Presidential March Madness

March Madness for college basketball begins tomorrow with sixty-four teams competing for the championship. A similar competition has been playing out in the US presidential election, as the large field of seventeen Republican candidates we started with last summer has been winnowed down to three with the departure of Marco Rubio following a poor showing yesterday in his home state of Florida. The Democratic competition started with just six candidates, but little has changed since Martin O’Malley suspended his campaign on February 1. Despite close contests in Missouri and Illinois, Hillary Clinton continues to widen her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. Even so, Sanders has pledged to stay in the race until the July convention.

The NCAA March Madness ends April 4, but sadly the same cannot be said of the madness of the 2016 presidential race. Donald Trump’s victories in a majority of the primaries yesterday (Missouri is still too close to call between Trump and Ted Cruz, and John Kasich won his home state of Ohio) continue to confirm that Trump’s extreme policies, ugly rhetoric, and increasingly violent rallies have not negatively affected his popularity with Republican voters. Yet the devotion of Trump’s most extreme fans may not be reciprocated. In an interview yesterday on ABC’s Good Morning America, Trump waivered on his prior offers to pay the legal fees of supporters who are charged with assault at his rallies. When confronted with the idea that such offers would encourage more violence, Trump simply denied that he ever made such statements. Speaking of protesters at a rally in February he told his audience to “knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.” He repeated his interest in covering legal fees this past Sunday during a Meet the Press interview following a North Carolina rally where a supporter struck a protester who was being escorted out of the building by security.

The results of yesterday’s primaries will not change much for Democratic humanist voters. They will continue to weigh the pragmatism of supporting Hillary Clinton versus the idealism of supporting Bernie Sanders and watch in disbelief at the spectacle of Trump, while realizing that the remaining Republican candidates would perhaps be even more disastrous than Trump on issues such as reproductive rights, separation of government and religion, LGBTQ rights, and the environment.

While the presidential race will remain the focus of 2016, don’t let it distract your attention away from other federal, state, and local elections. The candidates in these races may have a more direct influence on issues you care about than the next president. It would be madness to ignore these important races.