At any other time in the modern history of presidential
nomination contests, the major party races could be safely now
said to be concluded. In fact, Donald Trump has just exceeded
the majority of committed delegates to his Republican
convention in Cleveland, and has no announced opponent left
in what was an historically crowded field of 17 candidates.
He will be nominated on the first ballot, albeit with lingering
doubt among many traditional conservatives and GOP stalwarts.
The Democratic contest, however, remains unsettled because
frontrunner Hilary Clinton’s only remaining opponent, Bernie
Sanders, refuses to concede the nomination in spite of Mrs.
Clinton apparent mathematical lock on it. Moreover, Mr. Sanders
has been winning almost all the later primaries, and is possibly
poised in a few days to upset Mrs. Clinton in the final major
primary in California. Should that upset happen, Mr. Sanders
would still be short of Mrs. Clinton’s elected delegate total, but
because about 500 unelected delegates (most of whom are
currently committed to Mrs. Clinton) will attend the convention
in Philadelphia, there would be an air of uncertainly surrounding
the first ballot. Technically, these non-elected “super-delegates”
could change their minds before the first ballot.
There is no true precedent for this ambiguous spectacle in
presidential politics. Pundits, myself included, have searched
the dusty shelves of past elections for precedents, but there are
none. The old ethnic, religious and gender demographic models
do not seem to work usefully, and the opinion polling techniques,
relatively reliable in the past, seem no longer instructive or
The Democratic Party initially faced serious obstacles in 2016,
primarily because it had held the White House for two terms
and U.S. voters recently have demonstrated a certain fatigue with
both major parties after eight years of their administrations.
But mainstream expectations were turned on their heads in both
parties when both Democratic and Republican primary/caucus
voters staged historic mutinies, producing both Bernie Sanders
and Donald Trump. When it became apparent that Mr. Trump
would actually win his party’s nomination, Democrats were
understandably heartened by the divisions in the conservative
ranks, and by what they felt were their improved prospects not
only in the presidential race, but down-ballot in U.S. house and
senate races as well. In senate races, particularly, liberal hopes
to regain control of that body were buoyed by GOP senate
candidates caught in the middle of apparent voter disdain for
Mr. Trump and their own mainstream campaign prospects.
Then the presumptive Democratic nominee, Mrs. Clinton, ran
into the unexpected and amazing surge of Bernie Sanders,
complicated by persistent several legal and ethical controversies
Recent polling (for whatever it’s worth) indicates that a
November race between Mrs Clinton and Mr. Trump would be
close. Mr. Trump has signaled that he would not sit idly by while
Democrats attack him (as Mitt Romney ignored attacks in 2012).
More and more Republicans are accepting the Trump candidacy
(even as the candidate himself unaccountably continues to make
unforced errors by attacking Republican governors who have not
yet endorsed him).
Just as there is some talk by some anti-Trump Republicans for
running a third party candidate against their own nominee,
there is now talk by some Democrats of dumping Mrs. Clinton
before her convention, and inserting Vice President Joe Biden
(with Elizabeth Warren as his running mate) as their nominee
in Philadelphia. But this scenario fails to explain what the
Democrats would do with Bernie Sanders and his millions of
supporters. Denied the liberal party nomination in Philadelphia,
Mr. Sanders, as some have suggested, could then become the
Green Party candidate and siphon off millions of votes from the
Democratic ticket, thus producing a landslide for Donald Trump.
There has been nothing like this election cycle in American
politics. The source of the disruption is the American voter who,
after years of stalemate, empty rhetoric from politicians of both
parties, and their legitimate anxieties about the economy,
national security and America’s role in the world, are saying they
want something else.
I continue to eschew predictions, but I do suggest that keeping
watch on the motions and maneuvers of the politicians and the
political parties is less instructive than observing the emerging
new models of behavior by the voters themselves.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.