The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump argued that Ted Cruz’s delegate-conscious strategy was essentially a subversion of the popular will. He notes,

While I am self-funding, Mr. Cruz rakes in millions from special interests. Yet despite his financial advantage, Mr. Cruz has won only three primaries outside his home state and trails me by two million votes—a gap that will soon explode even wider. Mr. Cruz loses when people actually get to cast ballots. Voter disenfranchisement is not merely part of the Cruz strategy—it is the Cruz strategy.

The great irony of this campaign is that the “Washington cartel” that Mr. Cruz rails against is the very group he is relying upon in his voter-nullification scheme.

My campaign strategy is to win with the voters. Ted Cruz’s campaign strategy is to win despite them.

Uncharacteristically, the Journal published the piece without a paywall, and accordingly it attracted major attention. Trump’s opponents attacked the piece from multiple angles. Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard argued in favor of the parallel delegate track as a necessary means to break a deadlock when the primary results do not crown a standard-bearer. Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review noted that Trump has been the beneficiary of a system that does not necessarily seek consensus; to Ponnuru, it is “too easy” for a candidate without the backing of a majority to become the nominee.

Both Cost and Ponnuru–and many others who have made similar points–are largely correct. But I think there is an important additional point to add: the words and discourse we use for describing the nominating contest are often inappropriate, and have left Trump with his opening to make the “will of the people” case. Part of the job of Trump’s opponents is to make the opposite case.

The Washington Post’s story on Trump’s victory opened like this:

Donald Trump easily trounced his opponents in Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in his home state of New York, notching his biggest win yet and pulling further ahead of Ted Cruz and John Kasich in the delegate count.

Trump’s blowout victory — which was propelled by voters’ overwhelming desire to elect a political outsider who could bring change — positions the billionaire mogul for a hot streak in five East Coast primaries next week and brings him closer to securing the nomination with an outright majority of pledged delegates.

Near complete returns showed Trump with just over 60 percent of the vote statewide, putting him on the path to win most of New York’s 95 delegates.

There are several points of emphasis in those three short paragraphs, but the center of the lede is about how Trump “easily trounced” his opponents, securing “just over 60 percent of the vote.” The crux here is that Trump won a sweeping popular victory. It is worth considering, though: what exactly does a “state win” represent in terms of the selection of voters? Primaries and caucuses always have substantially lower turnout than a general election, to the point where a minuscule fraction of the registered voter population participates. Some examples follow:

Thus small percentages can lead to the appearance of a smashing victory. To put these numbers in perspective, President Obama won Minnesota with over 1.5 million votes. He won Massachusetts with over 1.9 million votes. Mitt Romney won North Carolina over 2.2 million votes. In all cases, the eventual winner won the election with more than five times the vote in the primary or the caucus. Such a disparity is a difference in kind, not degree, and yet we use the language of popular democracy to describe these contests: “key wins,” “resounding victory,” “crushing victory,” “domination of southern states.”

Indeed, the language of the public coverage of the primary contests is extremely democratic. We see this in the media coverage, down to the television graphics themselves. Here’s an example: on Super Tuesday, in a very close race, Donald Trump outlasted Marco Rubio and won a plurality of the vote in Virginia. The graphic from MSNBC:

The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy

Note that it says that 49 delegates were at stake. The graphic has no mention of the most salient piece of information, though: that Trump’s slight victory in the popular vote resulted in a slight victory in the delegate count.

As a point of comparison, here’s what ABC News used to indicate that Mitt Romney won North Carolina:

The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy

The similarities are evident: the candidates are declared to have “won” the states, with the significance of the state indicated by the number in the top right of the graphic: “delegates” and “electoral votes” are portrayed as roughly synonymous. There is a reason we talk about state wins for a general election: winning a state connects directly into the Electoral College totals, and the Electoral College decides the president. The relationship between delegate allocation and state victories in the nominating process is much more tenuous: most states use some sort of “proportional” representation mode, where the number of delegates awarded is correlated with the total vote share, or a Congressional district-level vote share.

This reaches its silliest point when pundits breathlessly wait over returns coming in from proportional states on the Democratic side. No one was sure who won Iowa, late into the night. Finally, CNN made the call:

The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy

It looks like Clinton would nab 44 delegates, the way the graphic is structured. But the Democrats award proportionately, and the Iowa winner was mere trivia. A similar dynamic played out on the Republican side with Missouri. The focus was on the state-level winner, but what really mattered was the geographical distribution of votes.

Likewise, the pundits love electoral maps. On Election Night, the networks scramble to fill in their state maps as red and blue as they count to 270. Again, considering the Electoral College, this is entirely appropriate. But they do the exact same thing for the primaries: we see maps of states as if the states were winner-take-all, but they are (usually) not.

We fashioned our discourse of “state wins” because it logically represented the way that our presidents get elected. But said discourse has only a tangential correlation to the nominating process–and we use the very same discourse, right down to the graphics we use on election nights. And the discourse is, at best, a proverbial square peg in a round hole.

