Ever since getting blown out in Wisconsin, Donald Trump has been hollering about the way we select presidential candidates, calling it unfair, or deriding it as a “rigged system.” Sure enough, the left-of-center pundits and writers who support him, and most of the misguided people who’ve pledged their allegiance to the “Trump Train,” have suddenly decided that a system that’s been around almost as long as the United States is fundamentally flawed. I shouldn’t be surprised. The typical Trumpster also tends to think the US Constitution is terribly flawed and no longer relevant.
The delegate system is based on the same idea that fueled the adoption of our Constitution. That is, the best system of governance is a representative republic, with semi-autonomous states sharing power with a centralized national government. As conceived by the men who gave us our Constitution, the office of President was not to be directly entrusted to the general populace. Rather, they conceived the idea of electors being chosen by the people. The electors would then choose the President. They had two reasons for this, both outlined in Federalist 68. The first is that the general populace can be easily swayed by emotional appeals to our baser instincts. As Alexander Hamilton noted, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.” The second was they understood the vast majority of citizens are not active politically, nor are they as attuned to the issues and policies as their brethren who are politically active. Their decision was that by entrusting the selection of Chief Executive to a group of people who were politically active, they were ensuring that the gravitas of the position was honored. Yet at the same time, because the electors were selected by the citizenry, the people’s voice would be heard. Hamilton, again: “… the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
I realize this conception of how our political system was created will confound most of you. After all, you’ve heard since childhood that the United States is a democracy. Every politician declares it during every speech. Most sadly, we’re taught in school that because we vote, we’re a democracy. Some people are taught that we’re a representative democracy; that our votes go to elect representatives who are supposed to vote the way we want them to. That’s also incorrect! We are a representative republic. We elect representatives. The representatives we elect are then to debate and vote on the issues and policies as best they see fit. The decisions they reach are not bound by any measure to popular will. We then can decide if we approve of those decisions at re-election time. There have been occasions – quite a few, actually – when a representative has defied popular will in the votes they cast. One of the most celebrated books of the 20th century, Profiles in Courage, highlights eight such occasions that profoundly changed the history of our nation.
Our founders were against the idea of political parties, but their creation is a natural outgrowth of politics. It’s only natural that people who share similar views and goals would coalesce into groups working towards implementing those ideas into law and policy. Even in our nascent stages, the republic soon found itself being divided into political parties. The very men who were opposed to the idea of political parties were creating them. As those parties formed, they began to decide on which candidates for office would receive the backing of the party – including candidates for President. Should it be a surprise that they adopted a similar system for choosing their candidates as the one outlined in the Constitution?
Of course not. Many of you seem surprised at the notion that the popular vote doesn’t decide who a party’s nominee for political office. In order to understand why this is, you need to realize that prior to 1972, most states didn’t even have primary elections. Those that did, did not “bind” their delegates to vote for any particular candidate. The delegates, in most cases, were selected at state conventions. In the remainder, delegates were directly chosen during a caucus. In either case, the general public was barred from attending: only members of the party could choose their delegates. And quite often, the national party conventions did not resolve the issue of who the Presidential nominee would be on the first ballot of delegates. It seems to me that the system worked rather well. In the case of the Republicans, the convention chaos resulted in some pretty momentous choices; men who went on to become some of our most consequential Presidents. Lincoln (3rd ballot), Harding (10th), and Eisenhower (2nd) were all the products of contested/brokered conventions. In fact, during the 1952 convention Robert Taft accused Eisenhower of “stealing” delegates that were supposedly his. That led to the adoption of the “Fair Play” rule. In an ironic twist, it is that rule which Trump is using to accuse Cruz and Kasich of “stealing” delegates this year.
The liberalization of the nomination process began in 1972, in the aftermath of the riots at the Chicago and Miami party conventions in 1968. Most states adopted primaries, many opened those primaries up to the general public (no party affiliation required) and states bound the delegates chosen to reflect the popular vote at the convention for at least the first ballot. Only a few states opted to remain with caucuses or conventions selecting their delegates. And only one state does not bind any of their delegates, while several have a mix of bound and unbound delegates. The desired effect, the nominee being chosen by popular affirmation, has been achieved. Indeed, only the 1976 Republican and 1980 Democratic conventions have offered any drama, although in both cases the insurgent candidate was defeated between the end of the primaries and the convention.
Since the liberalization of the nomination process, consider the men nominated by the popular vote: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dole, George W. Bush, and Romney. Only one of those men could be considered consequential in a positive manner. Only 3 of them have managed to win the Presidency, and two of those left office with the country in far worse shape than when they entered. If we were to change anything as regards candidate selection, I would prefer we return to closed caucuses and conventions without general public input. You may call it “undemocratic,” but the objective is to find the best candidate; to find people who can represent the values of the party and lead the nation. The general public has demonstrated exactly what the founders feared: an incredible ability to choose the very worst people for the most important job in the world.
