Never have the American people deliberately elected a President they thought beforehand was unsuited for the office. Only a perverse electorate would do so, but the nation will commit this epic blunder if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face each other in November.
A June 29 Quinnipiac University poll revealed the public apprehension about the apparent nominees: 58% of the respondents do not expect Mr. Trump to be a good president. 53% do not expect Ms. Clinton to be. And the race is now a dead heat: although the poll shows Ms.Clinton with a 42%-40% apparent advantage, the margin of error was 2.4%. Too close to call.
An effective presidency requires the respect of the American people, but the latest unfavorability ratings of the apparent nominees are indeed sad: Mr. Trump’s number is 59.8%, Ms. Clinton’s 55.4%.
Given the statistical tossup, there is no clear indication of the winner, but the Quinnipiac poll suggests a discomforting choice. The respondents by a ratio of 53% to 33% thought Ms. Clinton to be more intelligent, but by a ratio of 45% to 37% Mr. Trump was seen to be more honest and trustworthy.
So we must place into office, apparently, either a man of comparatively limited intelligence or a woman of compromised integrity—to be an unfit President, painfully deficient in public confidence. This tragic prospect cannot be tolerated, and there are signs it might not be. Some Republicans are openly murmuring about changing the rules at their convention, freeing the delegates to reject Mr. Trump in favor of a more palatable candidate. This needs badly to be done, and the Democrats need as well to offer a promising alternative to Hillary Clinton.
Yes, rejecting “presumptive nominees” would be unusual, but there are no legal or procedural barriers standing in the way. Both conventions can act if they choose to. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The need is clear: we are witnessing the collapse of presidential politics, a failing institution. It has become a makeshift process, insanely complex, lengthy, expensive, tedious, inconsistent and undemocratic. It was constructed incrementally and haphazardly by the two major parties, the Federal Election Commission, and fifty disparate secretaries of state. Nowhere is it required or even suggested that a candidate should have a shred of knowledge, experience, or skill in governing the nation.
The current beneficiary of that robust deficiency is the Republican presumptive nominee. By the force of his demagoguery, Mr. Trump gained attention, and he has prevailed because of the predominant winner-take-all feature of the Republican primaries.
Nearly three-quarters of Republican convention delegates are chosen by some variation of winner-take-all, and it is manifestly undemocratic. When the candidate with even slightly more votes in a primary is allocated all the delegates, the vote is effectively declared unanimous. The popularity of the winner is greatly but unjustly exaggerated, silencing the impact on the public mind of those who voted for anyone else. As the primary season progresses a curvilinear reaction is unleashed, the front-runner’s lead growing larger, faster, as enthusiasm builds for an increasingly apparent winner.
Having relied so heavily on winner-take-all, the Republicans now face the nightmarish prospect of nominating Mr. Trump and anticipating an apocalyptic presidency.
The establishment Democratic Party, enforcing a proportional assignment of pledged delegates in every state, avoids the Republicans’ procedural difficultly, but it has contributed in two other ways to the collapse of presidential politics.
The first was to brush aside the required neutrality of party leadership in conducting the primaries. Historically the parties scrupulously avoid even a hint of preference for any one of the candidates: the nominee is for the voters to decide, not the party.
The establishment Democrats in the current cycle, however, surpassed favoritism with anointment. When Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2012 campaign, stepped up to chair the Democratic National Committee in 2015, the Party and the Clinton campaign quickly became joined at the hip, indistinguishable and inseparable. The two women then undertook to game the system of presidential politics relentlessly—and so far successfully.
First they adopted a scheme to exaggerate Ms. Clinton’s popularity, and it replicated the effect of winner-take-all. They consented to or perhaps encouraged the mass media’s inclusion of superdelegates in reporting Ms. Clinton’s accumulating tally of support. But superdelegates are legally committed to no one until they cast their votes at the convention; the news stories occasionally footnoted this detail, but the totals of pledged delegates and superdelegates made the headlines.
The practice began even before Ms. Clinton had a single declared opponent, when she gained the early endorsements of 400 prominent Democrats. In the public mind conditioned by the media however (and unchallenged by the DNC), she had a head start of 400 in the race for convention delegates. That lead grew larger, faster, as the primaries progressed. More and more superdelegates were folded in, and the exaggeration of Ms. Clinton’s popularity grew like compound interest.
On April 28, Mr. Luis Miranda, the communications director of the DNC, broke ranks. He made abundantly clear to CNN’s Jake Tapper the illegitimacy of including the superdelegates, but the practice continued. It peaked on June 7 when the Associated Press canvassed some superdelegates and declared Ms. Clinton the presumptive nominee—on the night before primaries were held in California and five other states.