None of this is to say that primary results are inappropriate, illegitimate, or unexpected. But the problem is that Trump is exploiting the language of democratic legitimacy to claim a popular mandate and a right to the nomination, when he’s barely getting 10 percent of registered voters to endorse him. He has no popular mandate, no matter what he says.

We’re accustomed to the discourse of democracy with the primaries, but the truth is that this really isn’t popular democracy. They are party contests that have acquired a patina of democracy, in that they are competitive elections. But they do not, in any way, shape, or form, represent the “will of the people.” It’s a haphazard system that has two aims: produce a nominee, and grant the nominee the illusion of democratic legitimacy. Having a candidate that appears to be affirmed by a popular vote offers us the image of a popular process, and that was the goal: to prevent a situation where a candidate without a popular endorsement can be the nominee. But a process where 7 percent of the voting population, state-to-state, can select the nominee is barely democratic.

Now, make no mistake: whether this process should be more democratic is a worthy question for debate. But right now, the process only looks democratic. And yet people are accustomed to seeing it as a popular process; 58 percent of Republicans think that the nominee should be the delegate leader, even if he doesn’t have a majority.

The reality is that we could very easily portray Trump’s victory in New York differently, using different assumptions and points of emphasis. Another newspaper article might read as follows:

Donald Trump struggled again to demonstrate broad acceptability in the New York primary, winning the votes of only 4.9 percent of registered voters in his home state, and 21 percent of registered Republicans.

Trump, who has claimed a broad popular mandate to be the Republican nominee, has consistently failed to win majorities in any state. New York–a heavily-Democratic state that has not voted Republican since 1988–was the first state where Trump won a majority of the votes cast.

Trump’s struggles to extend his support beyond his devoted fans in popular media, as well as to gain the backing of loyal pledged delegates, suggest that he will have difficulties securing the required 1,237 delegate votes at the Republican National Convention. Traditional Republican power brokers continue to resist Trump, with some going as far as vocally supporting the much-loathed junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.

This version is no more right or wrong than the Post’s version; it just uses different points of emphasis. It includes no analysis; it is merely a way to present the facts differently. Instead of accepting the language of popular democracy, it focuses on the lack of a popular mandate based on the actual vote totals, and a lack of institutional support based on the existence of #NeverTrump. We do not think of the nominating contests this way by default, but that is simply a choice we have made: we have adopted the terms and tools available to us, without critique, comment, or consideration.

Thus Republicans face a challenge over the next three months: they must argue against the application of the discourse of democracy, running contrary to how we have been programmed to think about the nominating process. By July, rank-and-file Republicans should be skeptical of the notion that the plurality leader has a moral right to the nomination. If they are, then we can escape Trump and the further beclowning of American democracy. But if they’re not, the pressure to nominate Trump will be intense.

Image by SarahPAC-USA The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy


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Dan Scotto lives and works in New Jersey. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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99 thoughts on “The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy

  1. I would bet some money that 2020 will see the Republicans introduce their own version of super-delegates and they will be introduced to prevent people like Trump from taking over.

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    • Very plausible.

      I find it also plausible, that if/when this happens, a new Trump will come along and find a way to eff that up too.

      The root of the problem is not that the GOP has weird antidemocratic delegate selection rules. The root of the problem is that the GOP has for too long tried to power the engine of an otherwise-presentable policy vehicle through the use of a too-rich fuel of polarization, anger, and populism (and, as Our Tod has argued in the past, relying in large part upon private, for-profit media to stoke the burning of that fuel).

      If you keep on putting fuel that’s too rich in your gas tank, eventually you’re going to set your car on fire.

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      • I disagree, and I disagree quite strongly . Not that the GOP voters are full of hate, that I would say is obvious. But rather that they are the only ones. The left is just as full of hate, and has as many contemptuous voices as the right does, witness the Johns, Oliver and Stewart. Witness the softly wispered propaganda of NPR, different only in tone from Fox. It is an anger that is for a class to share and revel in. What Is The Matter With Kansas? They are too stupid to know what is best for themselves! We know! Let us laugh at them!

        The anger is all through our society, no one side is immune. The lefts “private, for profit” media is simply the old news media.

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        • I’m not sure that what John Stewart and John Oliver offer is “hate” so much as “mockery,” and I’m not sure why their pursuit of comedy by way of mocking political figures and political events with which they disagree is all that different from what other comedians have done in the past.

          Also, the link goes to Vox and not NPR.

          But these are quibbles to an otherwise tasty riposte from . I’ll let someone else step up to the plate if they want to joust about whether both arms of the media are roughly equally biased and whether left-leaning haters are the equivalent of right-leaning haters.

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          • Also, Stewart is quite willing to take on left-leaning targets as well. Does he give equal time? Of course not – BSDI doesn’t mean the crazy is equally distributed. Also, from the perspective of comedy writers with a daily deadline, never overlook the attraction of “easy”… Sure, you could build up a nice toasting of a campus speech totalitarian, enviro-weenie, or elitist jerk, but that takes work – while there’s always a David Barton or Ken Ham whispering sweet nothings into a candidate’s ears causing a huge cloud of nothing to come out of his mouth.

