Understanding the American Presidential Nomination Process
There is growing controversy about the American presidential nomination process. While Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are firing up the voters’ imagination and winning primaries, it seems that Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton are winning the majority of delegates. As a result, many people in America and the world are asking if elections count?
Yes, elections count. However, it’s important to understand the nomination process, which is a complex mix of traditional electioneering and behind closed doors deal making. And, although most years, it makes little difference, the current distrust of the establishment in Washington has highlighted the weaknesses of the system and the difficulty non-establishment candidates have.
The American presidential nomination process is nearly two hundred years old and reflects a time when delegates travelled miles on horseback to distant cities to pick a presidential candidate.
At that time, the lack of communications made the modern campaign impossible. As a result, delegates might go to a convention not even knowing who might even be interested in becoming president. The result was multiple ballots and scores of deals before a single candidate would emerge with the majority of votes.
Although modern communications made it easier for voters to follow potential candidates, the process of allowing the state party to pick the delegates without a primary continued until about 50 years ago. Although some states like New Hampshire did have primaries, most of the states still had their delegates picked by the party leadership. In most cases, they were not pledged to a single candidate or were supporters of a “Favorite Son” – a state politician, who could use his control of the state delegation to make deals with potential presidential candidates, before directing the delegates on how to vote.
The 1970s saw a boom in states holding primaries. This gave the voters more of a say in who the nominee was. In return, the delegates were sworn to support the winning candidate for a certain number of votes (usually only the first ballot, but some states require delegates to support the candidate winning in their state up to 3 ballots).
What this means is that a delegate may be sworn to vote for a candidate that he or she may not personally support. This is where the importance of state caucuses comes in.
And, this is where Donald Trump has made his mistake.
The difference between presidential primaries and delegate selection
On important fact that most people don’t realize is that state presidential primaries aren’t elections in the true sense of the word. They are controlled by the party and in most states, the party must actually pay the state government to hold the primary election. This gives the party the say over who may vote in the election (just voters of that specific party or independents and party voters). They also make up the rules to govern how the delegates will be awarded. And, since primary elections are costly, the party may even decide not to hold a primary and pick its delegates through the caucus process.
To show how this works in the US let’s look at a hypothetical state that is sending 50 delegates to a national convention.
The state can award delegates in several ways. One way is “winner take all,” where the winner of the primary gets all 50 delegates. Another way is awarding delegates in a manner that reflects the candidates’ percentage of the vote. Other states will award the state winner a number of delegates, while the winner in each congressional district may get 3 extra delegates.
For simplicity, let’s assume that this state awards all 50 delegates to the winner and all the delegates are required to vote for this candidate on the first ballot. After that, they are free to vote for whom they want.
Since most of the national conventions in recent history have been settled on the first vote, the delegates’ personal choice traditionally means little. However, this year, the actual delegate attending the Republican National Convention may actually mean something.
In this case, let’s assume that Trump won the state primary, but many of the members of the Republican Party in the state want Cruz. Although the delegation is pledged to vote for Trump on the first ballot, the Cruz supporters will want to get pro-Cruz delegates elected so they can vote for Cruz on the second ballot.
The key to getting pro-Cruz delegates takes place in small caucuses around the state. The Cruz campaign contacts Cruz supporters and encourages them to attend these meetings in order to vote for local pro-Cruz delegates that will attend the state convention.
This is where Cruz has been beating Trump, for while Trump is getting more votes in the primary election, Cruz has more active grassroots supporters attending the caucuses. This means that the state conventions frequently have more Cruz supporters attending than Trump supporters.
If the Cruz campaign has managed to get its supporters out to these meetings, the state convention could have a majority of Cruz supporters, even though the state voted for Trump. That allows them to elect a delegation of pro-Cruz delegates that are pledged to vote for Trump on the first ballot, but are free to vote for Cruz afterwards.
Although the obvious benefit is more votes for Cruz on the second ballot, there are several other benefits for the Cruz campaign. Each state picks some of its delegates for several critical committees at the convention, including the rules committee and the credential committee. These committees can craft the rules and procedures in such a way to benefit Cruz over Trump at the convention.
One example that has been discussed in challenging the credentials of Trump delegations at the convention. In this case, the credentials committee could find a minor rule violation by a state, which could be used to challenge the seating of the delegation. Then a new, pro-Cruz delegation could be seated, which would further guarantee a Cruz win.
