The next phase of the 2016 presidential campaign is the one
usually where the strongest candidates in each major party
secure their nominations.
This might not happen in the traditional manner this cycle.
On the Democratic side, time and mathematics are running
out for Bernie Sanders, the only remaining challenger to
frontrunner Hillary Clinton. The Democrats designed their
process for just this outcome, and it has apparently worked.
The remaining ambiguity, however, is the putative nominee
herself as she is mired in chronic legal and ethical
controversies, as well as polls with unprecedented negatives
for someone who is in the finals for the presidency. Mr.
Sanders has the financial, staffing and volunteer resources to
continue until the end of the primary season, but unless there
is a dramatic development in his opponent’s controversies,
he is not going to be the Democratic nominee.
On the Republican side, however, a genuinely contested
convention is becoming more and more possible. Both Ted
Cruz and John Kasich seem to be getting stronger as the second
half of the primary/caucus season unfolds into two-plus months
of larger primaries in northern, midwestern and far western
states, many of which are primaries limited only to Republican
voters. Part of Mr. Trump’s early success can be ascribed to
open GOP primaries that allowed Democrats and independents
to vote in them. Several primaries ahead are also winner-take-all
which provide Mr. Trump with both an opportunity and political
Mr. Trump has been arguing that if he has the most delegates
prior to the convention, he should automatically receive the
nomination. If he is very close to a majority, it is likely that he
will win. But if he has, say less than about 1125-1150 delegates,
that argument will not hold much weight because many
delegates are released after the first ballot, and can vote for
whomever they wish. As in the case of Georgia, where Mr.
Trump won all of the delegates, those delegates are chosen
not by the candidate and his campaign, but by the state party.
William Seward led on the first ballot in Chicago in 1860, and
was by far the favorite for the Republican nomination that year,
but his numbers faded after that first ballot, and Abraham
Lincoln was nominated. The same thing happened in numerous
conventions in both parties during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Mr. Trump has not yet won 50% of the total popular vote in the
primary season, and has rarely topped 40% in individual
primaries. His challenge now is to win most of the remaining
primaries and more than 50% of the delegates chosen in them.
Mr. Kasich has only won one primary, and is not favored to win
very many more. His strongest argument for his nomination at a
contested convention is that he is the only Republican who can
win in November. Current polls show that this is true for now,
but Mr. Kasich needs those polls consistently to show this even
stronger and right up to the July convention in Cleveland. Not all
delegates are released after the first ballot, or even after the
second ballot, and the eventual nominee in a contested
convention will almost surely have to demonstrate that his ticket
will win the November election.
There are no more “super” primary dates. A number of larger
states with hefty numbers of delegates, many of them
potentially winner-take-all, will now hold their voting on
successive weeks. Since all of the voting in the south and the
far northeast has been concluded, those candidates who have
hitherto not done so well might now begin to do dramatically
better. Or Mr. Trump’s momentum, in spite of all obstacles,
might continue and even grow.
All we do know is that many of the “rules” of the past so far
have been discarded or suspended. This has been a once-in-a-
generation, perhaps even a once-in-a-century, election cycle.
There is no evidence yet that this won’t continue.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.