We, The People

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Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

“No matter who wins the presidency on November 8, America loses.”  So I’m told, and so I’ve told others as well.

The truth of this statement seems irrefutable.  Nobody doubts Hillary Clinton’s ability and knowledge of the issues, yet if Wikileaks is to be believed, she will say and do practically anything for money for money and power to achieve nothing other than her own self-aggrandizement.  And Donald Trump has come across as a crude, arrogant, ignorant authoritarian.  Rarely, if ever, have both major political parties simultaneously nominated two candidates for president so widely disliked, indeed reviled, by We the People.

Yet rarely have the major parties in America or anywhere else afforded We (yes—I know, I should say Us) the People, such a great say in selecting our parties’ presidential nominees.  As I’ve noted in earlier columns, up through the election of 1968 it was possible for a presidential candidate to win his party’s nomination mainly through winning the support of enough state and local party leaders who had the power to send delegates to the national conventions with binding instructions on whom to vote.  Some presidential candidates—John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968—might enter a few primaries to show their parties’ leaders that they were electable and therefore should be nominated.  But in 1968 Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic presidential nomination without winning a single vote, or a single delegate, in a primary that year.

But since 1972 both the Democratic and the Republican Parties have reformed their presidential nomination processes to emphasize the use of primaries and caucuses to measure public opinion and allocate convention delegates to candidates based partly on each candidate’s popularity with his or her party’s voters.  State Democratic and Republican parties develop different formulae for determining how many delegates each candidate wins from a particular state.  Democratic parties normally use some version of proportional representation, meaning that each candidate wins a percentage of delegates equal to the percentage of popular votes in the primary or caucus he or she won.  State Republican parties are more likely to favor a winner-take-all approach:  In some states, whoever wins more than 50% of the vote in a given state’s primary may get 100% of the delegates.  In other states, the winner-take-all principle may apply at the congressional district level.  But all state Democratic and Republican parties use formulae to award more delegates to candidates who show greater popularity with the voters, whether in primaries or caucuses.

The significance of the reforms—initially implemented by the Democrats following widespread intraparty outrage over Humphrey’s nomination—is that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump could have won his or her respective party’s nomination without showing widespread popular support.  In fact, Hillary Clinton won a majority of the votes cast in Democratic primaries and caucuses, while Donald Trump won about 45% of the popular vote in a field of 16 candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.  In short, they were the choices of none other than We the People.

What this means, therefore, is that we’re not losers—we’re winners, in the sense that we’re getting what we freely chose:  A contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  We may not like our choice of nominees, and soon we may not like our choice for president.  If so, there is no good reason why those who are dissatisfied with how our parties produced their nominees, and who those nominees turned out to be, can’t start working to reform their parties’ nomination processes or otherwise start working now for the nomination of a more electable Republican presidential nominee in 2020 should Trump be defeated (or even if he should win).   I personally think we in the GOP should give more power to party and government leaders to help choose our nominees, perhaps by creating superdelegate positions similar to those in the Democratic Party, which allocates about 15% of the delegate positions to governors, senators, representatives, members of the Democratic National Committee, and interest group leaders.  But we should not waste a lot of time scapegoating or blame casting.  For the time being, if We the People are truly concerned with whom to blame for the rise of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and who should fix the problem, we should start by taking a good long look in a mirror. 

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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