However, such tactics could mean a pyrrhic victory for Cruz. Disenfranchised Trump supporters could very well be so angry that they would sit out the general election, allowing the Democratic candidate to win. This actually happened in 1972, when McGovern supporters successfully challenged the credentials of several delegations, which gave them a victory at the convention – only to be followed by a disastrous defeat in the general election.
In the end, this is the biggest factor for the Republicans. There are several ways to stop Trump at the convention, but the political cost could be high.
There is also the problem of Ted Cruz, who is also unpopular with many in the establishment Republican Party. While Cruz and Trump are fighting each other, they are both supported by voters who are upset with the current Republican leadership. If the fight at the convention becomes one of the establishment GOP versus the dissatisfied GOP voters, the establishment will lose.
In the meantime, a first ballot win by Trump remains the most likely outcome. This week, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted Republican presidential front-runner would more likely than not get the needed 1,237 delegates required to secure the GOP’s presidential nomination before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July. And, knowing that some of his votes may disappear on the second vote will give Trump plenty of incentive to make a deal before the convention if he doesn’t reach 1,237. Obviously a Trump/Cruz ticket could win on the first ballot and depending on how many votes Trump goes to the convention with, picking Kasich or Rubio as the Vice Presidential candidate could put him over the top.
Of course, attitudes may change if polling shows that Trump has a good chance of winning in November. This week an NBC poll showed that Trump was only 2 points behind Clinton amongst registered voters. In addition, Karl Rove, his Crossroads PAC, and a pollster laid out swing state polling and electoral map analysis done by the group showing circumstances in which Trump could beat Clinton in a general election, according to three sources who spoke to the Politico.
If that is the beginning of a trend, Republicans who are now opposed to Trump may figure that winning with Trump is a better alternative than losing with one of their preferred candidates.
The Democratic Race and Super Delegates
While Trump and Cruz are fighting over who goes to the convention, the issue in the Democratic race is the number of super delegates – unelected delegates that are giving Clinton a large edge despite the number of primaries that Sanders is winning.
Super delegates are usually elected Democratic politicians that are automatically invited to the national convention. They were put into the Democratic National Convention rules in the 1970s in order to prevent someone like McGovern from winning the nomination. As such, they are more likely to support the establishment candidate.
This year, the super delegates are supporting Hillary Clinton by a large margin. This has given her a major advantage over Sanders and has meant that she has even won the majority of delegates from states that Sanders won.
The down side for Clinton is that these super delegates aren’t sworn to continue to support her. Should Sanders or another candidate look more promising, they could switch sides just as they defected from Clinton in 2008 for Obama.
The Republicans also have super delegates, but they represent a much smaller percentage of the convention. Each state delegation automatically includes the Republican state chairman and the two members of the Republican National Committee in the delegation. However, in most cases, they are pledged to support the same candidate that their state voted for in the primary.
The problem that the Democratic super delegates and the Republican delegate selection process pose for both parties is the massive dissatisfaction of voters this year. Although Trump and Sanders represent differing views, they both are seen as outsiders that are fighting the Washington establishment. Using super delegates or delegate selection rules to push these two candidates out is a tactic that could cost the two parties dearly in upcoming elections and destroy Americans’ faith in the election process.
A Manual Adapting the Law of Armed Conflict to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems
By Steven Groves
April 7, 2016
In April 2016, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will hold a week-long meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) in Geneva. Previous meetings were held in 2014 and 2015 to discuss the legality of LAWS under the law of armed conflict (LOAC) and international human rights law. Some nations and many NGOs have advocated the strict regulation or even outright banning of LAWS via a new protocol to the CCW. Only a few nations, including the United States, have thus far resisted calls for an outright ban on LAWS. The U.S. should continue to resist such calls, and should work with allies and like-minded nations to initiate a broader discussion of LAWS and how long-standing LOAC principles may be applied to these cutting-edge weapons. The most effective vehicle to address such issues is a LOAC manual on LAWS. The U.S. should lead an effort to develop such a manual as an alternative to the regulation, or banning, of LAWS.
