The first wave of primaries1 is now over. Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders in the delegate count 766-576 (465-25 superdelegates), and Trump has nearly a triple digit lead on the field—459 to Ted Cruz’s 360, Marco Rubio’s 152, and John Kasich’s 54.2
States have been voting for six weeks now. The narratives that drive political momentum have been baked—Trump is made of Teflon and very electable, Clinton has a lock on minority voters and probably the nomination—and as we approach the ides of March, shit is getting real. Clinton and Trump both took big leads on Super Tuesday, and have, by and large, ran the table since. At some point in each cycle though, the math takes over. Enter the March 15th primaries—which include four of the 10 most populous states: Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. A strong showing from both frontrunners in those states could sew up their respective nominations.
At this time, it’s only natural that Trump and Clinton pivot towards the general election—trying out their messages aimed up and across, squarely at each other.
Pandering or Pampering?: Democrats hone in on the Black and brown vote
“I can’t help Trayvon at this time, but there are other Trayvon Martin’s I can help.” –Sabrina Fulton
The tone of the Democratic campaign has shifted. Sanders shocking victory in Michigan exposed that perhaps Clinton doesn’t have the Warriors-esque hold on the minority vote we had initially surmised from her Super Tuesday performance in the South. The Sanders camp worked hard to make sure Michigan grabbed all the headlines, but let’s be clear: the math is squarely still in Clinton’s favor. It’s easy to forget that Clinton won the delegate count the Tuesday after Super Tuesday. She whopped Sanders in Mississippi, winning over 82% of the vote and 30 of the state’s available 34 delegates.
Many3 called Sanders’ win in Michigan the greatest primary upset in modern political history. 70% of Michigan Democratic primary voters were white,4 and Sanders won whites 56-42—in line with national polls and anecdotal evidence. Sanders still lost the Black vote,5 but chipped away at the astronomical leads Clinton’s been putting up in southern states. Sanders won nearly a third of Black Democratic Michigan voters, giving the Clinton camp a dose of anxiety.
On Friday, Clinton released an emotional “Mothers of the Movement” ad that features the mothers of slain young Black men and woman Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin. Both endorsement and heartfelt narrative, the mothers tell their story in this three minute ad that is perhaps most notable for its near complete lack of Clinton screentime. She has a 15-second soundbite at the end and only appears on stage with the mothers at a campaign rally—a brilliant move.
Earlier in the week, during a debate hosted by Univision in Miami, Florida aimed at Hispanic voters, both candidates promised to not deport children or criminals.6
During the debate, Sanders unveiled a beautifully shot, emotionally fraught ad almost entirely in Spanish about a small agriculture town in Florida, Imokalee, and the plight of its undocumented farm workers who were paid poorly and treated worse.
The ad is clearly meant to show Sanders’ history of devotion to and success on behalf of workers’ rights—and by extension, the Hispanic community. The format of the Imokalee ad presages the candidates’ presence in the Clinton ad—minimal.
Cynics will surely call what Sanders and Clinton are doing pandering. Sure. It might be, and if these ads were the only evidence of minority engagement, then both Sanders and Clinton could rightly be called phonies. Instead, these ads reflect a deep history and relationship with Black and Hispanic issues. Sanders, with his civil rights record, and Clinton, with her deeply entrenched relationships with Black leaders in the South.7
The Democratic Party could do a lot worse than make the remainder of the primaries about minorities and the issues we face. Coming off of the first ever Black president whose campaign expanded the Democratic Party and turned out the greatest number of primary voters ever, the two white Democrats running for the nomination need to demonstrate that they care about minority issues to keep us invested.
The percentage of non-white voters has been steadily increasing, so the decision to pivot on minority issues isn’t just good primary politics, it’s a foreshadowing of the general election.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that minority and immigrant issues are fundamentally American issues. That fact only becomes more salient as America becomes browner and blacker. As the Republican Party seemingly doubles down on a white electorate afraid of the teeming mass of melanin, this is a good long-term strategy that will factor in in 2020 and beyond.
Violence begets hate begets clownshoes
“I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here.” – Donald Trump
Thursday night’s GOP Presidential debate was by many accounts unspectacular. These performances have come to represent the highest form of reality television. The combination of personal ego, utter disregard for fact, and highness of stakes have made them must-watch television.
This past week though, neither Ted Cruz nor Marco Rubio tag-teamed Donald Trump. No dick jokes were made. Even the absence of Ben Carson was felt8 The crowd was post-Burning Man blood-thristy.9 The debate offered the same old policy but without the fireworks of ad homonym attacks.10
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve suspended my generally high expectations for presidential-level policy debates in lieu of something baser that appeases the animal part of my brain. Hell, they’ve been fun to watch and the candidates don’t seem to give a shit about higher political discourse. Why should I?
