Monday, April 11, 2016

By Reed Galen

Quote by a Smart Person: "I think you only really feel like an outsider if you've been an insider." Sade Adu

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Here’s how Republican nomination contests are supposed to go: A well-funded Establishment Republican candidate takes an early lead in the off-year. A religious conservative alternative would then rise late and win Iowa, throwing the mainstream GOP into just enough of a tizzy to double down on efforts to win New Hampshire, South Carolina and a large state like Florida to put the outsider away for good. And in 2015-2016, we watched one Establishment candidate after another collapse - either under the weight of their own poor campaigns or lack of support on Election Day.

Nearly half-way through April, only three candidates remain, two of them anathema to the Beltway and the third likely to bring some discomfiture their way. While there is a fair amount of backslapping in backrooms as it appears Donald Trump will be unable to win 1,237 delegates before the GOP Convention, stopping a detested candidate and convincing Republican primary voters that their worldview is contrary to a November victory are two very different things.

Tale of the Tape

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have won all but four primary contests through this week. Marco Rubio picked up wins in Minnesota, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico but they were neither enough propel him to frontrunner status nor to ultimately save his campaign. John Kasich is still in the race despite having only captured his home state of Ohio - and that was nearly a month ago. But looking deeper into the results of the first 30 or so contests, even those early primaries and caucuses when the field was still relatively large, Trump, Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson (another aspirant who fits into the outsider segment) were consistently taking more than 50% - 60% of the vote share.

And while it is true that Trump only appeals to about 40% of the voters, that’s not the real story. The tale worth telling, analyzing and remembering is that even when given multiple choices, voters who in previous years turned toward John McCain or Mitt Romney, stayed firmly in the outsiders’ camp. Jeb! was supposed to carry the GOP to another Bush victory. Rubio was well-positioned to be the alternative to whom moderate Republican voters could flock when faced with Trump and Cruz. They didn’t. They turned their backs on Washington. During the Wisconsin primary, in which Trump’s ability to capture the nomination before Cleveland may have ultimately faltered, the following statistic emerged: Donald Trump received more votes for second place in 2016 than Mitt Romney did to win the Badger State outright in 2012. It’s not just that the electorate of years’ past has given up on the mainstream. It’s that so many low-propsensity Republicans and/or independents have swelled the ranks of those pulling ballots this year that they’ve simply overwhelmed the ability of a Bush, a Rubio and now a Kasich to secure any real foothold.

Waiting for A Unicorn

The delegate selection process, as we saw this weekend is a confusing, arcane and highly localized function. Some delegates are chosen at state conventions, others at gatherings in respective congressional districts. But one thing is true of all of them: If you are running for a spot in your state’s delegation to the Cleveland Convention, you have already self-selected as someone who a) takes the process seriously and b) probably has deeply-held conservative beliefs. The folks who vie for delegate spots are likely involved in their county or city GOP organizations. Other people play tennis or golf as a hobby. These folks go to conclaves and argue about by-laws and process. They see themselves, and perhaps rightly so, as truly representing the Party. Far from Capitol Hill townhouses or weekend getaways to Deer Valley, would-be delegates are dyed-in-the-wool believers.

Delegates to the 2012 GOP Convention. Courtesy AP

Delegates to the 2012 GOP Convention. Courtesy AP

Therefore, the idea that this group of 2,500 or so party regulars are going to Cleveland to overturn the will of millions of voters so that Washington can get its preferred candidate on the ballot seems like lunacy. Do they collectively dislike Hillary Clinton? With the burning intensity of a thousand suns. Do they want to beat her? More than just about anything. Are they willing to yet again sacrifice certain deeply-held convictions on the altar of winning the White House? This year, it appears not. If the choice is between a Ted Cruz who has, for better or worse, given a big middle finger to the Establishment, or an electable savior on a white horse, they’ll likely send the would-be hero back to the barn. It’s not enough anymore for the activists and Republican primary voters who’ve helped sweep both houses of Congress, dozens of statehouses and governor’s mansions to simply take at face value that Party leadership shares their passion and beliefs. They've done that too many times only to watch Beltway Fever takeover.

Political parties exist to elect candidates. That is their function. But in that process they become the symbols for larger ideological beliefs. And while true changes in the system is impossible without victories at the ballot box, in 2016 Republican voters are telling their east coast counterparts that if winning simply means that the staffers, consultants and donors continue to run the show, then no thank you. They’ll take their chances with someone new.


AuthorReed Galen