Giving Iraq a Fighting Chance
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 7, 2016
The war in Iraq sometimes seems distant and abstract. The expansion of ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe, the Syrian refugee issue, and Russian intervention in Syria get the bulk of media and public attention. The slow Iraqi gains in Anbar, and the city-by-city fighting that never quite seems to end is only dealt with in passing. The core of the U.S. military effort against ISIS is, however, centered in Iraq. Defeating ISIS depends on U.S. success in rebuilding the Iraq Army and its ability to drive ISIS out of Iraq. The United States has only slowly built up the kind of train and assist mission that can give Iraqi ground forces the capabilities they need. The United States did, however, begin major offensive air operations against ISIS on August 8, 2014. It flew 11,398 strike sorties by April 5, 2016, and it allocated 7,683 of those sorties to Iraq, and only 3,715 to Syria. Since that time, it has spent some $6.5 billion on these operations.
You don’t have to like Saudi Arabia to value the alliance
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
April 14, 2016
Let’s face it: It’s hard to like the Saudis. It’s an autocracy. Their princes behave badly. Saudi diplomats race through the streets in foreign capitals oblivious to public safety, and sometimes drunk. In the Middle East, they have a reputation as rude, entitled, lazy, and brutal. They consider women second-class citizens. Up until a few years ago, there was hardly a Sunni Islamist terror group that the Saudis did not bankroll privately if not officially. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi and the still classified portion of the 9/11 Joint Congressional Report reportedly suggests at least some official Saudi complicity. For decades, the Saudis have sought to buy friends and influence in foreign capitals and conversely used agents of influence to slime those with whom they disagree. They bomb Yemen without any effort to mitigate civilian casualties and, quite frankly, sparked the Houthi uprising which Iran later co-opted by sponsoring religious seminaries spewing anti-Shi‘ite propaganda. The next generation of Saudi leaders appears ready to double down on sectarian bigotry.
Turkey: Divided We Stand
By Emre Erdogan
German Marshall Fund
April 12, 2016
Shared suffering unites people, and elections divide them. Wars, natural disasters, and the death of a public hero are moments that can help forge a common identity and cohesive society. Political battles for supremacy, on the other hand, underline and amplify minor differences as political actors often try to energize their base by building fictitious walls between people. As politics become more polarized, it eats at the glue that holds a society together. This is what we are seeing in Turkey. The recent survey entitled “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey” conducted by the Association of Corporate Social Responsibility with financial support from the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a project of the German Marshall Fund, demonstrated that the level of political polarization in Turkey has reached a level that should alarm even optimists.
The Israeli Angle to the Saudi-Egyptian Island Deal
By Simon Henderson
April 13, 2016
The recent news that Cairo will return the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi sovereignty has been greeted by angry opposition in Egypt. Announced during King Salman’s five-day visit to Cairo, the deal also includes around $22 billion worth of Saudi largesse for Egypt (in the form of oil products delivered over five years and development funds), as well as a Saudi-funded bridge project across the Straits of Tiran that will connect the two countries, easing both trade and pilgrimages to Mecca. Nevertheless, many Egyptians resent the appearance of national humiliation represented by the islands’ return and the implication that their national economy depends on Saudi generosity. Both publics also seem to believe that an unpalatable accommodation has been reached with Israel on the bridge issue. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Straits of Tiran were as well known a political hotspot as the South China Sea is today. The straits lie at the southern end of the Gulf of Aqaba (aka Gulf of Eilat), the part of the Red Sea to the east of the Sinai Peninsula and the route to the southern Israeli port city of Eilat and the nearby Jordanian port of Aqaba. Today, the straits are dominated by the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, which overlooks the two islands.
U.S. Military Engagement in the Broader Middle East
By James F. Jeffrey and Michael Eisenstadt
Policy Focus 143
Reflecting broad foreign policy themes dating to World War I, U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East since the Cold War has focused on establishing and managing a global security system to contain and deter outside threats. Given Eurasia’s demographic and economic/technical strength, a dominant power or powers arising from that region, using modern military technology, could eventually project force against the United States. Whether the United States will continue the laborious task of maintaining regional security and deterring the threats to it is an open question. And just as these threats are growing, the collapse of the Arab Spring movement has led to disintegrating stability throughout the region, as seen in Libya, Iraq, the Sinai, and, above all, Syria, as well as in the rise of a unique al-Qaeda offspring, the Islamic State, with its quasi-conventional military capabilities and “semistate” profile.