I and so many others have willfully blinded myself to the glib and glamour of the last dozen GOP debates. Every one of the candidates have dazzlingly misstepped and gaffed right into a Twilight Zone of ineptitude.11 With the lights dimmed down to a level that we could actually see the substance of their positions, it was sparse and uninspired.
Trump struck a civil tone. Rubio denied global warming in his home state.12. Cruz had a moment in one of the very few attacks on Trump, but it didn’t do anything to make him any more likable.13 Kasich got nearly the same screen time as Cruz and Rubio.
Buried somewhere in there was a blip of a moment that, in the grand scheme of things, will be forgotten by April.
Did you miss it? It was that moment Rubio–the reasoned, well-mannered wunderkid–didn’t categorically deny racism and xenophobia because it’s absolutely, unequivocally wrong.
Instead, Rubio pivoted to Christian Missionaries, a married couple14 that chose to go into a culturally rich, economically poor Bangladesh leveraging a lack of resources for blind devotion to their church.15 Rubio posited” don’t be mean to the angry Muslims because they’ll be mean back, especially to the16 Christians who consciously went into a Muslim-heavy country with the explicit purpose of telling said angry Muslims that their religion is wack.17 Following it up by saying, “But the military is great and there are Muslims in the military so those Muslims are great too!” does not make it better. If anything, Rubio is assigning them a value based on their willingness to defend and die for a cause he supports politically but not in reality.
By all appearances, Rubio should be a conservative worthy of disagreement rather than abject disrespect.18 There are even elements of his personal narrative that resonate strongly with liberals and immigrants.19 However, his willingness to consistently belittle and denigrate a group of people in order to score political points is a character flaw unworthy of the office of President.
Speaking of unworthy of the office of the president, a Trump rally was cancelled in Chicago the day after the GOP Debate in Miami. A group of largely Black and brown protesters descended on the University of Illinois at Chicago where the event was supposed to take place and shut that ish down. They even chanted some Kendrick:
— ARTIST TAXI DRIVER (@chunkymark) March 12, 2016
This was an inevitable outcome. Protest and violence are increasingly becoming frequent occurrences at Trump rallies.
Earlier in the week, a North Carolina Trump supporter John “Whitey” McGraw was charged with assault for sucker punching a Black protestor who was already being escorted out. He later told Inside Edition,20 “Next time, we might have to kill him.”
Even earlier in the same week Breitbart21 reporter Michelle Fields was grabbed and bruised by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris corroborates Fields’ story. The Trump camp has categorically denied the claim, saying both Fields and Terris are making it up and that Fields has a history of histrionics.22 Fields has since filed charges.
Trump’s rallies have a history of violence, one perpetrated by the vitriolic rhetoric the GOP frontrunner employs to rally his base. When the more-often-than-not Black and brown protestors are escorted out of Trump’s eyesight, he’s said things like “I’d like to punch them right in the face,” or “Back in my day, they’d be taken out on a stretcher.”23
On Saturday, an Ohio man jumped a fence during a Trump rally in Dayton. He never made it to the stage. The commotion it caused gave Trump the opportunity to compose himself while whipping his supporters into a fever-pitch.
Trump is practically rabid. I see foam coming from his mouth24 We’ve seen xenophobia in the context of a presidential election cycle for so long, we’ve just come to accept it.
Race: The most important issue in America, American politics
On the one hand, Democrats are side fighting for minority votes. On the other, we’ve come to normalize racism. America is becoming browner and it’s scaring the shit out of low-income, poorly educated white people. They’re turning out in Republican primaries in record numbers, and observers like myself have vacillated between being awestruck or actively cheering on the Hindenburg-level GOP catastrophe in the spirit of entertainment25.
Whether overtly stated or not, race is quickly becoming the most critical issue of this presidential election. Sanders and Clinton will continue to position themselves as the most in tune with and natural inheritor of race relations. All while reasonable conservatives watch Trump26 dance around the dumpster fire masked as a racial divide masked as an effort to make America great again.
We can rationalize it away. We could pretend that this is just the nature of campaigning and election cycle politics. We can accept that maybe this is just an aberration.27 At this point, we’re just waiting until the general election, which will show that the racists hijacking the GOP are actually a subset of a subset.28 With sublimated aggression after sublimated aggression bringing us to this point, the circus of American politics eventually stops with the fun and games, the grip and grins, the rallies and baby-kissing.
Whether dramatically bringing new minority and immigrant issues to center stage or feeding anger with hate, the tone coming from both sides are becoming decidedly more serious. This is where it stops being funny.