The Road Not Taken, Convention Edition

This election may soon become more interesting than we can even imagine.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 - Robert Frost

The political shrapnel from Super Tuesday's resounding confusion is still falling nationwide, with results not only unforeseen, but unforeseeable with any degree of clarity.  We have not seen a train wreck like this in American politics in many a year; all the usual ways the elites have of keeping the rubes in line are failing utterly.  The peasants are indeed revolting.

Writer Steven Green pithily explains the result:

The irony is that Super Tuesday was originally conceived in 1988 as a regional primary important enough (and expensive enough) to drive out all but one or two candidates, winnowing the field to just the potential November winners. But last night's mixed results have given us a crazy situation. As of today, the prohibitive frontrunner may have lost a little ground, the distant second-place candidate got a second-wind, and Tuesday provided one helluva perverse incentive for the third-place candidate to stick around just long enough to help the frontrunner.

Anyone else want to join me in a bottle of bourbon or three?

We'll pass on the adult beverages - in times like these, clear heads are what's needed, if only to understand what happened after the fact.

Stumping Trump

If the betting houses are to be believed, Donald Trump has the Republican nomination in the bag.  Maybe he does; but as of now he has not won that many more delegates than anyone else, and he's won fewer than the total won by everyone else combined.  He's thus far gotten less than half the primary votes, as Ted Cruz constantly reminds everyone.

Which raises an interesting possibility: Supposing that, as they staunchly proclaim, the other candidates carry on with their campaigns right through to the convention?  They won't win, of course, but they can prevent a clear-cut first-round Trump victory at the convention.

When we vote for President we think we're electing the President, but we're not; as America discovered in Indecision 2000, you and I are actually voting for electors who are supposed to vote for the guy they pledged to support but don't necessarily have to.

The same is true in primaries.  In most states, delegates awarded as the result of primaries and caucuses are required to vote for their candidate on the first ballot only.

Normally that doesn't matter: if, on the first ballot, a candidate has 50%+1 of the delegate votes, they're the nominee and the convention proceeds.

This year may be different.  It's mathematically possible, and even probable, that there will be no majority winner on the first ballot.  After that, all bets and restrictions are off: delegates are permitted to vote for whomever they please.

Yes, literally whomever - they can even vote for people who weren't candidates in the first place!  A hundred years ago it was not unheard of for a nominee to emerge who hadn't been a candidate during the primary season.  Warren G. Harding, who was elected president, was nominated in 1920 without having run for the nomination.

So it is that Mitt Romney has decided he'd like another crack at being the nominee without the bother of participating in a primary campaign. We suspect that Vice President Joe Biden feels the same way, but he doesn't have a plausible way to pull it off unless Hillary gets a visit from the FBI.

For the Republicans at least, this seems a mathematical possibility.  If neither Sen. Cruz nor Sen. Rubio drop out, and Gov. Kasich wins his home state of Ohio, Mr. Trump won't win on the first ballot even if he enters the convention with more delegates than anyone else.

Who exactly are convention delegates?  Mostly, people who have been politically active in the party for many years - that is, party insiders.  They may vote for Mr. Trump on the first ballot as they are required to do, but will certainly be susceptible to blandishments, threats, and even bribery from miscellaneous party mandarins after that.

What will happen if Mr. Trump enters the convention with a commanding but not majority lead, and Mitt Romney turns out to be the nominee when the dust settles?  Ted Cruz has the answer:

Any time you hear someone talking about a brokered convention, it is the Washington establishment in a fevered frenzy, they are really frustrated because all their chosen candidates, their golden children, the voters keep rejecting.

So they seize on this plan of a brokered convention, and the D.C. power brokers will drop someone in who is exactly to the liking of the Washington establishment. If that would happen, we would have a manifest revolt on our hands all across this country.

Sen. Cruz reveals himself to be more aware of the national mood than just about any other party leader will admit.  He clearly understands that Republican voters will not tolerate being robbed of their choice and having yet another member of the failed, wastrel elite imposed upon them.

If Mitt Romney is the nominee, most of the voters who participated in the Republican primary will walk out in disgust, and Gov. Romney will lose to Hillary in a landslide.

Over the Hillary

Does this mean we're sentenced to another Clintonian White House?  Not necessarily.

If you look only at delegate counts and states won, it seems that Hillary holds a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders.  At last report, she controls a bit over a thousand delegates while Bernie musters only 400 and change.  Isn't two-to-one good odds?

Maybe not, because those totals include unpledged superdelegates.  These are not delegates which were earned in primaries or caucuses involving actual voters.  Hillary has won 659 elected delegates to Mr. Sanders' 477 - but she has 458 superdelegates to his 22, hence her supposed dominance.

