Donald Trump’s trouncing in the Acela primary — including in the bluer than blue liberal bastions of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, with 58.1, 56.5, 59, 64.7 and 62.6 percent of the vote, respectively — does not a nomination make.
It’s going to be a liberal-conservative smack-down in the state of Indiana this coming Tuesday as Republican voters try and make heads or tails of this dizzying race.
As if to underscore the point, in the wake of his Acela losses, Ted Cruz, winner of 9 states to Trump’s 27, picked conservative businesswoman Carly Fiorina as his Vice Presidential running mate.
A Cruz-Fiorina Indiana win would give the delegates the power to decide, at the convention, which candidate would be strongest against, presumably, Hillary Clinton in the fall. (The answer is not obvious. Trump, while engaging and guided by common sense, would, polls suggest, get clobbered by Hillary. Cruz, while young, brash and loathed by the establishment, is as brilliant as Abe Lincoln, and as skilled a debater.)
It’s as the founders intended it.
Wisely, our forebears built protections into the system to guard against someone ascending to power who does not quite have the qualities needed to steer the ship of state deftly.
Initially, the protections were seal-tight. Presidential candidates of national parties were chosen by Members of Congress. Period.
Then, in 1831, the era of conventions began when the small Anti-Masonic Party held the first such gathering.
The following year, the two national parties, Whigs and Democrats, adopted this new model and selected, respectively, Henry Clay of Kentucky and Andrew Jackson of Tennessee as their nominees. When all was said and done, Jackson ascended to the presidency bringing with him his mud-caked, unruly, and enthusiastic supporters. It was a great moment for American democracy. But, in fact, his band of followers were not the ones who had actually elected him. Rather, it was the electors, as established in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. And, I quote:
“Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.”
Electors sometimes upend the popular vote. Recall that in the year 2000 George W. Bush lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College and became President of the United States — just as John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison did in 1824, 1876 and 1888, respectively, dashing the hopes of Jackson, Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland, respectively.
For 140 years, nominating conventions elected their party’s respective presidential candidates. There were some quite dramatic moments — perhaps none as dramatic as the 1924 Democratic convention when it took 17 days and 103 ballots for the delegates to finally settle on John W. Davis as their nominee.
In 1972, everything changed.
The contentious 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, four years earlier, had ushered in democratic reforms and the era of primaries — with hopes of giving voters more say in the choice of president.
Even so, voters were still choosing delegates, who would, in turn, choose their respective party’s presidential candidate at the nominating conventions.
It is those delegates who still have the ultimate say over who will be the party’s nominee. And, the state parties set the rules over their own delegate selection process. The national party weighs in, too. For instance, after the 1972 Democratic primary process produced the disastrous choice of George McGovern, the Democratic Party gradually instituted “Super Delegates” to ensure more electable candidates going forward. McGovern had lost 48 of 50 states, including his own state of South Dakota, while losing the popular vote in the second biggest landslide in American history.
Which brings us to the present primary season and the contest over who will be the next President of the United States.
Problem is, only one can be president. And, as Lee Atwater used to say, those who can be president occupy a little boat and there are only so many in that boat.
Which brings us to Grantland Rice’s famous line.
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
Now we are playing the biggest game in American politics. As in sports, this game has rules, which those who are truly presidential will follow with grace and class. (Robocalls to delegates threatening their well-being if they do not vote a certain way conjures up the exact opposite image.)
The stakes, in terms of realizing America’s vast potential, while mending the hole in her soul and infrastructure, to say nothing of her fiscal picture, and national security, could not be higher.
Mary Claire Kendall, a Washington-based writer, is author of Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends.