2016 was a particularly brutal primary season for both the Democrats and Republicans. Few expected Bernie Sanders to get as far as he did and now his folks are playing a major role making the party’s rules and platform. Donald Trump knocked off 16 would-be challengers to win a huge majority of delegates and wear the title of “presumptive nominee of the GOP”. There will be lots of talk about “principles” in the coming weeks – majority votes of delegates; the meaning of being pledged delegates; the changing of the rules in midstream; the very meaning of parties within the context of a democracy.
But both parties – despite their very real ideological differences – have one over-riding principle: the need to win. Above all else, this is what complicates the next few weeks for both the Democrats and the GOP. As of this writing, Donald Trump has an overall unfavorable rating among seven in ten voters nationwide. His ratings among women, non-whites, and Millennials are worse than dismal. He has only lackluster support among Republicans and conservatives. In his own words, his polling numbers are a “disaster”. The endorsements he has received from Republican officials and candidates are tepid at best. For the first time, we are hearing terms like “I endorse him but don’t support him” only to be topped by “I support him but I don’t endorse him”. Huh? Candidates for the both the Senate and the House of Representatives who find themselves in competitive races are not coming to the convention in Cleveland.
And now we hear nonsense from otherwise smart people that the GOP need not worry. Sophisticated voters will indeed split their votes by rejecting Trump for President and voting for their beloved representative down ballot. As if no one gets that Congress’s ratings are very near an all-time low and the approval of the GOP is truly at its all-time low. At a time when there should be speculation about a Vice Presidential running mate, folks are racing for the exit doors even before their names are mentioned.
In short the GOP convention will feature a bloody fight as clusters of delegates join together to try to block Trump from the nomination. There will be cries from the Trump supporters about the “rigged” convention and the party’s inviolable rules, but lots (even if not enough to make a difference) of people will leave Cleveland unhappy. What a way to kick off a campaign for the fall (and perhaps I don’t mean “autumn”?)
On the other side, 60% of white voters have a negative view of Hillary Clinton. She is winning nationwide over Trump – as high as 12 points in some polls – and in even some very Red States. My John Zogby Strategies Poll of Kansas, conducted for the Kansas Health Foundation, shows her leading even there 43%-36%. But there are still qualms about Mrs. Clinton. In Kansas, 21% are still undecided. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, threatens to draw votes away from her as well – and he may have the money to spend this time to recruit an army of Millennials who are fed up with both parties.
But that isn’t the only concern for Democrats. The polling numbers are where things stand for now – that is without an indictment, another shoe dropping, the old stories about Bill and Hillary in the White House in the Nineties, and so on. She is vulnerable on Iraq and on the Clinton Foundation. Whether there is any real guilt here or these are merely the fabrications of a grand conspiracy and a vicious press, there is always so much about the Clintons that just stinks. Will she be able to get anyone enthusiastic about her candidacy? More importantly, can she get anyone enthusiastic about her Presidency? It seems like both the Clinton family and the Democrats need to ask themselves a few questions. Is Hillary Clinton too damaged to lead?
Back in 1824, the Democratic-Republicans, the party of Jefferson, were split four-ways and no candidate won a majority of electoral votes. So leading contender, John Quincy Adams struck a deal with the Speaker of House, Henry Clay. If Clay withdrew his name from consideration, Adams would appoint him Secretary of State. The “corrupt bargain” was struck, Adams won (in the House, which decided the election) and a man who was scion of a Founding Family, a great diplomat, and later an eloquent anti-slavery member of the House of Representative from Massachusetts, was relegated to only mediocre status as a one-term President. After the scandal, he was simply not able to govern credibly.
Will the Republicans of 2016 break the rules to get candidate who can cut their losses? Will the Democrats figure out a strategy that asks bigger questions about governing and leading a divided nation?