Superdelegates are "party insiders" - current and retired officeholders - who get to go to the convention regardless of the primary results and who can vote for whomsoever they please at any time.  They have a very specific purpose, as DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz explains:

Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists. [emphasis added]

By making it appear that Hillary has overwhelming support when, in fact, she does not, the unpledged superdelegates are performing exactly their designed function.  There never has been a more inside insider than Hillary, and Bernie Sanders is overwhelmingly supported by precisely the sort of grassroots activists whom superdelegates were created to defeat.  The superdelegates' job is to make sure that the entire contest is nothing more than a sham and that the establishment candidate gets the nod no matter what the grassroots activists would prefer, no matter how many there are or how motivated they might be.

Because of the superdelegates, the Democrats will probably avoid a convention floor fight: it will be a coronation as predicted from early on.  That doesn't mean the actual voters watching back home will welcome the result.  Since so many states use caucuses instead of primaries,  it's not possible to know exactly how many votes were cast for each candidate, but it certainly seems like the actual numbers are very, very similar.

Thus, we are in a situation in which both of our major parties may very well flip the bird to their own hardcore voters and activists.  It would be hard for one party to survive doing this, but if both of them treat their supporters equally perfidiously in the same year?  What then?

Third One's The Charm

The New York Times gives hints of an even more bizarre outcome:

“I think [Trump is] smart, and he has the best chance of winning support and maybe flipping the state,” Daniel Nadeau, 22, of St. Albans, Vt., said of Mr. Trump. “Bernie is my No. 1 choice, and Trump is No. 2. They’re not that different.”

Voters who were on the fence between the seemingly polar opposite candidates said both communicated well with working-class people and made strong cases for how they would improve the economy.

“I’m a Trump guy, but I do like Bernie,” said Peter Vincenzo, 59, who works installing hardwood floors and traveled from Ohio for the rally. “There are a lot of parallels between these two guys. There’s a populist appeal that comes with both of them.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders may seem to be polar opposites, but as these working-class voters clearly understand, there are great similarities between the two men.  Both clearly care about the plight of the hard-working, taxpaying citizen who can't seem to get ahead; both decry the exporting of jobs to Mexico and China.  Both argue that America has been betrayed by our elites, and both target many of the same elites - admittedly with different emphasis.

Even more telling, as of five minutes ago, Bernie Sanders was almost as staunchly opposed to illegal immigration as Mr. Trump himself.

And, don't forget, Donald Trump literally wrote the book on The Art of the Deal.

If Mitt Romney and the Republican mandarins steal the convention and nomination from Donald Trump's angry peasant mob who've been setting Republican turnout records in every state...

And if Hillary Clinton uses her political clout and insider status to override and ignore the will of Mr. Sanders' angry mob of young, committed, activist voting Democrats Socialists...

Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to imagine equally-disgruntled and equally-betrayed Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders teaming up for an independent Trump-Sanders ticket?  After all, isn't that what the media have been demanding for decades - a common sense, cross-party alliance?

If this were to happen - OK, it's a long shot, but it's stunning to realize that it's even imaginable - to be perfectly frank, we can't help thinking that Trump-Sanders would win all 50 states or close to it, leaving the two major parties in smoldering piles of wreckage.  Which both of them richly deserve.

What will emerge from this ultimate American political trainwreck, immeasurably beyond the demolition derby we've seen thus far?  We can't possibly know, but surely, surely, we can come up with something better or at least more honest than what we're faced with today.  Who knows?  Mayor Bloomberg might even chip in campaign support and the odd billion or two.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

Cleverest of the improbable scenarios that I have seen.
Congratulations to Petrarch (but how an ancient Italian poet could have got this all together is beyond me!)6

March 6, 2016 10:48 PM

This says it all:

"Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to imagine equally-disgruntled and equally-betrayed Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders teaming up for an independent Trump-Sanders ticket?"

The answer, quite sadly, is - it's very easy to imagine that happening. Every reader is instantly thinking hmm yeah I could see Trump doing just to stick it to them! It fits his style and behavior perfectly.

Now, imagine that any other Rep. candidate were in the same situation and had the nomination stolen from them.

Can you imagine Carson or Rubio or Bush teaming up with Sanders?

To ask the question is to answer it - of course not. It would be completely unimaginable. Their views are so polar opposite, it would be absurd.

That's the person you're supporting, Trump voters. Someone who quite readily and eagerly would have no problem jumping the aisle and joining up with a far left candidate with utterly socialist views if he doesn't get his way. Does that trouble you at all?

March 11, 2016 7:45 AM

I think the more likely outcome if both Trump and Sanders (and their supports) feel they have been robed at the conventions is that the turnout will be the lowest ever. So no matter who wins, they will do so with only a small fraction of the publics support, and be distrusted if not despised by a large majority from the start. Unless they then perform miracles (or more accurately, unless miracles happen under their watch) it will go down from there. Of course, then next round of protest will be bigger, and the elites of both parties will be in more trouble.

That does not end well for the elites, but it could impose massive costs on the public in the mean time.

March 13, 2016 1:23 PM
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