On the menu today: Deciding which candidate should receive the nomination could be an ugly process this year; the Bloomberg campaign’s edited debate video; and the average American thinks very little about foreign policy.
The Divisive Question
What should a political party do when one candidate doesn’t win the requisite number of delegates to become the presidential nominee, but enters the convention with a solid lead?
Wednesday night on stage, all of the Democrats except one argued that the delegates should choose whom they think the best nominee is, even if that person is not the one who won the most delegates during the primaries.
TODD: Yes or no, leading person with the delegates, should they be the nominee or not?
BIDEN: No, let the process work its way out.
TODD: Mayor Buttigieg?
BUTTIGIEG: Not necessarily. Not until there’s a majority.
TODD: Senator Klobuchar?
KLOBUCHAR: Let the process work.
TODD: Senator Sanders?
SANDERS: Well, the process includes 500 super-delegates on the second ballot. So I think that the will of the people should prevail, yes. The person who has the most votes should become the nominee.
TODD: Thank you, guys. Five nos and a yes.
(I don’t want to hear any of these people other than Sanders complaining about the Electoral College.)
How you feel about this will be shaped by how you answer a couple of related questions: Do you think the party’s primary voters always make the best choice? Do you think having the largest plurality is close enough to having a majority? Do you think the largest plurality of the party’s primary voters should get their choice, even if it’s a bad one?
The Republican Party — that allegedly insider-y, selfish, bourbon-and-cigars party of the powerful — faced these questions four years ago and answered: “no, yes, yes.” And the choice ended up working out pretty well for them.
A total of 2,472 delegates attended the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the winning candidate needed a simple majority of 1,237 votes to become the GOP nominee. Trump clinched it in May, and ironically, it wasn’t because of a primary or caucus win. The Associated Press determined that enough unbound delegates — for example, each state’s three representatives to the Republican National Committee get to be delegates — ended up backing Trump to put him over the top.
That more or less ended the possibility of the GOP convention in Cleveland nominating someone besides Trump. In 2016, Donald Trump won 44.95 percent of the ballots cast in the Republican primary. But because of winner-take-all states and other quirks, Trump ended with 1,441 delegates. The next-closest, Ted Cruz, won 25 percent, and the third-place finisher, John Kasich, finished with 13.7 percent. Even a Cruz–Kasich unity ticket theoretically represented the preferences of fewer people than Trump did. Dislodging Trump would have required something such as a Cruz–Kasich unity ticket and Marco Rubio being named the Secretary of State-in-waiting and all of the 130 uncommitted delegates jumping on board with the alternative ticket and 204 of Trump’s delegates changing their minds and abandoning him.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed with the laugh-inducing headline: “It’s time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president.” I don’t know about you, but I’m just glad someone is standing up for the people who really get forgotten and ignored, the ones who don’t enjoy any advantages, the ones who have gotten treated badly, and who are the true victims of injustice in this country: America’s elites.
Still, there’s a reason that parties used smoke-filled rooms to select their candidates for so long. Those smoke-filled rooms had all the major internal factions represented, and those power brokers had to hammer out the nominee and running mate that gave them the best chance of winning. The men in the smoke-filled rooms couldn’t get idealistic, or swoon over fantastic visions, or bet all their chips on a longshot radical. They had to be hard-nosed realists with a keen sense of what the electorate as a whole was inclined to prefer.
Meanwhile, the slogan “trust the people” sounds good, until you see an Iowa caucusgoer who didn’t know a basic fact about the candidate she preferred, or a New Hampshire voter who used eeny-meany-miney-moe to make her choice.
Yesterday while recording The Editors podcast, Charlie and MBD concurred that while the Bernie Bros may be furious and unhinged, they aren’t necessarily wrong about what’s going on here. The Democratic Party offers a lot of lip service to respecting the will of the people and then are willing to toss it out the window the moment they fear it lessens their odds of victory. I would argue that the Democratic Party’s rules on superdelegates and rogue delegates on subsequent ballots are there for a reason. They want their convention to nominate the candidate with the best possible chance to win in November, regardless of whether that figure won the most votes in the primary.