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        • Eh, it’s odd how you don’t see Democratic politicians lining up to kiss the ring of centrist media figures the way you see the GOP do so to their talk radio stars. That both sides do it is so uncontroversial as to be banal but to suggest that the left is in it to the same degree as the right seems laughably untrue to me.

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              • You don’t think that SNL, along with the editorial page of the NYT, John Oliver (and Stewart, before retiring) etc., don’t serve the same purpose of veting and approving for the left? Signaling what is cool to laugh at, who you can make fun of, and when it’s cool to laugh? OK…

                This is one area where I think Tod, and many others on the left, are dead wrong. I don’t think the right is any more crazy than the left. I think the left is just as crazy, and has its own ways and means of expressing the same level of partisan hate.

                I CAN TOLERATE ANYTHING EXCEPT THE OUTGROUP…

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                • I can see the angle but I don’t see the stick. Where is the left wing equivalent of Rush? Where are the Democratic Party leaders shaking in terror of what this left wing cabal says? How many Democratic Party politicians have been unseated by challengers from their left fuelled by this media apparatus?

                  The left? The left only imagines this kind of power in their sweatiest happiest dreams.

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                  • North, you have starboard radio commentary with an audience because ordinary media personnel are partisan Democrats and the framing of the news consistently benefits the other side. There’s no market for liberal radio commentary and there wouldn’t be even if you could recruit someone more worthwhile than Ron Reagan to provide it.

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                  • On a micro level, of course it is different. On a Macro level, it comes down to an equality that cannot me missed, if one is willing to step out of the box of being of one of the two major parties.

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                    • But what you’re dismissing as the micro level is incredibly important. The general leftward miasma of the news media, Hollywood, etc., is a real thing, but it is diffuse and doesn’t conceive of itself as part of a partisan or ideological team, which effects its behavior. NPR and John Oliver and Hollywood push a worldview, but they don’t mount primary challenges, push standardized talking points, or extract particular promises from elected officials.

                      The parts of the left-of-center media environment that are explicitly left of center and act that way are miniscule compared to Fox, talk radio, et al, and that has an effect upon the way that voters and politicians behave.

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                      • The leftward worldview of Hollywood is a real thing, but it’s confusing matters to call it “leftward”.

                        What it really is, is the worldview of a narrow slice of America, that holds a lot of views in common with the left…but diverges from them I many important ways.

                        It’s a bit like saying corporations are rightwing…in some ways yes, others ways no, as we’ve seen in No. Carolina.

                        Specifically, the large majority of everything you watch, read, or listen to is created by a surprisingly small pool of content makers in LA and New York.
                        They create content that reflects the tastes and aspirations and parochial fears and concerns of the educated affluent creative class.
                        So Hollywood is very Left on same sex marriage. Labor Unions? Not so much.
                        Immigration? Yes. Taxes? Um sort of, maybe, it’s complicated. Low income housing? Yes, over there East LA where it doesn’t drag down our property values.

                        This middling sort of cafeteria leftism is what cause real leftists to sneer at them as dilletantes and totebaggers.

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                      • How many right of center major metro newspapers are there? How many right of center movie studios are out there? How many Comedy central shows, ROC ESPN segments, ROC HBO specials, Christian living dramadys, etc. are there?

                        As for “left-of-center media environment that are explicitly left of center and act that way”, well, to the right, that is everything that is not specifically Conservative. Is that true? I would say that once the money disappears, most things default to the left. Not hard left, but general left. It is just a matter of perspective. But as a libertarian, I think that it does, if for no other reason than the major media centers are NY and LA. With all that entails.

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                        • How many ROC movie studios? Well either all of them or none of them. They are bushiness where the bottom line is the bucks. That is what they care about most. What the heck would a ROC ESPN segment be? It could be those that laud hard work and the beauty of middle America or football as the greatest thing ever or support giant corps or support billionaires getting cities to give them stadiums.

                          Touched by an Angel. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. The NCIS’s, CSI’s, there are a handful of networks that cater to hunting and fishing and motorized outdoor sports. There is a country network.

                          I’m not saying you can’t find liberal messages or heavy liberal influences. But there are plenty of conservative ones also. Just as many i’d say. The real issue is the filters we all have. People on the right see the entire media as liberal and miss all the conservative stuff that is as plan as day. Or they end up defining conservative media as only that which is 100% pure conservative in some vague way.

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                          • I can think of exactly zero cases where ESPN made fun of Tim Tebow for his grandstanding, rather than his lack of ability to be an NFL quarterback. They’re very positive about Russell Wilson dragging God into every interview before closing with “Go Hawks”. Arian Foster is not being trumpeted as the new face of secular sports branding.

                            As for comedy, they may be out of the limelight now, but there were years when you couldn’t turn on the TV without having somewhere that day: a block of Top Gear reruns (themselves fairly conservative, if you consider climate change denial), and one or more of Foxworthy, Engvall, White, and that other Guy. Jeff Dunham is not exactly the face of the liberal elite, either. P.J. O’Rourke used to be funny, too, back when he was doing drugs.

                            Oh, and movie studios? God’s Not Dead 2: God’s Still Not Dead didn’t just get wide release, it made the Top 10. Kirk Cameron still has an actual career. There’s no lack of entree.

