Caucuses vs Primaries


Here’s something to keep in mind about the results tonight. The frontrunners – Trump and Clinton – are having a lukewarm night. Sanders and Cruz have both already won two states. But Clinton has already been declared the winner in Louisiana and the early results at least suggest a big win for Trump too (Late Update: Louisiana has now been called for Trump.)

The issue here looks more clear cut to me for Republicans. With Cruz winning at least two of the four races, it raises the question: Is Cruz gaining momentum against Trump, perhaps consolidating the non-Trump vote? The stomping result in Louisiana tells me the answer is no. Cruz’s winning the caucuses, which play to organizational strength and intensity. Obviously Louisiana is a very different state than Maine and different from Kansas too. But on balance, I think tonight’s results, while giving a big boost to Cruz and a punishing blow to Rubio, suggests that Trump’s overwhelming strength overall remains intact. That is especially because Louisiana is a closed primary. Only Republicans can participate. These wins are an artifact of the caucus process.

Secondary point: the bad losses for Rubio in the caucus states suggests very, very low intensity of support. But then again, he’s 1 for 18 so far. So of course support is weak.

I think there’s a similar dynamic for the Democrats. But the caucus factor is less clear-cut because of demography. Kansas and Nebraska have relatively small minority populations. They’re very white states; and those have been strong for Sanders. As fairly red states, their remaining Democratic populations also tend to be fairly liberal. Louisiana, meanwhile, has the second largest African-American population in the country. So the demography heavily favors Clinton.

None of this is to take away from the wins of either candidate. These are the rules and you play to the rules as they stand. Barack Obama racked up a lot of delegates in caucus states in 2008 – in part because the Clinton campaign just, bizarrely, didn’t focus on them and was caught flat-footed when Obama caught fire.

Upshot: I think especially on the Republican side, caucus vs primary is a big, big part of the result tonight.