The Year Americans Woke Up.
In an election year when two populist candidates on both sides of the political spectrum have risen to popularity by railing against the political Establishment, voters everywhere feel as though their voices are being ignored.
You hear it everywhere — talk of disenfranchisement, charges that the “will of the people” is being denied, murmurs of democracy has been thwarted by that very same “Establishment.” And there’s a simple reason why: People now paying attention to electoral politics have previously been politically apathetic — out of the process. Suddenly, they’re looking at the system and saying: “Really?” They’re wondering why delegates will decide who the party’s nominee will be and asking why it’s not, say — them. The whole mess is causing an uproar among the American electorate.
To those voters who are just voting for the first time — or returning after years of apathy — the process can appear to be completely unfair and in favor of political insiders and party elites. These are voters who for years have felt left out of the political system and don’t feel represented by the parties. Conservative leaders and progressive pundits, as well as the candidates themselves, have fanned the flames of the notion that democracy has been subverted and the will of the people stymied.
It isn’t exactly that way (more on how it is exactly that way below). For example, a spotlight was put on superdelegates this year after Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by a double-digit margin in the New Hampshire primary. Superdelegates are unique to the Democratic Party, and those “feelin’ the Bern” discovered that while Sanders has often beaten Clinton, she has regularly walked away with just as many delegates as he earned — sometimes more.
But the superdelegate system has existed in the Democratic electoral system for quite some time — since the 1984 presidential election to be exact. And it’s important to note that superdelegates are not required to support the candidate who won their respective states. Right now, Clinton is trouncing Sanders in the superdelegate race, even though he has largely remained competitive with her in the regular pledged-delegate hunt. This is the system Democrats have not only set up, but embraced.
At this point in time, the superdelegates give Clinton an advantage in the process — but they could potentially switch their endorsement before the Democratic convention in July. Still, that was the intention all along: the superdelegates will decide who the nominee is, keeping out any riffraff that might suddenly somehow become the people’s favorite. Even Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has admitted the super delegates serve as a way to keep the party in power.
“Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists,” Wasserman Schultz said in February.
That same month, the “R” word started to gain ground — “rigged.” In a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough called the Democratic primary system “rigged.” “Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths?” Scarborough said. “This system is so rigged.” And this month, that word was applied to Colorado, where delegates were selected not by voters in the state, but by party players.
But the Republican delegate system works differently. Delegates are awarded on a proportional or winner-take-all basis in each of the state nominating contests and are bound to support the candidate that their state elects on the first ballot. The candidate that receives the nomination must acquire 1,237 delegates in order to win the nomination. If no candidate is able to reach that number and win outright on the first ballot, the convention moves to an open race: Whoever can lock down the needed delegates wins.
Donald Trump will likely have the lion’s share of the delegates come convention time, so you can expect that voters everywhere will cry foul — especially if Sen. Ted Cruz is able to squeak out a second-ballot floor vote at the convention, having come in second.
Trump has railed against the system, saying the Republican Party should be ashamed of itself. “Our Republican system is absolutely rigged,” Trump said at a campaign event in New York on Tuesday. “It’s a phony deal … They wanted to keep people out. This is a dirty trick.”
But again, this is the system that the party has set up with the approval — or at least the compliance — of members. And Trump is apparently beginning to get the message: He is now playing the game and has hired veteran Republican strategists such as Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley to head his convention and political ground game operations to lock down delegates.
Every time Cruz has won a contest or delegates, Trump has claimed the election is being stolen or that it is rigged against him, even though he has been outmaneuvered and out-organized. However, this is an effective strategy seeing as he has the attention of an angry electorate that feel as though the system is working against them.
Trump said as much in an interview with the New York Times when ask about his campaign’s disorganization. “You have to remember I’m leading,” Trump said. “I’m more than 200 delegates ahead, so over all, I’m doing very well. Don’t forget, I only complain about the ones where we have difficulty.”
Cruz has been working for months on his ground game operation, knowing that if the primary went to a contested convention, he would be ready. Trump, on the other hand, has been behind the eight-ball expecting that his front-runner status would guarantee a lock on the nomination regardless of whether or not the required 1,237 delegates were obtained.
Is the GOP race rigged? Yes and no. Party leaders and Establishment players want to decide the race, but Trump holds his fate in his own hands. Win the 1,237, done. Come up short, and — just as intended — the party will use its designed rules to pick a candidate.
In the end, the nominating conventions for both Democrats and Republicans have the ability to highlight democracy at its best if the candidate with the majority of the vote is nominated. But if it is left up to the delegates on the second ballot at the Republican convention or the superdelegates at the Democratic convention, it will be seen by many as a major abuse of power by the political parties. And those just entering the process see that as a subversion to the democratic process.
This election has drawn interest on both sides of the aisle and people are waking up, paying attention, to the proceedings. That has been a huge boost to participation in the democratic process. But ultimately, it is drawing scrutiny upon systems and rules put into place long before the hotly contested and competitive 2016 election — leaving many who are jaded to ask “Who is in charge? The system or the people?”
We won’t know for some time. So stay tuned.