Most Democrats have made it clear that they want another two terms of Obama. Exit polls from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia showed solid support for a continuation of Obama’s policies. The Sanders change agenda plays well with younger voters, particularly with white voters, but fails with a Democratic Party whose base is in thrall to Obama despite his legacy of economic misery and failure.
Hillary Clinton had initially hoped to run as a historic candidate while touting her own experience, but was instead forced to run as a proxy for Obama in order to preserve her minority firewall which saved her in South Carolina and other states with large black Democratic constituencies. It’s a humiliating comedown for Hillary to have to run as Obama’s shadow. But she’s willing to do that and abandon the dream of creating her own legacy beyond Obama for the opportunity to make it to the White House.
On the Republican side there was a great appetite for outsiders and for change. The two big winners, Trump and Ted Cruz, both ran as outsider candidates on platforms of change. In an extraordinary turn of events, Rubio, the establishment candidate, had the poorest performance of the top three candidates.
Democrats may no longer be interested in transforming America, but Republicans are. Hope and Change has lost its luster for the party that inflicted two terms of Obama on the country. But Change is running strong among Republicans, even if Hope has not always come along for the long ride of the primaries.
While the establishment lane prevailed for the Democrats, the anti-establishment lane dominated among Republicans. These two different snapshots of Super Tuesday from both parties also help explain the dramatic difference in voter turnout. Republican voter turnout quadrupled in Virginia and increased by hundreds of thousands in Tennessee, Texas, Georgia and Massachusetts. Democratic voter turnout was underwhelming. Voting for the safe establishment choice does not really rally primary voters.
If Super Tuesday appeared to be closing a chapter for the Democrats with Bernie Sanders locked out by a minority firewall that had him winning the white vote, but losing the overall, it leaves the Republican race open. Establishment races close fast. Anti-establishment races however have a way of lingering on.
Presidential elections tend to be referendums on the past. And this election is no different. It is about Obama more than it is about Hillary or Trump, or Cruz and Sanders. It is about the differing views of what happened in this country since Obama took office and what needs to be done about it.
In her first race, Hillary Clinton was sidelined by a Democratic Party still angry at Bush. In her second race, she is buoyed by a Democratic Party that is comfortable with the Obama agenda. An establishment Democrat was in a precarious position after Bush, but is comfortably positioned under Obama. Hillary’s time to be the establishment candidate has finally arrived thanks to Obama.
But on the Republican side, the call now is for radical change. Change elections are noisier and more chaotic. They are fought harder and longer because they represent an outburst of public anger. The Republican field is less crowded, but no less contested for all that. And growing talk of a brokered convention raises the possibility of an unpredictable contest being fought to the very end.
It’s easy to pick the establishment choice when you don’t want change. But choosing change is a difficult and painful process.
Super Tuesday showed once again that Republicans are choosing change. This breaks down partly along racial lines with white voters across both parties reporting much higher rates of dissatisfaction. White Democrats are coming out for Sanders in the hopes of achieving change while Republicans are voting for outsider candidates. But Democrats who seek change are unlikely to prevail against the inertia of Obama’s legacy in a party whose demographic transformation has made political change that is not backed up by tribal identity politics too difficult to achieve. Republicans however remain free to push forward for change, even if the exact nature of that change is still in dispute.
But whatever the outcome, after Super Tuesday it now appears that the general election will come down to a contest between a Democratic establishment agenda and a Republican change agenda. The Democrats will be the ones arguing against change while the Republicans will be pushing for change.
The Obama years have transformed both parties. The Democrats have been hollowed out politically and reduced to an appendage of the White House. Even Hillary’s triumph will not mean a return to a pre-Obama era when the Democrats were a viable national party, but to another election running on the economic misery and political failures of the Obama years. The Republican Party has been shaken up and moved toward the right. Alternatives to an agenda of decisive change are being rapidly eliminated.
Super Tuesday has not finished the race for either party’s nomination, but it has given us the fundamental form of the contest still to come as the Democratic establishment continues to win and the Republican establishment continues to lose.