So much for the party elites. So much for the super PACs. So much for the pollsters. So much for (many in) the media.
Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ victories on Tuesday demonstrate dramatically how angry many voters are, and how dangerous it would be to try to thwart their candidates in the name of party unity or even victory in November.
Mitt Romney’s attempt to organize a “dump Trump” movement ran into a blizzard of ballots in Michigan and Mississippi, despite the millions spent by a handful of super PACs advertising against the front-runner.
The big spenders were reportedly spurred on during a meeting at a posh resort where conservative opinion leaders met with superrich technology moguls looking for a way to derail Trump’s progress toward the nomination. And some recent polls indicated that they might be having some success. The reality show host’s performance on Tuesday proved them wrong.
Nothing could be more calculated to infuriate the base of the billionaire’s support than a bunch of rich guys plotting his demise – especially rich technology guys whose companies have put a lot of non-college-educated white men out of work. Trump scored 18 points higher in Michigan among white men without college degrees compared to those who have them, and overall men gave him a 16-point lead over women.
Not only did almost 90 percent of Michigan Republican voters express dissatisfaction or anger with the government, almost 60 percent said they felt “betrayed by politicians from the Republican Party.” And those politicians are exactly the people trying to dump Trump. But they do so at their peril.
Political parties naturally protect their own self-interests, and both the Democrats and the Republicans have established rules to guard against the rank and file nominating someone who would have a hard time winning a general election. For the Democrats, it was the creation of the superdelegates, allowing elected and appointed party officials and donors to choose a candidate they think can win, regardless of the primary and caucus results.
For the Republicans, it’s something called Rule 40. It requires a candidate to win the majority of delegates in at least eight states in order for his or her name to be placed in nomination. Donald Trump is the only candidate with a prayer of meeting that requirement, and now there are rumblings among Republicans about changing that rule. One proposal would allow anyone who received one delegate to be deemed eligible for inclusion on the first ballot at the convention.
That would be a truly risky move. In this primary season, Trump has taken the lead in state after state by bringing in white voters who have previously felt disenfranchised. In a recent ABC News poll, he did especially well among Republicans who think whites are “losing out” because of rules favoring minorities. Just imagine how they would feel if yet more rules – these enacted by the party – managed to deprive their candidate of the nomination.
“That is probably the most dangerous situation for the Republican Party,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told The Washington Post. “If he gets there with not a majority but close to a majority of the (delegates) and doesn’t get the nomination, that'll be very difficult. He could say, ‘I’m going to ask all of my folks to sit this one out to show them how big we are.’ Who knows?”
Democrats cannot rest easy either. Bernie Sanders attracts some of the same voters as Donald Trump. In Michigan, he trounced Hillary Clinton by 27 points among white men, and handily won the votes of those making between $30,000 and $99,999. At the moment he is losing both the elected delegates and the superdelegates, but if, as is likely, he picks up more states and accrues enough delegates that put him in striking distance of Clinton, then those superdelegates’ votes become problematic.
As it is, Clinton fails on the test of whether she’s “honest and trustworthy.” Only 19 percent of Michigan Democrats said she embodied those virtues. A convention decided by power brokers would play into her image as someone who operates behind the scenes.
But compared to their rivals, the Democrats look trouble-free. Party members don’t deride Clinton as a con artist unfit for the presidency. And she trumps Trump on the honesty question, and on every other attribute and issue, in a recent ABC poll, which also gave the Republican front-runner the highest unfavorability rating – 67 percent – of any politician in recent memory.
That’s why the party elite want to find a way to sidetrack him. They should have thought of that a few months ago. Changing the rules now could do them more harm than good.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.