If Sanders and his supporters didn’t trust the Democratic Party’s nominating process to operate fairly, he probably shouldn’t have run for the Democratic nomination. For most of his career, Sanders made it clear that while he may caucus with and often vote with the Senate Democrats, he did not think of himself as a Democrat. He only formally filed paperwork to run as a Democrat in 2015. The distrust is mutual.
You’ve seen a lot of jokes this past week that Mike Bloomberg — a guy who only became a Democrat in 2018 — is fighting Sanders — a guy who only became a Democrat in 2015 — in order to try to beat Donald Trump — who only re-registered as a Republican in 2012. Nine years ago, none of these guys were in their respective parties.
Mike Bloomberg is privately lobbying Democratic Party officials and donors allied with his moderate opponents to flip their allegiance to him — and block Bernie Sanders — in the event of a brokered national convention.
The effort, largely executed by Bloomberg’s senior state-level advisers in recent weeks, attempts to prime Bloomberg for a second-ballot contest at the Democratic National Convention in July by poaching supporters of Joe Biden and other moderate Democrats, according to two Democratic strategists familiar with the talks and unaffiliated with Bloomberg:
“There’s a whole operation going on, which is genius,” said one of the strategists, who is unaffiliated with any campaign. “And it’s going to help them win on the second ballot … They’re telling them that’s their strategy.”
It may be “genius,” but it is also a formula for chaos, a scenario that would worry me more if I were a Democrat. Picture the plausible scenario where Sanders wins the most votes and the most delegates but falls short of the threshold to win the nomination outright. He goes to Milwaukee, no one wins on the first ballot . . . and then the superdelegates choose to nominate the Wall Street billionaire who finished second, or maybe even third. (Keep in mind, Bloomberg is running at around 15 percent nationally right now. For what it’s worth, when Democrats are asked to choose between just Sanders and Bloomberg, the Vermont senator wins, 53 percent to 38 percent.) We all saw the epic baggage that Bloomberg carries on debate night, and Bloomberg has gotten here by spending $463.8 million in three months. I am not exaggerating when I say the Bernie supporters might riot over having the nomination “stolen” from him.
(In the divided-convention scenario, does Joe Biden make more sense as a consensus candidate? Does Amy Klobuchar?)
You Can’t Police Jokes out of a Fear They Could Mislead Stupid People
After a debate performance that was mostly disastrous, Mike Bloomberg put out a short, funny video that is, in my eyes, so blatantly edited that it doesn’t count as dangerous disinformation. (Does anyone think there were audible crickets in the debate hall?) But the Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler is livid: “We’re taking a tough line on manipulated campaign videos before viewers are flooded with so many fakes that they have trouble knowing what is true. The Bloomberg campaign should label this as a parody or else take the video down. In the meantime, Bloomberg earns Four Pinocchios.”
Meanwhile, “Twitter told The Verge that the video would likely be labeled as manipulated media under the platform’s new deepfakes policy that officially goes into place on March 5th.” (I guess Twitter didn’t think that deceptively edited videos would be a problem until after Super Tuesday.)
Democrats Are As Functionally Isolationist As Trump Is
We hear a lot about how Donald Trump shocks, horrifies, frightens, and unnerves foreign populations and foreign leaders, including our allies. But David Ignatius points out that the Democrats did not do much to reassure those groups this week:
People throughout Eastern Europe and Asia who have struggled to escape from socialism must find Sen. Bernie Sanders’s enthusiasm for it — and the fact that the Vermont independent is leading the field — especially bizarre.
The Democrats’ lack of interest in the world will also be noted. Foreign policy was barely mentioned in Las Vegas. As the candidates shouted at each other, they seemed unaware that voters would be judging them in part on their fitness to be commander in chief. Rather than discuss rational global climate policies, such as a carbon tax, they talked about putting U.S. energy executives in jail.
I noticed that the word “coronavirus” was not mentioned. China was only mentioned briefly during a discussion about carbon emissions. Russia was mentioned once, in the context of election interference. Iran was not mentioned at all.
It’s probably true that few Americans care what foreign populations or foreign leaders think about our president. This reflects the fact that most Americans don’t think about foreign policy much. The Democrats don’t want to waste their time or breath trying to convince Americans that they should care.
ADDENDUM: Over on the home page, I miss the era when American politics was dominated by middle-aged, multi-term, reform-minded governors.