COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., March 29, 2016—The process for selecting delegates for the parties’ presidential nominating conventions are arcane—and nobody usually cares to understand them because most often, a leading candidate has enough votes to get nominated on the first ballot. This year, however, there is great interest because on the Republican side, that may not happen.
Even on the Democratic Party side, the process is being questioned.
To win the Democratic nomination, 2,383 delegates are needed. About one-sixth (719) are superdelegates—technically known as unpledged delegates.
These are elected politicians: governors, senators, representatives and state party officials.
The breakdown currently is:
Clinton is more than half-way home, and the superdelegates give her a big advantage.
In Colorado, that’s come under some scrutiny. Sanders won the popular vote by a wide margin but with superdelegates, Clinton cleaned up.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is one of those superdelegates who will vote for Hillary. When questioned about his decision and whether he should go with the people’s choice instead, he said that the people elected him to use his best judgment and he couldn’t imagine why he’d change his mind.
There’s democracy in the Democratic Party for you.
The idea that someone is elected because of his great wisdom and should then be free to vote as he thinks best is known in political science as the “Burkean” theory, after the British statesman Edmund Burke, who first voiced the idea.
Those who know Colorado and Hickenlooper know it wasn’t because of his great wisdom that he became governor, but rather that Republican elites warring with party grassroots conservatives failed twice to mount a serious challenge.
The alternative method of representation is named for Jean Jacques Rousseau, the radical egalitarian who believed that the representative should reflect the will of the people—and only that.
The Democratic Party of the 21st century is leaning authoritarian. Rousseau is out the window and with him the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. The party elites know best.
Republicans have far fewer superdelegates, and they are bound to primary results, so here the question is about unpledged delegates and the loyalties of the delegates themselves.
Each state has its own rules about how delegates are selected and who they are pledged to support—and for how long.
The Tea Party Patriots calculate that it is unlikely any candidate will have the 1,237 votes needed to win on the first ballot. As many as 95 percent of the delegates, they write, will be bound to one of the candidates. If no candidate emerges from that first ballot with the necessary votes, then a second ballot is taken, at which point 57 percent of the delegates become unbound – free to vote for any candidate. The voting continues through successive ballots until one candidate reaches the 1,237 threshold.
Those unbound delegates on the first ballot will carry enormous weight. Colorado Republicans have 37 of them; Pennsylvania will have 71.
Who are the unbound candidates likely to go for?
The usually astute Dick Morris writes today that Colorado won’t even ask the voters. The state’s 37 delegates can vote for whomever they want on any ballot.
True—but not complete. Through the Colorado caucus system, grassroots Republican voters elected their neighbors to represent them at the state convention on April 9. Since the state party decided against even a non-binding straw poll, no one knows whom the eventual 37 delegates will support.
But by what anecdotal evidence exists from unofficial straw polls, Cruz was favored by Utah-like majorities.
Each precinct caucus, within limits, makes its own rules. Some caucuses required people standing for election to the state assembly to name their favored candidate; some did not. These are the people who will now select those 37 delegates to represent Colorado in Cleveland.
You can bet that anyone wanting that job will be closely scrutinized for whom they will support. It is happening now. When the state convention is over on April 9, we will have a very good idea of where the votes will be cast.
Even if Colorado didn’t seem to naturally favor Cruz, his campaign has made a greater effort to ensure their supporters are running for delegate positions in all 50 states. Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman, is advising the Cruz campaign on delegate strategy.
Trump’s campaign, relying on emotion and cross-over and first-time voters, isn’t competing well.
Consider Louisiana. The Louisiana primary took place on March 5, and Donald Trump beat Ted Cruz by only 3.6 percent. When it comes to delegates, Cruz may end up with 10 more than Trump.
Trump threatened to sue Louisiana yesterday, but he really has only himself to blame.
Further, Cruz’s Louisiana supporters took five of the six spots on the three convention committees that will write the rules, check credentials, and write the platform for the Cleveland convention.
Morris calls these unbound delegates a “gross miscarriage of justice,” but really it’s just the disorganization of the Trump campaign.
Those in Colorado who feel cheated by the lack of a primary will find that they actually have more power at the nominating convention rather than less.
Who will win the nomination? It’s still anybody’s guess. Cruz is surging against Trump in Wisconsin and nationally where he had been behind by as much as 20 points only a week ago.
It seems increasingly likely that if Trump can’t win on the first ballot, he can’t win at all.
Update: At the El Paso County Republican Assembly on Saturday, March 26, Cruz won 71% of the delegate straw poll vote; Trump 14% and Kasich 13%.
Cruz looks to be on track to win all 37 of Colorado’s delegates at the April 9 State Assembly.