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                        • I didn’t dispute that the mainstream media leans left! I said that the NYT does not behave like a liberal version of Fox News, because the NYT conceives of itself as a non-partisan, non-ideological news outlet. So while its output does lean left, it doesn’t articulate a particular partisan position, doesn’t try to interact with the electoral process to get particular resuts etc. in the way that the conservative media does.

                          To go back to Hollywood, it’s like the difference between Blue is the Warmest Color and God’s Not Dead. You’ve got liberals trying to tell a story and having their ideological priors leach into the story, up against conservatives making outright propaganda.

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                          • P.S.: Of course you have explicitly “on the team” liberal stuff out there: Michael Moore, lots of blogs and other internet stuff, things like that. But this proves me point, because the explicitly “on the team” liberal outlets are both tiny compared to the larger (left-leaning) MSM and much smaller and less influential than their Conservative analogues.

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                          • Heh.

                            I think (looking for trouble there…) that what appears to be propaganda to an outgroup, doesn’t seem that way to an ingroup. I see the NYT doing everything it can to put its thumb on the scales, much like Micheal Moore. Or a Robert Redford movie at this point. Is Limbaugh trying to do the same? I would guess so (don’t know as I have never listened to him.) As far as ideological priors of the left, I would say that they run so deep in those parts of society that they might not seem as propaganda, but rather background noise. Where as the background noise of Fox seems as propaganda to one listening with a diferent set of ears.

                            That is one way of looking at it. Another might be that do to the outsized influense of the general* media, the onliy way to fight it would be to use the smaller,more focused actions of rightward specific media.

                            I tend to go with the idea that if you have a set of opinions on something, you are trying to put your thumb on the scale. No matter how small the action, you are in some way attempting propaganda. From the few pieces I have put up here, all the way to the Mike Wallaces of the world. To get an unbiased opinion, you would need someone with absolutly no stake in the matter, and probably no prior info. But that is just my opinion.

                            *In other words it isn’t centerish media, it only seems that way to people who generally agree with it. From this point of view.

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                            • The trouble here, and I think you at least partially acknowledge it, is that this isn’t just an argument that the MSM is operationally liberal. it’s an argument that there is no such thing as an unbiased outlet or an objective fact. And there’s some truth to it! Just look at, say, implicit bias testing and race and you see plenty of evidence that people can let bias creep into their supposedly impartial actions without their knowledge.

                              But you don’t have to go all that far down this post-modern rabbit hole to get in trouble. As soon as you say that impartiality is impossible, so we’re not even going to try, it’s an awfully short hop skip and a jump to Donald Trump and #lolnothingmatters (or, for that matter, some of the more optimistic assessments of what Bernie Sanders can supposedly accomplish for the country).

                              So yes, there is no objectively definable center of American politics, there is no media that doesn’t have biases and assumptions baked into the cake. But that doesn’t make it impossible to assess whether different media outlets are better or worse at providing accurate information to their audience, or at training that audience to behave with a modicum of civic responsibility. If you think that the NYT and Breitbart or Fox or Limbaugh are at the same place on those scales, I really don’t understand where you’re coming from.

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                          • Just because the NYT doesn’t “try to interact with the electoral process to get particular results etc. in the way that the conservative media does.” doesn’t mean that the NYT doesn’t “try to interact with the electoral process to get particular results etc.”

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                          • I said that the NYT does not behave like a liberal version of Fox News, because the NYT conceives of itself as a non-partisan, non-ideological news outlet. So while its output does lean left, it doesn’t articulate a particular partisan position, doesn’t try to interact with the electoral process to get particular resuts etc. in the way that the conservative media does.

                            You’re mistaking rubrics and idiom for the reality. The rubrics just are not that important. (And I’m putting a charitable construction on what’s wrong with your description).

                            Now, in our house, we flip through channels and land on Washington Week in Review where banal news correspondents have banal discussions every week. They’re discussing the currency change. Not one attempt at any critical engagement with the issue. It’s not likely one of these cretins even has the tools in the box for that. You’ll get something more sophisticated (but still truncated) if you watch MacNeill / Lehrer (now that the founders have retired and been replaced by the liberal hags now hosting it). People go to talk radio to hear the side of the discussion Judy Woodruff cannot conceive of.

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          • The ‘centrist’ media figures are happy to carry water for them without having their rings kissed. They hardly know any other way to behave.

            Does Clinton Foundation donor George Stephanopolous count as a ‘centrist media figure’?

            While we’re at it, Ted Koppel works only occasionally, Jim Lehrer is retired, and Mike Wallace is dead.

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  2. The model used by the Iranian Clerics is instructive. The People may, indeed, nominate whomever they want so long as the person in question has been vetted by the Supreme Leader/Guardian Council.

    I think that the neocons did a good job of vilifying this model by mocking the very idea of a Supreme Leader and his council picking and choosing candidates because it’s not like the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council, but having an unelected executive whose job it is to pick what should and what should not be considered up for a vote has a long tradition in human history.

    If the neocons hadn’t been so eager to mock the Iranian Model, perhaps the Republican Party could be doing a better job of giving examples of what they’re doing being part of a long, long tradition.