Hyping the popularity of Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton was equally effective in both parties, but for the mainstream Democrats it was just one technique among many they used in gaming the primaries to favor their chosen candidate.
The Democratic debates were limited to six, half the number of the Republicans’. Three were scheduled on weekends, to minimize the viewing audience. 5% of the Iowa caucuses were never counted. In Brooklyn, New York, Mr.Sanders’ home town, 125,000 voters were purged from the rolls. Arizona voters waited 3 to 4 hours to vote—in pro-Sanders precincts. In Nevada, 58 Sanders delegates to the state convention were summarily disqualified. California was called for Clinton when her lead reached 400,000 votes—with 2.5 million provisional ballots yet to be counted.
The Wasserman-Schultz/Clinton campaign has been so apparently fraudulent a class-action lawsuit has been filed detailing the accusations. The law firm of Beck and Lee Trial Lawyers in Miami entered the suit, Carol Wilding, et al., v. DNC Services, Inc., d/b/a Democratic National Committee; and Deborah “Debbie” Wasserman-Schultz. Ms. Wasserman-Schultz has been served her summons.
The democratic nature of choosing a president is undermined when one party anoints a single candidate before the voters have spoken. But the establishment Democrats have hammered presidential politics in another, even more consequential way.
They deconstructed the essence of the two-party system in America.
The Republican Party traditionally has represented the interests of business. The Democrats have been the party of America’s workers. The tension between the two was healthy and mutually respectful, and over the years it produced sound public policy. A vibrant middle class, strong labor unions, economic and social mobility, a growing economy, an equitable distribution of wealth and incomes: the nation was dynamic and content. The two-party system served it well.
The Democrats destroyed that balance of representation. In the 1990’s the Party, yielding to the Democratic Leadership Council abandoned the nation’s working families, adopting a neoliberal agenda that favored corporate America instead. Bill and Hillary Clinton were deeply involved in this effort, and they have profited richly from it ever since. (The New York banks alone have contributed $83.72 million to their various political campaigns, and $8.18 million more to their personal accounts for those infamous speeches.)
The New Democratic Party embodied in the Bill Clinton Administration enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement. It benefited their corporate sponsors immensely, but it also encouraged the export of 30 million manufacturing jobs. Put another way, 30 million American working families lost their livelihoods.
Xenophobia is not the only long suit in Donald Trump’s hand. He is also well aware of the savage effect free trade agreements have on America’s workers, and he has exploited their resentment with political brilliance. Today’s mainstream Democratic Party itself—and the Clintons—bear no small responsibility for the triumph of Donald Trump.
The Republicans played by the rules, but their reliance on winner-take-all left them with a presumptive nominee unfavorable to most Americans and unfit to be President. The Democrats gamed the rules and did no better.
Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton must be rejected.
The Republicans’ task will be painful. Mr. Trump has 1,447 committed votes, 210 more than the number needed to win the nomination. The convention, however, can adopt rules freeing those delegates of their obligation; that will cause an uproar, but it is by no means illegal. Only 211 defections would deny Mr. Trump’s nomination. Given the murmurs already heard, that seems eminently within reach.
The task of the Democrats will be far less traumatic because no rules need be changed.
Ms. Clinton does not have the 2,383 committed votes to secure the nomination. She is 163 votes shy, so her 2,220 pledged delegates could cast a loyal vote for her on the first ballot.
And they could continue to do so on subsequent ballots.
Ms. Clinton cannot be nominated without the help of superdelegate votes, and they are under no obligation to grant them to her.
The superdelegate system was put in place in 1982 as a circuit-breaker, to veto the nomination of perhaps a dazzling but inadequate candidate who might be of great disservice to both the party and the nation. (Precisely the disaster in the Republican Party today.) It was meant to counteract a “tyranny of the majority,” to let the political professionals, the elected public servants in the party overrule any misjudgments by the well-meaning amateurism of citizen-delegates.
Yes, the superdelegate system is elitist, patronizing, even undemocratic. And yes, there’s a good case for its elimination. But not now. Whatever its drawbacks in principle, we are fortunate in practice to have the superdelegate system in place at this sobering moment in our political history.
For the good of the nation, it is time for the seasoned statesmen at the Democratic convention, the superdelegates, to provide the American voters with a well-liked, trustworthy, and electable nominee.
It is time for the Republican Party to do as much.
Godspeed to the enterprise.
This article was written by Richard Behan for American Herald Tribune on July 8, 2016. Richard is a retired dean and professor of forestry (Ph.D, UC Berkeley, 1971). His specialty was natural resource and public lands policy.