Politics & Government

Q&A: What to expect from the 2016 presidential race

Political scientist Michael Artime, left, and presidential historian Mike Purdy are leading a lecture series at the University of Puget Sound about the politics of the 2016 presidential race and how it differs from past elections. The two men are photographed in front of the university’s Collins Memorial Library on Wednesday.
Political scientist Michael Artime, left, and presidential historian Mike Purdy are leading a lecture series at the University of Puget Sound about the politics of the 2016 presidential race and how it differs from past elections. The two men are photographed in front of the university’s Collins Memorial Library on Wednesday. lwong@thenewstribune.com

Presidential historian Mike Purdy and political scientist Michael Artime have one main prediction for the 2016 presidential race: Expect to be surprised.

The number of Republican presidential candidates lingering in the race — 12 at last count — could mean none of them will initially claim the party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention in July, setting off additional rounds of voting that aren’t bound by state primary results.

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ surging poll numbers have raised questions about whether he could overtake Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The rise of anti-establishment candidates such as Sanders, and Donald Trump on the Republican side, are part of the distinctive dynamics of this year’s presidential election, Artime and Purdy say.

Those factors and others that make this year’s race unusual will be the focus of “Who Will Win the White House?,” a free six-part lecture series that Purdy and Artime will lead at the University of Puget Sound starting next week.

Artime, who coaches debate at UPS and is a political science lecturer at Saint Martin’s University and Tacoma Community College, said he hopes the talks will help engage people in this year’s election and spur thoughtful discussion about key policy debates.

He and Purdy, who runs the presidential history website PresidentialHistory.com, sat down with The News Tribune this week to discuss the presidential contest and their upcoming series of lectures, the first of which will take place Thursday.

Q: How is this presidential race a change from past years? In what ways is it different?

Purdy: One of the things that makes it unique is the fact that there’s a lot of surprises in this one. This was not to be the election year where a socialist senator from Vermont ends up kind of starting to encroach on the front-runner, Hillary Clinton. It was not to be the election where Jeb Bush, the front-runner for the Republican establishment, ends up getting preempted by a billionaire celebrity. And I think it’s also different because of some of the tone of the election, some of the language that’s been used. It’s obviously much more heated than it has been in the past.

Q: What is a brokered convention? Why might the Republicans end up having one this year?

Purdy: The brokered convention — it’s because of the fact that there are so many candidates, that they could split the vote.

Artime: First, part of this stems from the gulf that exists between the mainstream of the Republican party and the two frontrunners. We have Donald Trump, and I think a lot of people know the mainstream doesn’t like him very much, doesn’t want him to be the standard bearer of the party. But you also have Ted Cruz, who is not well-liked within the party as well, has made quite a few enemies within the party during his time in the Senate. So I think that you’re going to see the party, if there is a way to push one of these two candidates off the sort of main stage, then they would look for ways to do that.

In terms of the nomination contest ... they would take a first round of balloting at the convention, and then if nobody received a majority of the vote, then many of those delegates would become unpledged (to the caucus or primary results in their state) and be able to cast a ballot for who they think should be the nominee of the party. And ultimately it could go through many, many rounds of voting. Mike in the series is going to talk about some historical examples of these conventions lasting for days and days as they go through different ballots, and as they engage in a lot of horse trading, and trying to come to some consensus candidate.

Purdy: Historically on this, the record is 1924, the Democrats took 17 days, 104 ballots, to finally settle on the very recognizable name of John Davis. Who? He lost to Calvin Coolidge.

But even some of our very great presidents didn’t make it on the very first ballot. Lincoln was the third ballot, Wilson was the 46th ballot. And FDR was the fourth ballot. And then you go to 1920, Warren Harding was selected on the 10th ballot.

And that’s where you hear the term smoke-filled room — that was kind of the classic way of talking about Harding, and the party bosses saying, ‘We’ve got some other candidates here but nobody can agree on it, who can we all agree on?’ And it was literally was a smoke-filled room where they decided, OK, Harding, you kind of look like a president.

They didn’t ask him about some of his sexual scandals and things like that.

Q: What chance do we have of having a Democratic nominee that isn’t Hillary Clinton, such as Bernie Sanders?

Artime: I would still say that she is probably the most likely person to emerge from the Democratic contest. But he’s putting on far more of a challenge than anyone anticipated. I think it is reasonable to say at this point that he has a shot at the nomination, and that is something I don’t think a lot of people expected going into these races. He is very in close in Iowa, and has about a 14-point lead in New Hampshire.

Let’s say he wins Iowa and New Hampshire — he has lots of momentum at that point, how does that make the others states look differently? Does that make Clinton look vulnerable? Does that undercut her argument that she is the most electable of the Democratic candidates, or the best candidate to defeat somebody on the Republican side? If we look later down the road, some of those polls we’re looking at in later states might shift depending on what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Q: What role do independent expenditure-only committees, or super PACs, play in this year’s race, given that they can raise unlimited amounts of money?

Artime: There’s a question in this election about how much money is going to influence the outcome. You have somebody like Jeb Bush who spent about $44 million and had about 15,000 advertisements, but he’s at about 5 percent in the polls. Whereas you have someone like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, who have actually spent far less on their campaigns, and who are doing better in the polls.

I think money is certainly important. But I think there’s a question about whether this actually alters the outcome of the election.

Purdy: Which all kind of goes into the whole anti-establishment, angry voters syndrome, where they’re not influenced as much by the TV advertisements as they are by somebody who is speaking a language that they understand. Donald Trump ends up speaking very simply, he uses simple words, he repeats himself. So the constituency of largely uneducated, white males resonates with that. And so they’re not influenced by the advertising. They get to go to a big rally and hear this, and they go, yeah, he’s saying exactly what I think.

Q: What do you hope people gain from the lecture series you’re leading?

Purdy: Overall for the lecture series I think we want to accomplish a couple things. We want to help to try to inform people about the election, to think thoughtfully about the election, and the campaign. We want to encourage people to get involved so that they realize there is a lot at stake in the election, regardless of whether you’re on the Democratic or the Republican side.

Artime: I’m a firm believer in that in the way we talk about politics, we should model what we want politics to look like. And I think that’s something that we’re going to try to do as well: Our attempt is going to be to try and be as nonpartisan as possible, and to be respectful of all of the different ideas that are at play in this election. Our hope is that we can spark some reasoned, calm discussions about the direction of the country.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

Lecture series: Who Will Win the White House?

Lectures will take place at the University of Puget Sound Campus in McIntyre Hall, Room 103. Admission is free; seating is first-come, first-serve.

All lectures will start at 7 p.m. and last one hour, after which the presenters will take 30 minutes of questions.

Thursday, Jan. 21: The Long Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Thursday, Feb. 18: Who Wants to be President?

Thursday, March 10: What do the Candidates Believe?

Thursday, March 24: What Voters and States Will Elect the Next President?

Thursday, April 14: How Accurate are the Polls?

Thursday, April 28: Media Marketing and the Making of the President