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          • Hold the thought for a minute and let’s see if we can really run with this. Suppose we allowed the supreme court to vet candidates? Something like X factor: you need an approval by at least 4 members of the supreme court before you can run in the general. The constitution, such as it is, is liberal-ish (in the older more general sense in which America is a liberal democracy). If the justices have a thumb on the scale, we never need worry about a trump or any other crypto-fascist ever arising.

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            • Why the supreme court?

              Why wouldn’t each party simply reserve to itself the right to recruit and vette a slate of candidates to run in a primary run-off? The Party could decide if the optimal number to take to the party members was 1, 3, 5, or 17. They could decide by a special vote of super delegates just to nominate a slate, or they could let a guy named Ted decide.

              Is it because the petition to get on a primary ballot is state by state and therefore out of the control of the parties?

              Running for president can’t be restricted (outside the constitutional requirements), but representing a party doesn’t have to be a 50-state fiasco.

              It certainly doesn’t mean that the party Apparatchiks would select well, but they would at least select what they wanted the party to present to the voters.

              So, since this is a response to initial funny observation, isn’t it different in kind if a party has Guardian Council, but the state doesn’t?

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          • More seriously, you’re going to want to have a fairly robust argument against this sort of thing. One of the main selling points of the Republican Party, like it or not, is that it’s the more populist of the two parties (at least where blue collar white males are concerned) and telling these guys “your nominee must be this much like Romney or we’re going to split the party” will result, eventually, in them saying “Fine! Split it!”

            And maybe those blue-collar types are worse than the Democrats. Enemies, if you will, rather than merely “the opposition”.

            But that seems like a recipe for planting “holy cow… we never, ever should have trusted you” in their heads.

            Hell, maybe they shouldn’t have.

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            • The threat of breaking the party through departure has been manifest since Trump got started. The whole “Pledge” crap was a monumentally stupid attempt to prevent that, as was the party apparatus’ response generally. I disagreed with a fair amount of it, but I could understand where they were coming from.

              The establishment wing has made some pretty monumental errors. Some of which really invited revolt. The elevation of Jeb Bush this cycle falls into that category. Such a significant, entirely unforced error born of arrogance. But just because Tsar Nicholas II is terrible…

              I don’t know how things are going to work when all is said and done. I do know that the mentality cannot be “We must harness their passion and do everything we can to prevent those people from leaving” either out of tactics or some sort of “fairness” obligation. That’s a path that the party has been following for a while now, and it’s lead to increasingly terrible results. It might be (and I suspect it is) that there is a more constructive way to engage these people than the ways that the party has tried, but that shouldn’t involve “Oh, well, let’s just go ahead and give it to them and line up behind Trump.”

              And lastly, from my perspective, Donald Trump is not just insufficiently like Romney. He is qualitatively different. I have almost no use for Ted Cruz, but even if he weren’t right now the primary alternative to Trump, I wouldn’t be taking the stance that I am even though he is very much not the natural successor to Romney.

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              • The establishment wing has made some pretty monumental errors. Some of which really invited revolt. The elevation of Jeb Bush this cycle falls into that category. Such a significant, entirely unforced error born of arrogance. But just because Tsar Nicholas II is terrible…

                You might make a habit of not telling other people how to do their jobs. That aside, ‘the Establishment’ is a subculture, not a Borg creature.

                There’s nothing particularly offensive about Bush to a broad swathe of people, which is why he led in the polls for 20 months (with some intervals when he was displaced by Christie or Rubio). With a long career in business, eight years as a large-state governor, and a largely unproblematic record, he was as prepared as anyone running for the office. Trouble has been that he’s dead wrong on a non-negotiable issue, and an issue which lays bare the cleavage between the Republican elite and the Republican electorate. (He was also kinda rusty as a campaigner).

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                • As a governor and a man, I have a real soft spot for him. My politics are closer to his than probably anyone other than Kasich or (in a different way) Paul. As a candidate for the Republican nomination and the presidency in 2016, though, he was a foreseeably ill-suited candidate even before it became apparent how rusty he was.

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      • Like a 10-foot-high flood on your wedding day. Like a lifetime of free rides, when you’ve already paid. It’s advice delivered directly by God himself, and you just didn’t take it.

        Isn’t it Iranic?

        (Actually I’m lost on the irony.)

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  3. Your last point is the most important one Dan. The electorate and the parties bases think of the nomination process as being simply the will of the people and Trump has managed, by a trick of demographic, an exploitation of the GOP field and through the gaping ideological gap in the party, to position himself as the winner of the “Will of the people” contest. That he can make his case in a sentence or two whereas it takes a solid two paragraphs to refute his case is an ominous indicator. The GOP establishment, if it wants the option of overturning Trump, will need to state the alternative position repeatedly and clearly if it wants to minimize the damage it’ll suffer if it turfs Trump.

    I still am skeptical that Trump will get the nomination; I have him at 40% odds of getting it. I assume if he doesn’t get to the magic number then it’ll be Cruz in a walk in round two or three of the voting. The closer Trump gets, though, the more painful and bloody it’ll be. Full disclosure, I’m loving every moment of it.