Consider the roll call of Presidents since 1972 and see if you can actually dispute that. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama have been elected as President. One was forced from office, another was impeached. Both Bushes left the nation economically in tatters. Carter is best remembered for his failures, while Obama is ending his Presidency with his signature achievement about to go belly up and the nation slipping back towards recession. Only Reagan managed to accomplish anything of note, but even his accomplishments have proven to be short-lived. Even ending the Cold War hasn’t lasted; today we’re faced with a resurgent and belligerent Russia and China.
You might also argue that by returning a system by which party insiders, we would be disenfranchising you. I don’t think so. Remember, the nominee is supposed to represent the party, not the general populace. I know many people who call themselves Republican or Democrat, but the reality is, they only are on election day, and often only on Presidential Election day. The other 1,460 days of the election cycle they do absolutely nothing to support the party. It’s kind of like telling people you’re a member of the cast of your favorite TV show, because you can quote some dialogue and know all the characters. In other words, if you want a say in who a party nominates, it would mean actually getting involved in the political system. Simply voting is a privilege of being a citizen. Performing the actual duties of citizenship – canvassing for candidates, raising funds, perhaps serving in local government, attending party meetings – these are also ways of becoming involved with a party at the local level. Not incidentally, it’s also how you become more acquainted with the political system.
In this year when so many of you seem more interested in blowing up the system, rather than putting in the individual effort to make it “work,” it’s also the best way to change the things about the system you don’t like. And who knows? Maybe, instead of whiners-in-chief, we can actually get back to commanders-in-chief, to Senators who worry more about representing their states than the national party committee and Representatives with more than graft on their minds.
About two months ago, I addressed Sen. Ted Cruz’ eligibility to assume the Presidency.Apparently, based on my Twitter feed over the past 18 hours or so, people are still confused. So here’s a quick synopsis, for those of you still insisting that Cruz’ is somehow ineligible.
- Article 1, Section 8 clearly defines that all matters relating to citizenship are defined by Congress.
- Congress defined natural citizenship in 1952, under 8 US Code 1401.
- Under paragraph D of that statute, Senator Cruz is a “natural born citizen.” Further, if you really wanted to say his mother had taken residence in Canada more than a year prior to his birth, he would still be eligible under paragraph G.
So, sorry birthers. This is Civics 101 stuff, and about as uncomplicated as it gets.
One of the popular discussions in political circles has been the prospect that this summer’s Republican Convention could end up being the first brokered convention since 1976. But I think there is a very real possibility that both parties’ conventions might end being brokered. Regardless of who emerged as the nominees in this case, the resulting political earthquake would reset American politics. Indeed, it would recreate the paradigm that both parties strove to leave in the past over 40 years ago, in the wake of the disastrous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Perhaps I should begin by explaining what the term “brokered convention”means. Put simply, it is one in which the party elites, the “bosses,” pick the nominees for President and Vice-President. This was once the norm, but liberalization of both parties primary and caucus rules -and especially the awarding of delegates based on the results – had made them a thing of the past. Over the past 40 years, the eventual nominees were able to garner a majority of delegates prior through the electoral process. While the party bosses still held significant power during the convention, it did not include the ability to change the popular choice for the Presidential nominee.
This year, there exists a very real possibility that no candidate in either party ends the primary season with a clear majority of delegates.
On the Republican side, there are still 6 candidates in the running. Of those, Ben Carson would seem most likely to drop out soon, but the other 5 have the funding and enough backing to continue on, at least until the March 1 primaries. In terms of delegates and convention politics, the longer the field remains this crowded, the longer the possibility that no candidate is able to cobble together 50.1% of the delegates. In fact, a scenario exists wherein the current frontrunner, Donald Trump, could exit the March 1 primaries with more state wins and higher percentage of the popular vote, but fewer delegates than the putative number 2 candidate, Ted Cruz. (And now, you understand why The Donald becomes unhinged at the mere mention of Cruz’ name). How? Cruz’ home state of Texas (where he holds a decided polling advantage) has a complicated two-step, primary and caucus method for picking delegates. Mobilizing the vote there requires an extensive and disciplined network, the type of which Cruz has demonstrated an ability to knit together and which Trump has not. Were Cruz to win Texas, a “winner take all” state and her 155 delegates, he could simply run a strong 2nd or 3rd in the remaining 15 states voting that day – and end up with more delegates.
