So, since Tuesday the new mantra coming out of the supporters of the Trump campaign has been we must all now get behind Trump as the presumptive nominee. Many conservatives are categorically rejecting that call, and typically doing so on the grounds it’s crazy. But, here’s the thing, those calls aren’t crazy. They are simply based in past experience that has drastically changed since the last time. Before I go on, I want to take a moment to give a shout out to the Republican National Committee. Whether we realize it or not, they’ve done a phenomenal job of addressing the issues in the last two nominating contests that caused so much discontent among voters. I’ll explain what I mean in the rest of this article, along with the explanation of why it is not yet the time to unite around a single candidate, as the race has not yet been decided.
In 2008, the nominating contest for the GOP candidate for President was a mess. Because the parties are not actually one, huge, national organization, but are actually 50+ state and territory level organization guided by some general by-laws of the national organization, the states decided to do some things in 2008 that created a very dissatisfied electorate and assured John McCain the nomination, whether they meant to or not. This was the year the press dubbed the first Super Tuesday event of the cycle Giga Tuesday or other such names. In January five states held nominating contests, in defiance of RNC scheduling rules, in order to maintain their first in nation statuses and get ahead of 24 states who moved their primaries to the earliest date allowed by the RNC calendar for that year. Many of those early states had winner-take-all delegate allocation rules. By the end of Super Duper Tuesday on February 5, 2008, 29 nominating contests has already been decided, and the difference in delegates between John McCain and Mitt Romney was more than 400 delegates with a lower threshold for an outright win. Romney, who had run as a conservative, bowed out at that point amidst great protests from the anti-moderate crowd. But, more than half the delegates had already been awarded. And with a continued fractured field, there was no way for him to go to convention with an outright win.
In 2012, in response to complaints that the previous primary favored the well-connected over the lesser-known candidates, the RNC modified the schedule and the rules again. The primary season was broken into three parts. In February and early March, the traditionally early states held their nominating contests. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The rest of March saw only contests with proportional delegate allocation rules. And beginning on April 1st, the remainder of the contests would play out. Super Tuesday saw only 10 nominating contests, less than half of the previous year. Still, in angst against the previous year’s mess, several states pushed their primaries earlier than they were supposed to, which in turn meant the early primary states pushed theirs into January, and once again the mess began. By the end of March, 34 nominating contests had been held, and Romney had 616 of 1119 delegates he needed. The remaining field was thoroughly fractures with Rick Santorum having 224 delegates, Newt Gingrich with 133, and Ron Paul who had vowed not to get out of the race until the bitter end having 100. The nearest candidate to Romney was nearly 400 delegates behind. By the end of April, eight more states had voted, and Romney swept those contests putting his total delegate count at 874, with no significant gains for any of the other candidates in the race. The race was decided. The others began to drop out.
This year, the RNC set plenty of debates up, beginning in August of last year. The states cooperated with the schedule set up by the National Committee, which means that the contests have been running one to a few states every few days. The candidates, even the lesser known ones, have all gotten a lot of air time, plenty of time to lay out their platforms and campaign across the country. And for a change, it looks like there is even the possibility that California’s primary, traditionally one of the last in the cycle, may actually have an impact. Because the rules of spreading out the primary contests and limiting the early ones to a proportional process have worked as they were meant to but didn’t in 2012. We now sit at the end of March with three candidates still in the race. Between states and territories, only 39 of the total 55 contests have been decided. And the top two candidates are only about 260 delegates apart with plenty of delegates still left to be awarded to meet the nominating threshold. Polling shows, from what I’ve been reading, that both the top two candidates have a pretty good shot at making that threshold still.
So, calls for unification around the front-runner aren’t actually as crazy as they sound, because by this time in the cycle the last two times around, we were kind of at that point by now. Especially given that so many more folks have been actively engaged in the process this year since August when the debates first began. But, the dynamics this year are different. There isn’t an “establishment” front-runner. There isn’t even really a front-runner, because the delegate difference is still too close for that in light of the types of contests coming up and the dropping out of the third place candidate, Senator Rubio, this week. Calls from those who don’t want Mr. Trump as the nominee to unite behind the alternative of Cruz are warranted, and also based in previous knowledge that hasn’t changed. We know that one of the main reasons those early leads happened was because the opposition to the eventual nominee was spread out over too many other options. But, it’s not quite time to start hollering for unity of the ticket just yet.
It may not be time to start calling for that until after the convention over the summer, if neither of the top two candidates hits the automatic nomination requirement for delegates. Which also isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Party conventions are meant to have meaning, they grew out of the process of our Representative Republic. Where we elect delegates based on their stance on things, and then trust that they’ll go vote their conscience on our behalf. That’s actually how conventions work, when they haven’t been decided ahead of time by clear majorities in the primaries and caucuses. In all the noise of being a Representative Republic, we sometimes forget that it IS actually a noisy process. It is actually a process of contention. I for one think it’s kind of neat to actually see it work the way it’s intended to when so many ideas, approaches and views take the field. It’s refreshing. And I appreciate the work the RNC and state committees have put into restructuring the contest this year to meet the complaints their voters had in the last two cycles and making it more open to competing candidates and views.
Be blessed and be a blessing, and happy voting!