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      • The dynamics are completely different on the Dem side. Lots of folks want to draw an equivalency between Trump and Sanders because “populist”. But in reality HRC vs Sanders is more akin to a hypothetical JEB vs Cruz; the establishment centrist vs the ideological firebrand. Trump is a total anomaly, but one that could only have ever happened to the right.

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        • Sanders isn’t anything new on the Democratic side. Every Presidential cycle has had a Sanders.

          What was unusual was that there was no actual “other” serious challenger, so it became a two-person race which is fairly unusual — and the first such on the Democratic side in the social media age.

          In short, Sanders had the money that the past versions of him didn’t have, and because he was the only other real choice (O’Malley being a non-entity, strangely enough) he had a lot more numbers. If there’d been a serious Clinton challenger, you’d have seen Sanders hovering around 10 to 15%.

          I mean maybe he is the harbinger of something new, but he looks like every other left insurgent in a Democratic primary. He just had money (thanks to internet fund raising) and serious recognition (being one of only three candidates, and the third being not…terribly interesting). Whereas Trump, on the other hand, clawed to the top (well top-ish) in a primary wherein every major GOP interest group was represented at least once, brimming with candidates.

          Oh, in a winner-take-all primary system no less.

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          • Sanders isn’t anything new on the Democratic side. Every Presidential cycle has had a Sanders.

            No every cycle does not. What you see now and again is someone like Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel, who win few votes and almost no delegates. Nor do you see that every year. The closest analogues may have been Fred Harris (1976) and Tom Harkin (1992), whose idiom is not the same.

            When you run down the list of those who set up campaign committees who were actually competitors, no one really has Sanders’ past or nexus of associations or terminology. George McGovern was what was left of the Social Gospel, Shirley Chisolm was hawking feminism; Jesse Jackson was pushing a stew of ethnic particularisms and red haze gestures; Tom Harkin was flogging farmer-labor populism.

            What was unusual was that there was no actual “other” serious challenger, so it became a two-person race which is fairly unusual — and the first such on the Democratic side in the social media age.

            In fact, there were two other men whose background rendered them at least as serious as Sanders. Sanders as an unannounced candidate had more observable support than the sum of what these two were able to muster as formal candidates appearing in debates.

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  4. Offhand, given you’re discussing party elections — your numbers for each state shouldn’t be a percentage of “registered voters” but a percentage of “registered Republicans/Democrats”. In open primary states you’d probably have to fudge that though (maybe split according to the last election?).

    After all, there were TWO New York elections on the same day — and you couldn’t vote in both. So saying Trump won with “5%” of the voters is misleading. Something like what, 15% or so of those voters were engaged in another primary and literally couldn’t vote for (or against) Trump.

    OTOH, if you think those numbers are bad — you should throw up more caucuses. :)

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    • I think the critique is basically fair; my argument is (slightly) tendentious. But what I’m mostly concerned about is refuting the notion that Trump has anything resembling a popular mandate. It’s just a small subset of the population that is causing this. Self-government is not threatened if the will of 10 percent of the population is subverted by the will of 9 percent.

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  5. I think part of the problem is the varying relationship we have to popular democracy as a concept. Gosh knows at times people have said we can’t do this based on polling as if that is equal to democracy. There is a dude nominated to be a Supreme that is on hold based on a notion of “letting the people decide.” Every election is a mandate ( which is completely true), but to often for only the things you like not the things you don’t like.

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  6. “Thus Republicans face a challenge over the next three months: they must argue against the application of the discourse of democracy, running contrary to how we have been programmed to think about the nominating process.”

    I don’t think that’s quite right. I think you need to clarify that you’re talking about anti-Trump Republicans. Also, there are plenty of people, including Republicans, who think that the next in line, Ted Cruz, is just as likely to beclown the Republican party. Toilet wars, really? The most loathed Senator running for President?

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    • Also, there are plenty of people, including Republicans, who think that the next in line, Ted Cruz, is just as likely to beclown the Republican party. Toilet wars, really? The most loathed Senator running for President?

      1. First you people make a big to do of mollycoddling cross-dressers, noodling around with local ordinances quite gratuitously in a silly virtue signaling exercise. Then you complain that anyone who answers you back is a clown. I can never figure out if complaints like yours are fraudulent or merely obtuse.

      2. You might come to an understanding that neither your circle of friends nor a two-digit population of Capitol Hill crudniks are the electorate. He’s only loathed by people who are a waste of space.

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        • They do not even tell you what social sector they propose to measure. While we’re at it, one’s opinion may be ‘unfavorable’ and not be characterized by loathing.

          The man is oddly ambitious and he’s a lawyer. There’s otherwise nothing about him that would much bother any normal human being who did not have to share an office with him. He bothers Lindsey Graham because he throws a spanner into the works. McConnell and his camarilla are no bloody good. That they loathe someone is an inadvertent character reference.

          His college room-mate dislikes him. Trouble is, the college room-mate shows considerable evidence of being a thoroughgoing arrested-development case.