Of course, we’ll know more after South Carolina votes. But to understand how crazy this is shaping up, you only need to realize that for all his braggadocio (and vaping by the press corps), Trump hasn’t even garnered 1/3 of the delegates awarded so far. And here’s the quirky part about primary elections: each state gets to choose how their delegates are divvied up. For the Republicans, South Carolina is a terrific example of how the winner of the popular vote can wind up with fewer delegates, especially with this many candidates. First, delegates are awarded to the winner in each Congressional district. There are 3 delegates available per district, awarded based on a “winner take all” basis. There are 16 “at-large” or “bonus” delegates, awarded to the winner of the popular vote – provided the winner exceeds 50% of the vote total. Finally there are 3 “RNC” delegates, bound to the winner of the popular vote, regardless of the percentage won. First, it’s extremely unlikely any candidate will win more than 50% of the popular vote, immediately putting those 16 at-large delegates into limbo. In fact, it seems likely that Trump will win Districts 1 and 7, while Cruz is strong in Districts 2, 3 and 4. District 5 is a Democratic stronghold and no Republican polls well there. District 6 is the heart of establishment politics in South Carolina and Jeb Bush’s redoubt.
So, while we’ll know more about how the race is shaping up, there’s a very strong probability that no candidate will emerge with so much as 40 total delegates. If current polling holds true, then the delegate race exiting South Carolina will look like this:
So, to recap: the likelihood is that even after March 1, no candidate will have even so much as 1/4 of the total delegates required to ensure the nomination, and the leader in popular vote could well be trailing in total delegates. This is despite that by then, 19 states with 554 delegates will have voted. This is how you get to a brokered convention.
Of course, there’s been a lot of talk and speculation regarding the possibility of a brokered Republican National Convention. To date, I haven’t heard anyone mention the possibility of a brokered Democratic National Convention. But the possibility exists, and the longer Bernie Sanders remains in the race, the greater the likelihood becomes. The reason has to do with the DNC’s “superdelegates.”
Unlike the potential Republican fiasco, the Democratic one would result from a direct divide between the party elders and the base. The elders (quite correctly, I think) do not believe that an avowed socialist can win the Presidency and thus have bet on Hillary Clinton as their standard bearer. Their primary process includes not only voted delegates, but also some 700 superdelegates. These are members of Congress and other party faithful who may vote for whomever they choose at the convention. Effectively, this means for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination outright, he needs to win the state delegates by a 701 vote margin.
Currently, Sanders holds a slight edge in awarded delegates, 36-32. However, to ensure the nomination, he needs to garner around 59% of the remaining at-large delegates. That’s a tall order. Partly because the Democrats have as many quirky state rules regarding how delegates are divvied up as their Republican counterparts, and partly because winning 59% of the electorate in any election is a tall order. Assuming Sanders does well in Nevada and better than expected in South Carolina, the possibility becomes much more likely that Sanders does wind up winning the popular vote among Democrats – but falls short of the delegate count required to secure the nomination.
If Bernie enters the convention with a lead in declared delegates but not enough to secure the nomination, you will have a brokered convention. The party elders will be faced with a grim choice: do they cast their ballots for Hillary, angering the rank-and-file members of their party? Or do they acquiesce to the popular vote and back Bernie? The floor fight might well be reminiscent of 1968, along with the attendant mayhem.
One thing is for certain. Regardless of whether these scenarios play out or not, this is an election cycle that won’t soon be forgotten. I expect the nastiness, vulgarity and personal attacks to intensify the longer the campaigns roll on without a clear victor. Strap in, it’s going to be a long ride until summer!
There was another GOP debate last night, as you might have heard. When it all was over, I gave my unvarnished opinion on how the candidate’s fared on Twitter:
@BretBaier Cruz, Trump, Paul. Biggest loser: Rubio. Whiniest: Jeb! Guy from Ohio: Kasich
— Ray R (@rrothfeldt) December 16, 2015
— Ray R (@rrothfeldt) December 16, 2015
When I awoke this morning, I was greeted with articles like this one in the Washington Post and this one in Politico. There are plenty of others out there, but if you’ve got a few minutes (that is, a few minutes you are not spending reading this post), perusing those two will do two things for you. First, you’ll immediately feel a need to purge lunch. Second, you’ll wonder (as I have) if they were watching the same debate as the rest of the country.
It is an important question, since most Americans still get their information from the same type of people who wrote those pieces. Obviously, the MSM was watching an old Dean Martin roast or something. Because otherwise, how could they possibly come to the conclusion that Marco Rubio was winner last night?
Of course, they weren’t watching a Dean Martin roast. And before you chime in, please let me state for the record that the pundits and writers who populate the airwaves and fill the white spaces in the newspapers are, for the most part, really intelligent people. But their problem is, as it has been for this entire cycle to date, that those really intelligent people haven’t been smart enough to leave the Beltway Bubble behind and get out with the people who are actually voting in these primaries. Because of that, we keep getting flawed coverage. They’ve been at a loss as to why Donald Trump polls higher than any candidate. They’ve been at a loss as to why Jeb! (or maybe just Jeb) is sinking more spectacularly than the Titanic. They’re at a loss as to why Ted Cruz is surging.
