Nicholas Harrington

Will we see a four horse presidential race?

four

Approx Reading Time-14Bernie keeps winning, but he won’t get the nom. Cruz is catching Trump, but neither have the backing. Here’s how a four horse race would work.

 


On Tuesday, Wisconsin had their primary. Rather than conducting an electoral postmortem, let’s explore the direction the presidential campaigns might take in light of their new complexion.

Bernie Sanders has now won six straight primaries. Ted Cruz demolished Donald Trump. Sanders has the momentum going into New York (Hillary Clinton’s adopted home state) and even though he probably won’t win, the margin will be close enough for him to come away with what amounts to a delegate tie. Looking at the forecast of upcoming primaries, Bernie and Hillary look set to arrive at the convention with roughly the same number of pledged delegates.

On the Republican side (though for different reasons) the primary calendar also looks unlikely to produce a clear winner (a candidate with a majority – 51 percent of the delegates), making for an open convention: one of the most thrilling political events of the past 50 years.

The decisive factor at the Democratic convention will be superdelegates. These are delegates not bound by the popular vote in the various primary states but rather a collection of delegates chosen by the party, who vote according to their conscience. Superdelegates exist to ensure that the Democratic Party retains control over the nomination process; God forbid they end up with an unsuitable (yet popularly elected) candidate.

Currently, Hillary Clinton has 469 superdelegates and Bernie Sanders 31. These superdelegates pledged their support six months ago and are free to change support at any time (including at the convention itself). It’s worth noting that in 2008, super delegates who had pledged to Hillary swarmed on Obama at about this stage in the campaign, completely altering the delegate math.

The Republicans too have a mechanism ensuring party control over their nominee. But it operates differently. If a candidate arrives at the Republican convention with a majority of delegates (specifically 1,237) then they become the nominee – simple, done. If however, no candidate arrives with 1,237, then on what’s known as the second ballot, all delegates become unbound. This means they no longer have to vote according to the results of the primary elections – instead, they can vote according to their conscience. All kinds of horse-trading and shenanigans can take place. Kasich might say, “Hey Cruz, make me VP and I’ll pledge all my delegates to you.” Or Trump says, “Kasich, your delegates for Secretary of State.” This type of negotiation might take place over three, four, five…however many rounds, until someone ends up with 1,237 delegates. It might interest you to know that Abraham Lincoln became the Republican nominee on the third ballot at the 1860 convention.

I want to suggest an outcome of the two conventions that might surprise but is not out of the realm of possibility.

I believe the outcome of the Democratic and Republican conventions could be a four-horse race in the general election for President in the fall. Specifically Paul Ryan as nominee for the Republicans, Clinton as the Democratic nominee and both Trump and Sanders running as Independent candidates. Let me tell you how I see this extraordinary and historically unprecedented state of affairs materialising.

Firstly, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that the Republicans don’t want Trump as their nominee. Donald has been engineering a hostile takeover of the Party for the past six months and they are doing everything they can to prevent his nomination. Next, let me dispel the notion that the Republicans want Ted Cruz – they don’t – the GOP are only using Cruz as a spoiler to syphon votes away from Trump, trying to ensure Donald doesn’t get the required majority. So who does the GOP like? The establishment likes Paul Ryan. Scratch that – the GOP loves Paul Ryan. He’s young, handsome and Speaker of the House of Representatives. There is a growing sense that the GOP plans to put Paul Ryan forward on the third ballot at the convention – like a shining knight, Ryan comes and unites the fragmented party.

On the Democratic side, it’s more than likely the superdelegates won’t switch to Sanders – even if he ends up with a greater share of the popular vote. The reason being the superdelegates are primarily members of the existing political class in Washington (members of Congress and the DNC – the Democratic National Committee) and are precisely the people that would be very much inconvenienced by Bernie’s plan to “get money out of politics.” Superdelegates get elected with super PAC money and get massaged by lobbyists. Members of the DNC (a large slice of the superdelegates) are by definition the status quo. Sanders is a “change agent.” Superdelegates don’t want change. For this reason, it’s likely Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

Now, if Trump, with his massive support (to date he’s received over 8 million votes), gets usurped by a GOP “stand-in,” he isn’t going to go quietly into the night. He owes the Republicans no allegiance and has no reason not to run as an Independent third-party candidate. The worst that could happen is he loses, galvanises his support, acts as a huge spoiler for the GOP and gives a presidential run another go in 2020 – by which time it’s possible the US will have trended even further in a direction that would favour a Trump run (terrorism, economy etc).

What of Sanders? If the Dems nominate Hillary, Bernie will look to his huge base of highly motivated supporters, and then to a general election field comprised of a hand-picked candidate of the weak Republican establishment, a fascist Vulgarian Independent, a deeply flawed Democrat with an FBI investigation hanging over her head, and think to himself, “Good grief, anyone could win this!”. It is likely Sanders would receive serious pressure for a third-party run. Realistically given Bernie’s age, 2020 is not an option – it’s now or never.

Indeed, Republicans have been talking about running a third-party candidate themselves if Trump becomes the GOP nominee. The prospect of at least three candidates in the general election is not insignificant. Once you see there might be three in the field, the only thing preventing you from seeing four is a belief that Sanders will be the Democratic nominee.

As previously argued this is unlikely due to the delegate math and who these superdelegates actually are.

So what could upset this prediction? Well, it’s possible that either Trump and Cruz or Trump and Kasich will make some kind of deal before the convention. Some suggest that Kasich is only in the race to be offered the VP spot by Trump. It’s doubtful Trump would react well to this kind of political extortion. It’s also hard to see Cruz and Trump coming to an accommodation. Neither wants to play second-fiddle to the other. A Mexican standoff over who would be the top and who the bottom of the ticket probably makes this a nonstarter.

Lastly, there are filing issues to consider. Some states have filing deadlines for the state ballot that fall prior to the convention. This is certainly a problem for any post-convention Independent – although not insurmountable in view of a four-way general. In a four-candidate general election, the number of electoral college votes required to become president could be anywhere between 270 and 136. This means missing the ballot for a couple of states may not be decisive.

Regardless of what the field looks like in the November presidential election, one thing appears certain: the nominee for both the Democrats and Republicans will be decided at the respective July conventions.

Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride!

 

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