          It would never occur to most of us to loathe Dianne Feinstein or Jennifer Granholm or or Walter Mondale. They’re just part of the political opposition. You might have a strong disgust reaction to someone who abused their office in gross ways (Scott Harshberger, Marilyn Mosby), or is known to treat people badly in office settings (Rahm Emmanuel), or has a history of slandering private citizens just for the hell of it (upChuck Schumer), or is known for gross personal misconduct (the Big He himself). You might also regarding people who are gratuitously destructive (Bilge deBlasio). None of this describes Cruz. The people who loathe him are Capitol Hill gamesman, 45 year old adolescents, and venomous sectaries. We would benefit if such people were off stage and not making the world worse.

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      • How is Ted Cruz ‘the worst’? Is there a facial case that Ted Cruz is on the take (see Reid, Harry)? Is Ted Cruz putting rank and file police officers through a vicious show trial (see Mosby, Marilyn)? Is Ted Cruz lying to members of his caucus and schemeing to send otherwise pointless bon bons to business donors (see McConnell, Mitchell)? Is Ted Cruz stonewalling an investigation into gross agency misconduct (see everyone in the chain of command between Barack Obama and Lois Lerner, and the Attorney-General to boot)? Is Ted Cruz using his office for a lawfare campaign against the political opposition (See Chisolm, John)? Has Ted Cruz occupied elective office for his entire adult life (see Schumer, Charles)? Has Ted Cruz effected any pirouettes on issues the moment he was sworn into office (see Ayotte, Kelly)? Is Ted Cruz running a gargantuan money-laudering operation (See Clinton, HillBillChelsea)?

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  7. You’ve gone into a long song-and-dance to emphasize a banal piece of information: that primaries and caucuses are poorly attended. In one of the better years on record for a presidential contest, 28% of the adult citizen population cast a ballot in a primary or a caucus. If its your contention that Trump lacks a mandate, so does every other candidate. Your counsels amount to ‘wing it because it’s all BS’ and ‘we cannot have Trump because that will annoy me’. These are not the most persuasive contentions, no matter how much extraneous verbiage you wrap them up in.

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    • I’m basically laying out the detailed form of the argument I made in a handful of tweets from last weekend:

      1. Primaries and caucuses don’t produce popular majorities, or close to it.
      2. We *talk* about the results as if they’re majorities, because we use the available discourse.
      3. This gives the plurality leader the image of popular legitimacy that he has not really earned in any true sense.
      4. Part of stopping Trump is recognizing this discursive challenge.

      I agree that it doesn’t need to go much deeper than that.

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      • It is strange how you bring with you the assumption that stopping Trump is the name of the game. Still, if you wish to stop Trump, you cannot do that with a construct or a ghost. You have to have a flesh and blood candidate, and there is no one with more popular legitimacy than Trump. Keep in mind, popular participation is a far more prominent part of the process now than it was 70 years ago. Your ultimate complaint is that the whole process is illegitimate. Trouble is, you haven’t suggested any better process, much less a better process which might be adopted by the institutional architecture we have now.

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        • Your ultimate complaint is that the whole process is illegitimate.

          I think that’s just about exactly backwards.

          Dan seems to be arguing that the process – in all of its heterogeneous glory – may be thoroughly legitimate, but still remain vulnerable to abuse and misuse, including by a known demagogue who plays upon a common type of incapacitating civic ignorance that he himself seems to share to a large degree – not only with his supporters, but with a large number, perhaps the majority, perhaps the overwhelming majority, of observers.

          To the majority, if the majority insists upon equating its ignorantly simplistic and parochial concept of democracy with the democratic concept as understood throughout Western and specifically American history, with all of the virtues but few to none of the defects of the latter concept attached to the former one, then all of us will be obligated to join in, in other words compelled by majority decision of that same type in favor of compulsory majority decision of that same type. and so on, as illimitedly regressively as required until minority opposition is exhausted.

          So, we seem to have – or our polity or pseudo-polity in this period appears to be constituted as – an ignorocracy: rule by an ignorant majority ignorantly insisting on its own peculiarly ignorant concept, resulting in a system among whose defining characteristics is the imperviousness to criticism of the ignorocrats’ own self-serving but mostly sincere self-concept.

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          • Dan seems to be arguing

            If you’re saying ‘seems’, he’s not arguing well. The question at hand is commonplace enough.

            So, we seem to have – or our polity or pseudo-polity in this period appears to be constituted as – an ignorocracy: rule by an ignorant majority ignorantly insisting on its own peculiarly ignorant concept, resulting in a system among whose defining characteristics is the imperviousness to criticism of the ignorocrats’ own self-serving but mostly sincere self-concept.

            I do bad imitations of Pat Boone. I gather you prefer bad imitations of Moldbug.

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      • 1. Primaries and caucuses don’t produce popular majorities, or close to it.
        2. We *talk* about the results as if they’re majorities, because we use the available discourse.

        They do. Among those who voted in them.

        Now we can talk turnout (caucuses especially), but if we’re going to hem and haw about how the 60% majority win represented only 40% of the eligible voters because so many stayed home, we’re going to have to complain again in November. And frankly I find that a losing argument, because if you don’t bother to vote that’s on you. You don’t get to claim to be part of a silent majority for or against anything.

