he is sort of emoting in the very way that people — he’s saying things that people want to hear.

GWEN IFILL: Amy, it also seems that we’re not just talking about blue-collar, underemployed, unemployed people. We’re talking white-collar businesspeople, too.

AMY WALTER: That’s right.

This is what Donald Trump has done very well, which is he has definitely tapped into that anger and that angst with blue-collar, working-class Americans, but he’s also doing well or well enough with the so-called establishment, Chamber of Commerce types, many of whom I speak with and they say, you know, the thing about Donald Trump is, yes, he says things that are outrageous, no, I don’t believe he’s going to follow through on a lot of things that he says he is going to do, but I do believe he’s a good businessman and a good negotiator. And they say, we just simply need to shake things up.

So both — he’s able to win because he has a group of voters who believe he’s a hard-liner who isn’t going to negotiate or compensate in any way, shape and form, and then he’s able to get another group of voters who believe his success is based on the fact that he’s such a good negotiator.

That’s why it’s been a challenge for the never-Trump folks to stop him, because he’s not just pulling off one group of voters.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and the enthusiasm gap on the Republican side seems to work in his favor — I mean, the Democratic side — seems to work on his favor on the Republican side.

Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, it’s Monday. Thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.