By November, the Primaries are Forgotten

The Republican National Convention in Cleveland is going to be a hot mess no matter what happens. In a way, the cleanest outcome would be if Trump just waltzed in there with the requisite delegates to accept his coronation. Except, even that would be the most awkward coronation since 11 Frimaire, Year XIII, when, with Pope Pius VII presiding, Napoleon placed the “crown of Charlemagne” on his own head.

More likely, as Byron York points out, no one will win on the first ballot in Cleveland. And there’s a possibility that the eventual nominee will neither have won the most delegates during the primaries and caucuses, nor received the most popular votes.

Mr. York sees this as significantly more problematic than the situation in 2000 when George W. Bush “won” the presidency despite losing the popular vote. The reason that 2000 wasn’t so bad?

The 2000 winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, lost the presidency because of the constitutional structure under which electors, not popular vote totals, determine who enters the White House. Seeing the popular-vote loser, George W. Bush, win the election was unfortunate — it hadn’t happened since the 19th Century — but it was specifically provided for in the Constitution. Democrats unhappily accepted the result because they accepted the Constitution as the bedrock of our system of government.

Yes, we all remember Bush v. Gore, but it’s true that Democrats accepted that it was legitimate to have the Electoral College victor become the president even if they received fewer overall votes. The contention was that Gore was the rightful winner of both.

For York, the Republicans will never see the same kind of legitimacy in their nominee because the rules aren’t based on the Constitution:

In an intra-party Republican fight, on the other hand, the winner of the 2016 nomination could be determined not by the Constitution but by rules written by party activists and insiders the week before the GOP convention. If those rules can be reasonably viewed as unfair, they won’t command the fundamental respect and consensus of a constitutional provision. And the resulting nominee won’t command that respect, either.

Maybe I am alone, but I see this is as an overblown concern for two reasons. One is substantive and the other is purely political.

The substantive reason this isn’t that big of a deal is that the popular vote is not a good measure of support. People note that Bernie Sanders does disproportionately well in low-turnout caucuses, but one downside to that is that he doesn’t get many popular votes out of states that he’s carried easily. In most of these states, Sanders would have won a higher-turnout primary, too, just by smaller margins. You can’t just add up the popular vote and say it means anything when one candidate excels in a region of the country that favors caucuses and another runs strongest in regions that have primaries.

The political reason it’s not that big of a deal is that the whole point of denying Trump (and presumably Cruz) the nomination is to get a more electable candidate. If the new nominee is vastly more electable, that will more than make up for being contentious within the Republican Party. I don’t think more than a handful of people will still be nursing their butthurt from July 21st when November 8th rolls around.

During primary season, it seems like countless voters will stay home if they don’t like or approve of their choice in November, but this has never been true. What’s true is that Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan would run stronger than Donald Trump and probably stronger than Ted Cruz, too. That doesn’t mean that they’d win, but they’ve already shown that they can be at least a little bit competitive.

When people have a choice between two tickets, they generally focus on that choice, and not on what happened months earlier.

What Mr. York should worry about is Trump providing people (in at least some key states) with a third ticket.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.