        This gives the plurality leader the image of popular legitimacy that he has not really earned in any true sense.

        Except by, you know, winning an election.

        I could get behind an argument that the winner-take-all (or close to it) methodology of the GOP makes no difference between a squeaker and a landslide, and that can distort outcomes — although that’s actually the same problem we have in November elections.

        But the rest of the critique — Trump’s not really that popular, like the vast majority of people didn’t vote for him — could as easily be applied to President Obama. After all, when you add non-voters to people voting for McCain and Romney, Obama was slaughtered each election.

        But he’s still the President.

        In the end, people who don’t vote don’t count. It doesn’t matter what the other 9 million or so registered voters in New York were doing (voting Democrat, staying home, drinking heavily in despair, whatever) — they didn’t vote, they don’t count. By definition.

        The people who showed up in New York to vote on the Republican ticket picked Trump by a clear majority. Just like the voters who showed up 4 years ago in November picked Obama.

        Why should anyone caveat that because of the voters who decided not to count? Because Donald Trump winning makes some people feel bad?

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  8. The question is, who is doing the spinning, and for what purposes?

    The partial answer is easy, akin to the pound the facts, pound the law, pound the table cliche. Pro-Trump people are going to spin mo votes mo delegates, mo nomination cred. Anti-Trump people are going to spin the Soblchakian ‘are we the only ones who give a [care] about the rules?’ – which, for most Republicans, is a consistent stand from where they were in 2000 where the most votes also didn’t matter, the rules governing how those votes applied are what mattered.

    But what’s everyone else’s angle on this?

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    • Establishment Republicans angle: We want someone chosen who isn’t going to unclench our hands from the levers of power.
      Partisan Republican angle: We want someone chosen who will not cause the unchosen factions to blow our party to smitherines.
      Socialcon Republican Angle: Our asses have been hurting more and more for the last 36 years and we just figured out why. And it’s not the gays… Fish you guys, we’re staying home!

      Democratic Partisans: All that stuff the GOP partisans want? We’d like the opposite. Also, pass the popcorn North.

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  9. I’m willing to swallow the gnat of Donald Trump not being an accurate reflection of the voting public since only a small percentage of people showed up to vote.

    I’m having trouble with the camel of “therefore this other guy”.

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    • I think that argument has lean pretty heavily on the notion that a primary election is about how a private organization chooses its representatives and policies, not how we dole out access to the levers of state power, so it doesn’t have to be about the will of the people in the way a general election does. Perhaps it shouldn’t involve the will of the people as much as it does. I suspect the number of people that arrive at this position for reasons other than really really really wanting a not-Trump nominee to number in perhaps the triple digits.

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      • I was actually moved to this position by Jeremy Corbyn! Though Trump played a role, at the time it was conventional wisdom that he wasn’t really going to get the nomination. Party membership choosing its candidates is really something of an international oddity. Which I never understood, until Corbyn and Trump.

        I still don’t favor doing away with primaries, but I understand the rationale. I am in favor of reforming it pretty considerably. Plurality victor systems suck. That’s another one that I can point to pre-Trump. I mean, I have confessed straight-up that I am willing to burn down the system to stop Trump because I believe he is that dangerous… but that’s not all that’s going on here. The system isn’t just flawed in ways that disfavor Trump. It’s just that everybody is taking for granted the ways that favor him.

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        • “I still don’t favor doing away with primaries, but I understand the rationale. I am in favor of reforming it pretty considerably. ”

          I see one of these arguments all the time these days, especially amongst conservatives when attached to the subject of The Donald. It strikes me as being… well, somewhat ostrich-y. Like the thing that created Trumpism is shaky primary rules, and the cure for Trumpism is some better rules.

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          • It’s entirely possible that Trump would have won regardless. Better rules might have prevented this, but also might not have. Some of the reforms I would propose might actually favor him a little, or would have had little effect either way.

            I think the system should be reformed either way, including things I have mentioned and brought up prior to Trump (and prior to Corbyn).

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            • I should add that while I don’t think any primary system. Would have really sidelined Trump, it’s not very hard to devise a system that would make it very, very difficult to get a majority of the delegates with his performance thus far. We don’t have to because it’s the system the other party uses.

              If I write my post on it, though, it’s going to go further than that because I have a number of systems objections to what both parties do.

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          • What I’ve seen are some vague sentiments that “The Party” should choose their candidate and that “The People” should be irrelevant. Which to my mind just begs the question of what, exactly, comprise these things we call parties. Is it the people who have won elections under that banner? The operatives and organizers? Folks registered as members? Sort of a vague concept, yes?

            As it is we have a sort of polarized run-off system with an arcane set of rules.

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            • There are a number of different models to choose from internationally, or historically for that matter, if one is inclined to do away with primaries. It’s typically elected officials or party officials.

              As I’ve said, the concept of primaries are an American oddity. There are reasons we should have them (American exceptionalism!), but they’re not the norm.

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    • As I said upthread — a clear majority (voted against, or stayed home) didn’t vote for Obama.

      But we call him “President” nonetheless.

      A rather important fact to keep in mind when we talk about the legions who stayed home and decided to have no say.

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