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January 23rd, 2017

Insight

Candidates, please stop whining

Albert Hunt

By Albert Hunt Bloomberg View

Published April 21, 2016

 Candidates, please stop whining

Now that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have scored their comfortable victories in the New York primary, can everybody please stop bellyaching? Neither party's presidential selection system is perfect, as several candidates have been loudly proclaiming, but each has more virtues than shortcomings.

Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have complained that the rules are rigged against them. The billionaire is unhappy because his nomination isn't inevitable even though he's gotten far more votes than any Republican rival. The Vermont senator is cranky about superdelegates -- more than 700 party and elected officials who will go to the Democrats' Philadelphia convention in July without having been chosen in primaries or caucuses.

They're free to back any candidate, and most of them favor the former secretary of State -- a fact that Sanders sees as evidence that the establishment has stacked the deck against him.

Both charges are specious. For starters, nobody's rules have changed since the candidates entered the fray.

On the Republican side, the delegate-selection process was designed by the states. It's consistent with longstanding Republican ideology, which holds that state and local decisions are preferable to national edicts. That means that state decisions should mean more than national vote totals.

Perhaps as a party newcomer, Trump doesn't appreciate that point of view.

It's easy to see why Trump could be unhappy. Even with his big win on Tuesday in his home state it's still a slog to get to the 1,237 delegates necessary for the nomination at the party's Cleveland convention.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz remains a formidable challenger despite his weak finish in New York, and the ultimate outcome won't be decided at least until the final contests on June 7, which include California. More likely, the battle will continue at the convention. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished a distant second in New York, lags far behind.

But nobody's a victim of unfair rules. Trump lost to Cruz in places like Colorado and Wyoming because the Cruz campaign outsmarted and outworked his side.

State rules have helped Trump in some places. On March 15, for example, he beat Cruz by less than two-tenths of a percentage point in Missouri but won 71 percent of the delegates, 37 to Cruz's 15. Winner-take-all contests in Florida and Arizona delivered bonanzas to Trump as well.

Sanders's complaints about superdelegates are just as ill considered.

About 15 percent of the 4,766 Democratic delegates are governors, senators, congressional representatives or top party officials. They are not bound by state or district vote. Sanders portrays them as representatives of an elite establishment free to ignore the wishes of their voters.

There are two fallacies here. The first is that Clinton lags among voters. She doesn't. She's won many more votes than Sanders. The other is the notion that superdelegates reflexively line up with the leading establishment candidate. Eight years ago, Clinton was the establishment contender. Then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama convinced politicians he would be a stronger candidate by scoring early electoral victories, and many superdelegates backed him -- including, privately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Superdelegates want someone who can win and presumably govern effectively. Their consensus represents peer review, input from the men and women best able to gauge political competence.

It was the turbulent Democratic election of 1968 that set the stage for this. When President Lyndon Johnson bowed out, Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy won most of the primaries. But Kennedy was assassinated and the convention, dominated by party bosses, tapped Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Liberal activists, outraged, shook up the rules by scheduling more primaries to empower voters and reduce the clout of party leaders. After awhile, realizing the value of some peer review, Democrats arrived at the current mix; the number of super delegates this time actually is about a quarter less than in 2008.

The political parties are weaker today. But that has less to do with nominating process and more with the influx of big money in the system enabled by flawed Supreme Court decisions.

There are deficiencies on both sides but nothing is crooked or rigged.

Trump has been opposed by the majority of Republican voters and does miserably in general-election polls. Any outcome on either side is likely to be in sync with most voters.


Previously:
04/19/15: 2016's Other Big Question Mark
04/14/15: Rivals should be in cahoots to stump Trump
03/07/15: Hillary's hubris still could trip her
02/24/15: Free trade is bipartisan target in 2016 election
02/19/15: On Planet Clinton, where everyone's a critic
02/09/15: Questions for Bernie Sanders' establishment guy
02/03/15: From steadfast Iowa to contrarian New Hampshire
02/01/15: Bush's journey from front-runner to straggler
01/27/15: Another election, more phony promises on taxes
01/19/15: How Cruz supporters differ from Trump fans
12/23/15: Why Trump and Cruz aren't Forbes or Cain
12/21/15: Speaker Ryan sails through the easy part
11/25/15: As the GOP candidates emerge Hillary's weaknesses will be revealed
11/05/15: OK, candidates: Ask the questions yourselves. Seriously
10/28/15: Imagine an endgame of Cruz vs. Rubio
10/26/15:Ted Cruz has a Ben Carson problem in Iowa
10/20/15: Will Paul Ryan follow James Polk's playbook?
10/20/15: If only Trey Gowdy could meet with Sam Ervin
10/13/15: Voters don't like revisiting the trials and tribulations of Clintonland --- but that doesn't mean Hillary can't win
09/23/15: Why Jimmy Carter couldn't win the South today
09/17/15: Gov. John Kasich's standout record in Ohio
09/03/15: Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump
08/31/15: Here's how Biden-Warren sort of makes sense
08/28/15:Trump upends New Hampshire's substantive tradition
08/26/15:Jeb Bush is hugging the wrong president George
08/24/15: Underestimating Ted Cruz? That's a mistake
08/19/15: US holds steady in a world of economic trouble
08/12/15: Who will capture Iowa conservatives after Trump?
08/10/15: Debate fireworks that won’t make much impact
07/29/15: A plea for conservatives to speak from the heart
07/09/15: Ex-Im Bank's undeserved rap for crony capitalism
06/24/15: All presidential candidates should be in debates
06/03/15: Foreign policy traps await Republicans and Hillary
06/01/15: It's small stuff that wrecks presidential runs
02/04/15: Can Walker be president without a college degree?

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Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News, directing coverage of the Washington bureau. Hunt hosts the weekly television show "Political Capital with Al Hunt." In his four decades at the Wall Street Journal, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor, and wrote the weekly column "Politics & People." Hunt also directed the Journal's polls, was president of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and a board member of the Ottaway community newspapers. He was a panelist on the CNN programs "The Capital Gang" and "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He is co-author of books on U.S. elections by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.

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