Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thoughts on the Election Campaign

Various ...

Suppose Trump arrives at the convention with fewer than half the delegates and so doesn't win on the first ballot. Many delegates, including many of his, will be free to vote for someone else on the second ballot, and almost all will be free on the third ballot. His delegates are not selected by him but by the state party machinery; although they are obliged to vote for him on the first ballot, what they do thereafter will depend on the party's internal politics. It could get complicated, given that the obvious alternative at this point is Cruz, who is almost as unpopular with the Republican establishment as Trump. But my guess is that if the Republican leadership wants to deny Trump the nomination at that point, they can do so. 

There are two reasons they might not. One is that they might think Trump is more likely to win the election than alternative candidates—that, according to Ben Carson, is one of the reasons he endorsed Trump. The other is fear that if Trump's supporters think the nomination has been unfairly stolen from him enough of them will stay home on election day to throw the presidential election, and possibly congressional elections as well, to the Democrats.

That raises the question of what counts as stealing the nomination—not in the eyes of God but in the eyes of Trump supporters. If Trump starts with almost enough votes and a lot of his delegates defect on the second ballot, that might do it. If there are changes in the rules that appear designed to keep Trump from winning, that might also do it.

The current rules, as revised for the 2012 convention, limit nomination to candidates who have a majority of the delegates in at least eight states. That would almost certainly eliminate everyone but Trump and Cruz, might limit it to only Trump. A change in that rule that let someone like Romney be nominated and win would be entirely legal, as I understand the rules. But it might not look that way to Trump supporters. A change that let in someone who ran, didn't do very well, but is more acceptable to the establishment than Cruz, might be seen in the same category.

Can Trump be elected? The obvious answer is "no," but I am not sure it is correct. He did a great deal better in the primaries than almost anyone expected. His claim is that he can get support from Democratic voters. If true, the question will be whether he gains more votes by attracting Democrats than he loses by repelling Republicans.

My explanation of why Trump and Cruz are the two Republican candidates still standing ties into my old explanation of why people vote. Also my explanation of why sports teams are linked to cities and universities.

Part of the reason to attend a football game is the pleasure of partisanship, of cheering for your team. Identifying a team with a city or a university provides a preexisting body of partisans. Every four years a game is played out across the nation with the fate of the world at stake. You can not merely cheer for your team, you can play on it, even if in a very minor role, for the cost of an hour or so of your time. Who could resist?

Apply the same approach to the nomination campaign. The decision of who to support is based not on who supports what policies but on whose team you enjoy identifying with. You wants to be on a strong team, a team with a confident, aggressive leader. Trump and Cruz fit that pattern considerably better than Bush and Rubio. Trump's repeated references to "little Marco" were entirely unfair—but effective. Being physically big fits the image of a strong leader.

I watched the beginning of the most recent Republican debate and thought Trump did a clever job of deflecting, arguably reversing, what should have been an effective attack against him. He claims that H1B visas and free trade agreements steal jobs from American workers. But he himself brought in foreign workers on H1B visas to work at his companies, outsourced parts of what he was doing to foreign countries.

The obvious response would be to deny it or claim the charges were exaggerated. Trump's response instead was that, as a businessman, it was his job to make money for his firms within the existing rules, good or bad. He went on to argue that, because he had experience taking advantage of bad rules, he knew how to stop other people from doing it—and would. "Set a thief to catch a thief." Or, alternatively, when presented with  lemons ...  .


Jay Maynard said...

Rule 40, to which you refer, is a nothingburger. At this point, Trump has the majority of delegates in 7 states, Cruz in 4. However, that can be changed right up to the first night of the convention. The Rules Committee report, which is adopted by majority vote right after the list of delegates is certified, can change any rule of that nature easily. Not only that, but while the delegates are bound to vote for specific candidates for the nomination, they are not obliged to vote in that candidate's interest on other questions.

I think you're right to say that the danger of alienating Trump's supporters is that they will stay home. I don't think Trump can mount a serious bid to run as an independent without either giving up on lots of states or else telegraphing his punch and making the case to nominate him a lot weaker. The reason is timing of ballot deadlines: 15 states have ballot deadlines on or before the last day of the convention, July 21, and 11 more have deadlines less than two weeks later. Texas' is the earliest, in early May, and has one of the highest requirements for signatures: somewhere around 80,000 signatures of voters who did not vote in either party's primary. That's a pretty steep hill to climb, and would require enough of an effort that it would send a clear signal that he's pursuing a run.

John T. Kennedy said...

Jay< "or else telegraphing his punch and making the case to nominate him a lot weaker."

Why would it make the case weaker? It puts the party in the position of supporting Trump or losing the election badly.

Tom Mazanec said...

A monkey wrench could be thrown in this by Bernie Sanders. If it is obvious that he has the backing of half the Democrats but will not get the nomination because of Hillary's superdelegates, I would not put it past him to run as an Independent. He would not win, but he could get Trump elected with a minority of the votes cast.

David Friedman said...


If Trump is the Republican nominee, I find it hard to imagine Sanders doing a third party run. What would be the point of it?

My guess is that his campaign originated as a way of pulling Hillary further left. He did surprisingly well, which made it effective for that purpose but also raised the possibility that a Hillary stumble might give him the nomination. But what does he gain by a third party run that helps a candidate most of the left detests?

David Friedman said...


It's tricky. If he is visibly preparing a third party run, that makes denying him the nomination look less unreasonable, so reduces the number of people who would follow him.

John T. Kennedy said...


I'm assuming Trump will have a clear lead, and then the 3rd party preparations could be characterized as purely defensive.

bruce said...

If Trump Democrats are as powerful as Reagan Democrats he will be President. Are they? Beats me.

David Friedman said...


The issue isn't only how many Democrats Trump attracts. It's also how many Republicans he loses.

cinc210 said...

Good point. Trump is more of a European right winger than a Republican. He does the immigration/trade issue like Le Pen in France and of course didn't want to touch social security just like Le Pen and other leaders of right populist parties in Europe. If there is more of a crisis in Europe, Trump has a chance to win against Clinton. Right now polls are going up and down for Cruz. If Cruz wins Ill, Miss, Ohio, then Trump is probably gone since Cruz does better in the west and could win California since there are still conservative Republicans left there.

cinc210 said...

Recently, the ALF Party in Germany gain ground over the Refugee situation in Germany. So, this might helped Trump since like Trump they don't like immigration much unless its a control guest worker program that Trump uses in his hotels.

Tibor said...

cinc210: I think they are not against immigration per se, they seem to be against welfare immigration. My impression that most of the US immigration is structurally different (although, of course, most people do not seem to be able to differentiate very well between different kinds of immigration in Europe and I imagine it is going to be the same in the US, so Trump can still play that card with some amount of demagoguery). By the way the party you mention is called AfD (Alternative für Deutschland).