How people elect parliaments
New York Billionaire Donald Trump has – as was widely expected – prevailed in the Republican primary election in South Carolina.
In a field with the vote divided between five significant candidates, Trump’s modest 32% share of the vote should actually net him the bulk of the national convention delegates that the primary election awards today.
In July, delegates elected across all the US states and territories, together with unelected delegates including sitting politicians and party officials, will convene in Cleveland Ohio to elect the party’s nominee for the presidential election in November 2016.
Trump won 32.5% of total the votes cast today. Florida Senator Marco Rubio narrowly defeated conservative Texas Senator Ted Cruz for second place, 22.5% to 22.3%.
The latter result will be a major boost for Rubio’s goal of emerging as the establishment candidate. Rival Jeb Bush, who won 7.9% of today’s vote, announced late in the evening that he was suspending his campaign.
The 50 elected delegates on offer are awarded in a winner-take-all basis in both a statewide pool (29 delegates including 3 pledged officials) and in 7 district pools (3 delegates each).
Trump has won the 29 statewide delegates, and at least five of the 7 districts (15 more delegates). The winners of two districts remain to be confirmed, and Rubio may possibly win one or both.
In any case, Trump will now move to the lead on the overall delegate count, with at least 62 delegates compared to Cruz on 11, Rubio on 9 and Ohio Governor John Kasich on 4.
3 delegates won by Bush in Iowa and New Hampshire are now freed up by Bush’s withdrawal. In the days ahead these votes may appear in support of either Rubio or perhaps Kasich.
With Bush’s withdrawal, the establishment forces have the opportunity they desperately need to consolidate, most likely behind Senator Rubio.
John Kasich will also be under pressure to withdraw, but may attempt to hang on until his home state’s vote on March 15. However Kasich’s hopes for a winner-take-all win of Ohio’s 63 delegates will be countered by Rubio’s hopes for 99 winner-take-all delegates from his home state of Florida on the same day.
Assuming, of course, that either establishment candidate can overcome both Trump and Cruz.
Voter turnout for the Republican primary is estimated to reach around 730,000 – significantly higher than previous turnouts of 603,000 in 2012 and 446,000 in 2008.
The record voter turnout suggests the possibility that Trump – whose appeal is considered to be strongest among less politically ideological and more economically disadvantaged Americans – may be bringing out voters who don’t traditionally support the Republican party.
Trump’s voter appeal is a mixed blessing for his adopted party. Mainstream Republican politicians and establishment figures are appalled at Trump’s success, and at the manner in which it has been achieved.
Trump is slaughtering party sacred cows with abandon. In just the past week he has picked fights with the last successful Republican President George W Bush, with Pope Francis, and with the world’s largest publicly traded corporation, Apple. None of these encounters seems to have done him any harm with voters.
His junking of the Bush reputation, insisting that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a strategic mistake and that the administration misled the public in justifying it, left party leaders aghast, declaring that Trump would immediately shed support among Republican voters.
But the performance was clearly no mistake, but a deliberate media strategy. Trump is targeting identification with voters who, while Republican supporters, agree with such sentiments. There is ample evidence that even in South Carolina, with notably high military and ex-military demographics, his position on Bush and Iraq has grassroots support.
Trump’s practice of remaining constantly in the news, repeatedly flagging his combative personality, is an integrated part of his campaign. His campaign targets viewers for reasons based on gut identification, rather than political and ideological theory. He is demonstrating the viability of a radical departure from orthodox models of political campaigning.
By skewering orthodox party dogmas – such as the Bush history on the Iraq war – and surviving unscathed, Trump frees himself from party control and increases his standing with voters precisely because of his image of personal authority and liberation from the widely loathed political establishment.
All large political parties develop – over long time periods – specific coalitions of different voter blocks, ideological movements and community sentiments. Only by doing so do parties assemble the 30% or more of an electorate’s support needed to be a major political party.
The US Republican party specifically combines an ideology of defending property rights, individual wealth and an ‘enterprise’ culture with assertive national security and international relations positions, affiliation with religious values (in particular with the ‘christian right’) and a selected set of constitutional rights concerns such as the belief that gun ownership can only minimally be regulated by laws.
Party coalitions are also fortified by the identification of enemies, in the Republican case including political ‘liberals’ in general, social freedoms regarding marriage and sexuality, non-christian religions, immigrants, and even the idea of government itself.
But such coalitions, for any major political party, rarely benefit from close scrutiny or exposure of their different internal factions and interests. The Republican party, like any party of government, needs to manage the forces within its coalition to allow it to function in legislatures and form workable executive administrations.
While Trump’s campaign may attract new voters currently supporting his own vote share during the primary elections, it threatens to leave elements of the coalition angry, and potentially motivated to separate from the party at the coming general election.
Worse still, if the establishment forces within the party somehow succeed in blocking Trump from becoming the presidential nominee at a divided convention, a legacy of voter bitterness could emerge which manifests not only in 2016 but also in future elections.
Should Trump enter the July convention in Cleveland as the public’s most preferred choice, but still short of sufficient delegates to win the nomination outright, excluding him in favour of another candidate who polled worse during the primary elections would only serve to intensify the existing visceral anger many voters feel towards political parties.
The Democratic party is undergoing a partly similar experience, with the values-based campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders pitted against the ‘insider’ Hillary Clinton.
But the Democratic contest is simpler, and is based on clearer policy issues – such as social inequality and anger at ‘Wall Street’ corporate dominance of politics – which potential democratic supporters do not deeply disagree over.
This means that the Democratic party’s own voter coalition is less exposed should a successful Clinton nomination need to re-embrace voters who had supported Sanders.
Moreover the Democratic contest, whilst arousing passion, is so far marked by significantly less personal animosity between the candidates than the vicious sniping and negative advertising seen on the Republican side.
Republican doners are paying out tens of millions of dollars to fund internally destructive advertising. Worse still, for every leading Republican campaign there is now on record strident condemnations of their honesty and character attributes by their own party colleagues.
South Carolina has a tradition of brutal primary politics. After the initial two states in the preceding fortnight, South Carolina is the point where the contest suddenly seems more urgent and desperate, as poor performances can force candidates out of the race.
Relations between the remaining Republican candidates certainly turned nasty in the past week, and are unlikely to recover.
The Democratic party’s caucuses in Nevada, also held today, have been won narrowly by Hillary Clinton, with around 52% of caucus votes to Bernie Sanders’ 48%.
The result will probably yield 19 delegates for Clinton and 16 for Sanders to their party’s nominating convention in Philadelphia. 35 elected delegates are to be awarded from Nevada. Eight more Nevada legislators and state officials will attend the convention as unpledged delegates.
Bolstered by a bedrock of between 200 and 300 unelected delegates who have endorsed her, Clinton still has a big lead in total delegates.
In the coming week the two parties turn about with the Republican caucuses in Nevada on Tuesday, followed by the Democratic primary in South Carolina next Saturday.
A few days after that – Tuesday 1 March – the contest really comes alive with more than a dozen states voting on a single day.