The Ides of March primaries and likely nominees

The Ides of March primaries and likely nominees

In the wake of the May 15 primaries most pundits hold that the die is cast in favor of Clinton and Trump. This is assessment is a bit rushed since only half of the delegates have been elected and it is still mathematically possible for the others to win. Yet it is perhaps more important that this has been an atypical election and the realm of possible outcomes is wider. These include a possible conservative third party nominee for Republicans and some creative ways of getting Sanders to support Hillary.

Primaries and caucuses have now selected a little more than half the delegates to the Republican nominating convention and almost exactly half of the Democratic delegates. While there is another round of primaries scheduled for both March 22 and March 26, the entire process will only conclude in mid June. A number of large or well populated states like New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are still to be heard from.

The math of the primaries

While Hillary Clinton now has a lead of over 300 pledged delegates and over 400 superdelegates in comparison with Bernie Sanders; and Donald Trump has over 250 pledged delegates more than Ted Cruz, the supporters of both candidates contend that it is still mathematically possible for their campaigns to upset the frontrunners.

Meantime the current leaders view themselves as the likely winners and have turned their attention to their likely November opponents. In fact, the media has echoed this assessment. Even some of those sympathetic to Sanders are discussing how he may preserve his movement by developing sympathetic candidates at the state and local levels. While this last group acknowledges the broad base of support that Bernie has developed they also don’t think that it’s in the cards for him this time.

If this were a conventional presidential primary season the parties would be have started to coalesce around the likely winners. Their campaigns would have also gained in momentum and support since voters in the upcoming races would prefer to vote for winners. This is the common bandwagon effect.

While Clinton and Trump may well win outright by June this is not a normal year and the forces of dissension remain viable. There is less dissension among the Democrats since Sanders has said regularly that he knows and respects Secretary Clinton. His campaign is simply taking its best shot.. This is similar to Clinton’s own choice to stay in the race until June 2008 against Barack Obama.

The Republicans might unite around Trump just as Governor Christie and Dr. Ben Carson have done, but there is also a strong conservative ‘Stop Trump’ effort. Republicans are considering forming a third party to back a separate conservative candidate in the general election.

There is also a movement among both conservative and moderate Republicans to work towards a brokered convention if Trump fails to receive the necessary 1237 delegates. Since Trump would have to get 55% of all future delegates to reach this total it’s possible that support for Cruz and Kasich could deny him the nomination. Since there’s a bloc of Rubio delegates who are now free to choose a new candidate, as are smaller blocs committed to other failed candidates, it’s possible that another candidate could round up 1237 votes depending on the numbers in June. If not, all bets are off since committed delegates will no longer be bound on the second ballot.

An atypical election season

Students of American governance used to express quiet pride in the stability of the American political system. At the center of this stability was the nature of the party and electoral systems. Parties were seen as non-ideological and decentralized. Their lack of any firm ideology and the power of local and state party leaders to recruit and season candidates allowed diversity nationally and a broad support base.

Ripon Republicans were quite liberal while Southern Democrats were often conservative. While Democrats remained more liberal and Republicans more conservative nationally there were also these local differences. Moreover, since a candidate had to join one of the two parties to be viable these big tents also coopted Upper West Side of Manhattan leftists and Orange County California John Birch members.

Since the electoral system was also single member and winner-take-all rather than proportional representation there was little chance that small ideological parties could win an election. This prevented the sort of fragmentation we saw in the Italian and French parliaments over time. More importantly ideological and regional diversity encouraged bargaining and compromise. The inability to draw support across party lines has crippled today’s Congress.

There was also an economic dimension to stability since the national government guaranteed the organizing rights of unions, and regularly moved against the creation of monopolies with the enforcement of anti-trust measures. These factors and America’s general prosperity led to a more equitable distribution of wealth. Anti Communists quite rightly said that America was the real workers’ paradise. Free or low tuition of public colleges also facilitated upward mobility. So did strong public funding for K-12 education and support of trade schools.

This American reality has now been undermined resulting in wide support for populist candidates. It’s not unlike the support for fascist and communist parties that came in the wake of the Great Depression. In some ways Huey Long and Father Coughlin first sounded like Bernie Sanders or FDR in calling for fairer distribution of wealth, but Coughlin particularly moved on to sound more like Trump in the bigoted scapegoating of minorities and his eventual support for Mussolini and Hitler.

Little has been said about Trump’s platform incorporating both nationalist and socialist programs. It could be that this amalgam is the result of blissful ignorance rather than Nazi leanings, but it’s clearly drawn a wide audience including former American Nazi David Duke and his KKK friends.

The likely outcome

Sanders will likely do better in the coming weeks since the upcoming primaries are no longer in the South and instead in places more like Iowa or Missouri where he lost by one or two points. He will obtain nearly half the delegates in such contests. He could even win substantially in states like Washington or Alaska which have similarities to Minnesota.

This still won’t give him enough delegates to win nor will it be likely to convince superdelegates to change their support from Hillary. However one can expect the Democratic leadership to offer Bernie some platform concessions or other incentives in the hope that he will deliver his people to Hillary. His support has been far more substantial than initially anticipated.

It is possible that Trump will win his nomination, but anti-Trump leaders are gathering momentum. The Economist’s identified a Trump presidency as a top ten risk to the global economy, adding fuel to the anti-Trump Republican cause. However, the Economist’s forecast is also correct that should Trump become the nominee, the panic following a major terrorist attack or financial crisis could result in his election. It’s ironic that this could be more costly to the US than any terrorist attack itself.

Categories: North America, Politics

About Author

Lawrence Katzenstein

Lawrence Katzenstein has taught at the University of New Orleans and the University of Minnesota. Through an affiliation with the Humphrey Institute he was one of the trainers for the initial Chinese WTO delegation. He has been an exchange professor at the Consolidated Universities of Shandong Province and an embedded social scientist with the U.S. Army in Iraq. He earned a B.A. in political science from CCNY and an M.A. and Ph.D in political science from Rutgers University. While at the University of Minnesota he also completed a teaching post doc in International Business.