Proportional Representation Makes African-Americans, Latinos, and Rural, Low-Income Whites Kingmakers

DC Politics National Politics

USElectionlogooffsetNew Orleans    No matter who your favorite might be in the Presidential sweepstakes, how can you not join me in loving the irony that no matter how the big whoops fume and allow inequality to widen, African-Americans and Latinos are now the kingmakers for Democrats and rural, lower income, less educated whites are now becoming the kingmakers for Republicans? The people shall rule!

We had the early so-called “money primary” won by Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, but Sanders small donor machine caught up with the Democrats and deep-pocketed billionaire super-PACs allowed by Citizen United evened the odds for the other Republican candidates. We had the establishment and old-time party pols pulling strings left and right for one candidate after another to be anointed, but then they run up to the old problem, that candidates have to actually get votes. Damn, some of them forget about that and in fact that’s still the little lesson that the young, conservative Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, is still learning as he runs second and third from state to state.

Watching the election results and reading Elaine Karmack’s Primary Politics: Everything You Wanted to Know about How America Nominates its Presidential Candidates at the same time as Super Tuesday unfolded was a fascinating experience. Karmack rolls through the primary politics and, more importantly, the changing rules from election to election as set by the party pros in detail, especially from Jimmy’s Carter’s mastery of the process forward. She spends valuable time and discussion on the timing of the first primaries and how they build momentum, have changed candidate’s calculations over the years, and have led to “firewalls” like South Carolina being built to offset their impact. Nonetheless the most interesting – and important – of her explanations concerns the Rube Goldberg contraptions created by the compromises and back-room politics between candidates and the national and state parties over the distribution of the critical delegates once the voting is over between “winner take all,” proportional representation, and bonus delegates, largely because that’s the political environment that produces our candidates now.

She makes the case that in 2008, Hillary Clinton essentially lost to Obama because she failed to understand the importance of the early lead achieved in Super Tuesday and its companion elections. The fight may have dragged on until May, but Obama had an insurmountable lead by mid-February because proportional representation meant that he would get a fair share of delegates, enough to hold his margin, whether he won or lost in later, larger states. His plurality forced super-delegates to have to follow the results and leave Clinton. The mix-and-match on the Republican side with proportional splits to the top tier candidates if they make minimum thresholds of 15 or 20% in order to push out marginal candidates and winner-take-all largely if a candidate takes 50% also mean that no matter all of the sound-and-fury from the Republican establishment and the grind over the next two weeks, Trump may have just won the nomination given his performance on Super-Tuesday.

What’s more interesting to me is that for all of the elites’ posturing, we now have kingmakers that represent a minority of the total electorate on each side, but because of the primary process, are likely able to determine the eventual nominee. African-American block voting in the primary elections gave Obama the nomination of course, but they also denied it to Hillary in 2008 and are bestowing it now in 2016. Hispanics block voting in Texas were also the difference for Clinton this go-round, just as they were the critical block in play in her close win in Nevada. Jesse Jackson may have delivered that message in the 1980s, but it has finally been received by all the candidates now.

And, in the party of business and the rich, our Republican friends are now finding that the economy and anger over inequality and lost opportunity has trumped evangelical piety, as rural, low-income and working class, less-educated whites are flocking to Trump as their protest candidate, creating a bastard child that the Republicans have to recognize, but can’t control. The Secretary of State in Massachusetts said that 20,000 Democrats left the party in recent weeks and re-registered as Republicans to become part of the Trump voting block that led him to victory in the most liberal state in the United States. Trump was able to leverage that block in Tennessee, Georgia, and other southern states that had been claimed by the Huckabee’s and Santorum’s in the past, and that Texas Senator Ted Cruz had counted on putting him, not the interloping Trump, in the cat bird seat.

In 2016 I’ve been clear, like it or not, Hillary Clinton is now the Democratic nominee and that race is all over but the shouting. Since she’s the nominee, I’m rooting for Trump on the Republican side, and my odds are looking good. In future elections in 2020 and especially 2024, no matter how the deck is stacked any nominee will be determined by African-American and Latino votes in the Democratic primaries, regardless of the general election. Whether the disenfranchised white vote holds as a Republican block or votes with their feet not to vote at all in the future, will be an open question for a while longer. And, whether any of the blocks – and the candidates who claim them – can put together the rest of the vote to win will be the biggest question of all.