NOW AS WELL AS THEN: The U.S. Primaries
Wed, 04/13/2016 - 12:51am
R. Orlando Marville
I have always held that first past the post – the electoral system that we share with the USA – is not a reliable form of election if we are speaking of democracy. First off, the party in office can gerrymander the voting distrricts; it is a sort of beauty competition; and it often relies on how much money a party or individual candidate can muster. The result of the election can be bought. I have preferred the proportional representation system, which works with fixed boundaries and is much less of a beauty contest.
In the present US primaries (where a lengthy and expensive process has to be completed before a Presidential candidate for the two parties is chosen) one clear example of the beauty contest is the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump. This does not mean that Mr Trump is beautiful: it would require his family to make that argument. It means that he is charismatic, well known from his TV show. On top of that, he is filthy rich and continues to make the point that he accepts contributions from no one and thus cannot be lobbied. He has therefore been a clear choice for those who consider themselves non-conventional Republicans, even though the Republican Establishment insists he is not.
One other reason why Trump has done so well up to this point is that he has and had a group of competitors for the Republican nomination that are at best mediocre. Jeb was low-energy, as Trump was quick to point out. Fiorina was a bit of a joke and has-beens like Santorum et al belonged to a beaten generation. Additionally, every time someone in the pack attacked Trump, he was ousted. The crucial key to his success so far has been the $1.9 billion of free TV advertising offered by a US media only too happy to report on all his sayings and doings.
One further reason why Trump was so successful is that, as one savvy commentator concluded, the bulk of his support came from people who believed that Obama was Muslim or that he was not American born, both myths propagated by Trump himself. This became pellucidly clear when David Duke, a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan, endorsed him. Trump was forced into saying that he did not know what or whom Duke represented for a while before rejecting his support or that of any other racist group. Yet the fact remains that Trump’s bluster comes pretty close to racist ranting and that he, in fact, represents a series of views which it would be foolish for most Republicans to admit openly!
Since three of his competitors have remained in the race, Trump has been able to garner his 30 – 40 % of the vote cast for Republicans. Additionally, his bluster has brought a new bunch of supporters who believe in his theme of making America great again – to wit, returning the country to the 19th century, with all its racism and unbridled white power in a diverse population. And despite what his competitors think of him, his followers still flock to hear him. Even his remark about punishing women who have an abortion may not have damaged him as much as it should. What is also interesting is that, he is likely to become the Republican Presidential candidate with a plurality of delegates, even in spite of a barrage of accusations and abuse paid for by the Republican Party, whose favourite candidate, Marco Rubio is now effectively gone.
For the Republican Party, the best solution would be a brokered Convention, where they could choose anyone but Trump. Some pundits even assume that Mitt Romney who opened a barrage of attacks on Trump is hoping to be the brokered candidate. It would be difficult to imagine Cruz or Kasich, the candidates remaining on the Republican side, accepting this outcome. The party does not recycle losers; it tends to recycle the number two to the loser (Paul Ryan would fit that bill) or someone of that category. Even then, Ryan would hardly meet the approval of the remaining three, who would all consider themselves better candidates.
On the Democratic side, only Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders remain. Here again, Clinton has the name recognition and Sanders in spite of an appealing message of being the true representative of the ordinary American, has taken perhaps too long a time catching up. In spite of several good wins across some Northern states, he still only has about 60% of the delegates that Clinton does. What are his chances in the big states like New York, California and New Jersey? Clinton, with a more measured set of promises, is likely to be the Democratic candidate come July, because even if Bernie could manage to catch up to her by late June, in the Democratic Party, there is what is called super delegates. In a situation where “all o’ we is one”, super delegates are two! These are the high officials in the Party who have an extra vote at the Democratic Convention. The extensive network of such people who have already endorsed Clinton is some indication of who is the pre-ordained candidate of the Democratic Party.
Unlike the Republican Party, the Democrats are not fighting to de-nominate their leading candidate. So, if it becomes Trump versus Clinton, Bernie will most definitely support Clinton, but it is difficult to see any segment of the Republican Party or his competitors supporting Trump. Additionally, the Republican themselves have dumped so much criticism on Trump that the Democrats already have an arsenal with which to attack him. While he is likely to retain his new followers, a great number of Republicans will stay at home. Such a scenario would bode well not only for the Democratic candidate for the Presidency, but all the candidate running for re-election to the House as well as those seeking re-election to the Senate.
Republicans are now becoming totally unravelled. Violence has become a feature of Trump rallies, with one of his chief advisors being charged for assaulting a female reporter. All three remaining candidates have reneged on their pledge to support whoever wins the nomination and Trump is claiming that the Party has unfairly treated him. In fact, the party is behind a campaign to stop Trump from winning the nomination. In spite of all their effort, it does seem possible that Trump will earn enough delegates nearly to reach the nomination goal. This does not, however, guarantee him a victory, since some of the delegates he may have amassed are not necessarily bound delegates. He may thus find that some delegates from states he won will not necessarily support him at the July Convention.
A Trump win will offer the Democratic candidate a great opportunity to outline his failings – and there are many, with Trump himself being unpopular at the national level. If Trump gets a plurality of the delegates, but is not selected by the Party to represent the Republicans, he may well look back to one of his earlier threats – to run as an Independent. The one problem here is that that would require perhaps a billion dollars to continue the campaign beyond July. Popular feeling is that Trump is too cheap to spend an extra billion dollars of his own money. What, however, would be the case if one or a few of his rich friends did put up the necessary money?
That would guarantee a massive Democratic victory in November and it would certainly splinter the Party in such a way that they would lose considerable numbers of seats both in The House and the Senate, with the Senate at least reverting to the Democrats.
However, we may be getting ahead of ourselves here. So many variants may fall into place even between now and July. These primaries have been unpredictable by any of the supposed cognoscenti up to this point. New twists may yet emerge.