I find it almost impossible to believe that many people get and go to work each day, living basically normal lives, without knowing the significance of the 1968 Democratic Primary race in New Hampshire. In this political season, it reminds me of how little most people know of the overall process of picking political candidates. This is not a matter of people being ignorant, but rather of them focusing on other areas of life.
American political history has been an interest, more a consuming passion, of mine ever since 1964 when I was an LBJ Democrat. Let me explain that: I was a third grader living in the rural south. The only political book in our house was None Dare Call It Treason and the book title scared me.
Right now we are in one of the most bizarre political seasons in history. Democrats typically nominate a fresh new and relatively young candidate. It looks like they will be nominating an old, re-run, with lots of miles and baggage and with a lawsuit threatening. The alternative is an even older self-proclaimed Socialist.
The Republicans assembled the most talented field of governors and senators as candidates that the party has ever witnessed. There were also three non-political candidates. Some twenty contests later, the field has narrowed to four candidates with the front runner being the most unpredictable, uninformed, brash and unorthodox candidate ever. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, extremism in defense of extremism is no longer a vice.
To get the nomination, a candidate must win a certain number of delegates. This process is usually accomplished through primaries and caucuses. The parties then hold conventions in the summer. In the distant past, conventions battled over platforms and candidates. In the past, sometimes a political would announce that he was seeking the nomination just prior to the convention. Now conventions are orchestrated events that rubber stamp both the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.
In the fall, there is the real campaign. Both parties slash away at each other with the goal of winning the magical 270 electoral votes. Basically, they seek to accomplish two things in the fall: Mobilize the party’s base and pull in enough swing votes in a few battleground states.
Winning a party nomination and winning the general election in the fall are two totally different kinds of contests. Imagine if a sports team had to first win a season in the NBA in the spring and then win the Superbowl in the following winter. I am not sure any analogy captures the differences, but that one will have to do.
Let’s consider some specifics: The Democrats have won more votes than Republicans in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. Republicans won a majority (over 50 percent) of the vote in 2004. The time before that when they won a majority was 1988. Voting trends and patterns favor the Democrat Party at this time.
In 2012, President Obama won about 3.5 million fewer votes than he won in 2008. Mitt Romney won nearly 2 million votes more than McCain won in 2004. Still, the Republicans lost. By the way, Romney in 2012 won some six and half million more votes than Ronald Reagan in his landslide victory in 1984.
Winning primaries and caucuses in the spring and winning states in the fall have little correlation. Romney lost many of the deep south races to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. He won that same states in November with hefty majorities. At the same time, Romney won the Florida and Virginia primaries and lost both states in November.
To push this a bit farther, Romney won the midwestern states of Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio in the primaries. He won Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut in the race for the Republican nomination. He lost all those states in the fall. He was not even competitive in Illinois (Obama’s home state) nor Michigan (Romney’s birth state) or Massachusetts (where he had been governor). The Romney strategy never even involved winning some states such as California or New York in the fall, even though he won there in the spring.
This is not a Romney fault. It’s political reality. Hillary Clinton has swept a host of southern primaries in her race against Sanders. She will lose those states in the fall. Trump won the Massachusetts primary, but he will get trounced there in November. Political planners know these things and work around them.
This leads to a big question: What states could a Trump candidacy put in play either positively or negatively?
Trump claims that he can win New York against his fellow New Yorker Hillary. That will not happen.
Neither will he win California.
Most absurd is talk about his appeal to African-American voters. Some may have listened to him and liked him, but as a voting block they are intensely loyal to the Democrat Party, the Clinton’s , and Pres. Obama. They would not cross over to vote for Trump or even for Ben Carson. Likewise, the only way I would vote for Hillary was if she was already in prison and she had picked Marco Rubio as her running mate. Ain’t gonna happen.
(You can run for the Presidency from a jail cell. Just ask the late Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist from the past.)
Can a Donald Trump flip a few swing states like Florida, Ohio, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and Colorado? Assuming he won all of the 206 electoral votes that Romney won, those 6 states would give him an additional 80 electoral votes. But the chances of him winning Florida, with its Hispanic community, elderly voters, and Democrat strongholds, are very slim.
New Mexico? Won’t happen. Nevada? Not likely. Colorado? Wouldn’t bet at one of Trump’s casinos on that happening.
Ohio? Maybe, if Kasich is his running mate.
Will Trump win Millennials, Mormons, Mexicans (and other Hispanic people), Military, and Minorities? No way.
The Jewish voting block (which is unexplainably Democrat)? Impossible. Asians-Americans? Why?
In the primaries, candidates sometimes pull only a few percentage points. They may place in single digits. Some of those losing candidates survive to win in the fall. Barring a viable third party (viable doesn’t even imply able to win), both Democrats and Republicans will pull in about 45 percent of the vote each. The lowest any of the major parties got in the general election was when George H. W. Bush netted 38 percent in 1992. The Democrat candidate Bill Clinton won with 43 percent of the vote. (Ross Perot got the middle 19 percent in his pre-Trump “elect a businessman” campaign.)
The system is not rigged. The party establishments are not in cahoots. Foreign cartels and devious multi-billionaires are not calling the shots. It gets down to people voting. In the years following the Civil War, people voted the way their fathers shot. Meaning, northerners were largely Republicans and southerners were Democrats. After Hoover won some southern states in 1928, the Great Depression determined voting patterns for nearly 50 years. Things changed again in the early 1980s. Since 1992, we have been locked in a relatively tight blue state/red state battle.
Anything can happen in politics. And weird things are happening this year.
But a Trump win in November? Don’t bank on it.