Everything Rubio did last night was geared towards winning over the Beltway crowd, which shows how bad of a pol he really is. Rubio punched all the buttons that pundits, spinmeisters and consultants love. He was polished. He was confident. He stood tall. He gave lengthy, wonky answers in a relatable way to policy questions. Heck, for once he even managed to leave the water bottle alone (mostly). So I can see how they thought he had a knock-out performance. His “optics” were durn near perfect, as if scripted by Hollywood. Rubio is, now that Jeb! is thoroughly discredited as a viable candidate, the establishment’s best hope. And last night, they projected their hopes on the canvas that is Marco Rubio.
But this year, the people doing the voting are paying attention to what these guys are actually saying. The candidates who are succeeding understand that the electorate is 180 degrees from DC. In fact, the quickest way for politicians to alienate themselves from the voters this year is to even have a whiff of “Eau de Establishment” on them. Optics (so long as nobody spontaneously combusts) are taking a back-burner to positions, and wishy-washiness is the second fastest way to obscurity. The fastest way? Taking positions that are at odds with what the electorate wants. This isn’t a new”phenomenon.” It’s been percolating through the GOP for a few years now. Ask Eric Cantor. Ask John Boehner.
So, when Rubio gave a vigorous defense of unnecessarily toppling foreign governments, you could hear the hiss as the tires on his campaign bus started leaking air. When he attacked Ted Cruz as being soft on defense because Cruz doesn’t think governments spying on their citizens is cool, you could hear the engine start to sputter. And when Rubio came out full-bore for illegal alien amnesty, the bus came to a screeching halt. Really, Rubio’s night was lost the moment Rand Paul hit him in the mouth (figuratively speaking) by labeling him “as the weakest of all on immigration” and Rubio had no retort. None.
Anyway, I feel somewhat vindicated: in post-debate polls on Brietbart and Drudge (which are decidedly unscientific), my three winners match up almost exactly – the difference being that Trump is 1, Cruz 2 and Rand Paul 3. but you know what? The NSRC – a Republican establishment organization – released their post debate poll, which was conducted using scientific methods. Guess what?
Cruz : 27%
Paul : 13%
But hey, there is some good news for the MSM. In the NSRC poll, Rubio finished with 8% of respondents saying he won, which is better than Drudge (7%) or Breitbart (6%).
courtesy NJ.com and Advanced Media
It’s very early in the morning, Monday, May 4, 2015. As I’m writing this, the sun is just beginning to peek out from night’s solemnity. But with it’s rising, the political silly season – better known as our quadrennial national election cycle – begins anew.
This one, for both seasoned political observer and novice alike, portends a change in the American political landscape. For a generation now, the Republican party has essentially conducted their primary schedule as a drawn-out coronation. The Democratic Party, in contrast, has conducted not only a search for a candidate but for a national identity. Excluding incumbents, the last time Republicans engaged in the type of soul-searching Democrats routinely embrace was 1980. The last time Democrats engaged in a slow ascendancy to the Presidency was before the Wilson administration. On the surface, the 2016 election looks as if the roles are reversed, with perhaps two dozen Republican candidates jumping into the fray and the megalith known as Hillary Clinton dominating the Democrat primary season. But I suspect the surface is just the glimmering reflection of political reporters unable to look past the Beltway. Hillary may be a formidable candidate – but the undercurrents in her party belie a certain uncertainty in her or the direction she wants to lead both her party and the nation.
As I’m writing this, there are six declared candidates, 4 Republican (Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum) and 2 Democrats (former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders). By the time you’re reading this, two more Republicans (Dr. Ben Carson, former CEO Carly Fiorina) are likely to have announced their candidacies. Here’s the potential roster of candidates, broken down by party:
Republican (21): Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Rand Paul (KY), Sen. Lindsay Graham (SC), former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA), Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA), Gov. Scott Walker (WI), Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), Gov. John Kasich (OH), Gov. Mike Pence (IN), Gov. Rick Snyder (MI), former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL), former Gov. George Pataki (NY), former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AK), former Gov. Rick Perry (TX), former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (MD), Congressman Peter King (NY), former Ambassador John Bolton, Dr. Ben Carson, CEO Carly Fiorina, CEO Donald Trump.
Democrat (6): Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Gov. Martin O’Malley (MD), former Gov. Jim Webb (VA), former Gov. Lincoln Chaffee (RI).
I’ll be delving further into the dynamics of the race as the months roll along. I hope you’ve brought your airsick bags.
This is going to be a bumpy ride over the next 18 months.