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Republican primary voters gave businessman Donald Trump another convincing win in the Nevada caucuses yesterday. Democrats go to the polls in South Carolina this weekend. These early contests have awarded just a fraction of the delegates available to candidates. But on March 1, more than two dozen states hold primaries and caucuses with more than fifteen hundred delegates at stake in both parties. Among Republicans, Donald Trump has a big delegate lead while Hillary Clinton tops the Democratic race. Guest host Katty Kay and guests discuss how presidential candidates are shaping their “delegate math” ahead of Super Tuesday and what the path to a nomination looks like in both parties.
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
- Elaine Kamarck Senior fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution; author of "Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates"
- Danielle Kurtzleben Politics reporter, NPR
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a book tour. Republican primary voters caucused in Nevada yesterday, giving businessman Donald Trump a clear victory there. Democrats will vote on Saturday in South Carolina. So far, just a fraction of the total delegates have been claimed. Presidential candidates are now shaping their strategies ahead of Super Tuesday when more than 1500 delegates are at stake.
MS. KATTY KAYJoining me in the studio to talk about how the U.S. presidential nomination system is working or perhaps not working and what it means for presidential candidates in both parties, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution and Danielle Kurtzleben of NPR. Thank you all so much for joining me.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINGreat to be with you, Katty.
MS. ELAINE KAMARCKGood morning, thanks.
MS. DANIELLE KURTZLEBENGreat to be here.
KAYThe phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. You can call us and I'll be taking your calls later on in the program. You can email us to email@example.com. Send us a tweet. You can find us on Facebook. We'd love to hear from you. Elaine, let me start with you. I have covered four American presidential elections. I have spent hours trying to explain how nominees are chosen to audiences around the world and I still don't understand.
KAYEither I am quite dim or this is a ridiculously complicated system.
KAMARCKI do not think you're dim. I think this is a ridiculously complicated system, but let me try to explain it as simply as I can. Given all the hoopla that we go through over the six months of primaries, we forget that the actual power to nominate a president is at the Democratic Convention and at the Republican Convention this summer, that the people who nominate the president are, in fact, delegates who are elected in these primaries.
KAMARCKAnd the reason we tend to forget that is that we haven't yet begun to have a serious delegate contest. That will begin on March the 1st so not too far away on the so-called Super Tuesday and on that day, there are a lot of big states up and a lot of delegates will be chosen. And the entire way that the media reports elections will shift on March the1st. Instead of saying, oh, who won this tiny state of New Hampshire, who won this very small state of Nevada, people will look at the whole and they will say, who has the most delegates.
KAYSo Danielle Kurtzleben, you and I are the media. We've been very focused on poll numbers and Iowa and New Hampshire and who's ahead and who's winning. Is Elaine right, on March the 1st, we will start doing our maths?
KURTZLEBENWell, especially in this election, I genuinely think that we've been looking a lot, perhaps more at delegates this time around than last time around because it's just so closely contested on both sides. And plus, especially on the Democratic side, there's a lot of worry about these super delegates, especially from Sanders' supporters because super delegates, which are unpledged delegates who can just pick who they...
KAYThey're kind of party grandees.
KURTZLEBENRight. Yes. They are Democratic party members. They are elected officials.
KAYSort of the class system.
KAYIn the Democratic and Republican parties.
KURTZLEBENExactly. And even though Clinton and Sanders are pretty well matched, they have been in these past few states, the super delegates have overwhelmingly supported Clinton. So, you know, we're paying close attention to that and we're going to see how...
KAYWhat's the division between super delegates and delegates?
KURTZLEBENRight. So right now, Clinton has 451 super delegates, according to the numbers when I checked this morning, and Sanders had 19. But when you look at the delegates, just the non super ones who are allocated just based on how the vote goes, Clinton has 52 to Sanders' 51 so that's very close right now.
KAYSo there are way more super delegates than regular delegates.
KURTZLEBENRight. Thus far, the count that goes to either candidate, thus far...
ORNSTEINThey only make up 15 percent of the...
KURTZLEBENRight. Of the total.
ORNSTEIN...of the total delegates.
KAMARCKThere's a very small number.
KURTZLEBENThat's why we know more about how the super delegates are pledged, but there are far more delegates.
KAYOkay. Norm, this system?
ORNSTEINSo let me use an analogy here, Katty.
ORNSTEINSo imagine it's an Olympic race, a 10,000 meter race, but there are heats before you get to the contest where you can actually win the medals. Normally, what happens in an Olympic race is, you don't finish in the top four or five in a heat, that's it for you. And this process in the early stages, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, have tended to be like heats. They winnow out candidates. Those who do poorly can't go on, even though theoretically they could, because they don't have money. There's a wider sense that they're losers.
ORNSTEINIt's a little different this time. We have seen a winnowing out, obviously. We had a large Republican field. It's down to five. Two-thirds have basically dropped out. But because of the money system now, the post Citizens United world where you can get outside funding for superPACs, candidates can stay in a little bit longer. And because the rules are not just if you lose, you drop out, but you can win delegates in proportions as you go along, although it varies and we'll talk about that a little bit more, state by state.
ORNSTEINYou have some candidates with an incentive to stay in a little bit longer. So we're not winnowing out on the Republican side the way we otherwise might have. Candidates like John Kasich want to wait until his home state of Ohio, which actually has a winner take all by state system, might give him a big block of delegates so at least he's a player. And Marco Rubio is hoping that he can win his home state of Florida. But the complications of the rules, proportional doesn't mean exactly proportional.
ORNSTEINThere's a threshold before you can get any delegates and winner-take-all doesn't mean winner take all. It becomes even more complicated. So even those who are geniuses are baffled by this.
KAYI am not dim.
KURTZLEBENNo, you're not. But just to throw a little bit of math out there, how fast the delegate race is about to get, by the end of this week, roughly 3 percent of Democratic delegates and 5 percent of Republican delegates have been proportionately allocated. By the end of Super Tuesday, it's going to be around 22 percent for Democrats and 29 percent for Republicans. By the end of March, 48 percent for Democrats and 63 percent for Republicans. It's about to speed up really quick.
KAYOkay. Elaine, I have a question for you. When we all woke up this morning after the Nevada caucuses, there were -- I think there was even a headline in a local paper in Vegas with a picture of Donald Trump and the blaring headline "Nominee." So if we are looking at the kind of media coverage today, you wouldn't be remiss in thinking, oh, Donald Trump is going to be the nominee and probably Hillary Clinton's gonna be the nominee, too. Are we way ahead of ourselves?
KAMARCKWe're a little bit ahead of ourselves, although I think, go back to what Norm was saying. There's really two stages to this process. There's these four early states. They tell us some important things about the race. They have told us that Donald Trump is not a flash in the pan, that he draws from a wide spectrum of Republican primary voters. So they tell us some things. They told us that Bernie Sanders was really a strong contender in the Democratic primaries and is probably going to stick around for a while.
KAMARCKSo that's what we know. But there is a stage two and this stage two we're about to begin. There are very complicated rules for allocating delegates to presidential candidates. But what I would say to you and to all the listeners confused about it, don't worry because, guess what, every formula is programmed into the network computers and the news computers and when they get the results in, you don't have to know the formula.
KAYThey will tell you.
KAMARCKYeah, yeah. They just -- it's -- in the old days, believe me, I can remember doing this by hand. But, you know, this'll be automatic. When the results come in, we will basically know who's ahead in the delegate race. So we are now entering -- this month of March, as Danielle said, is the critical month. By the end of March, I think we will be able to have headlines like Donald Trump is the winner, Hillary Clinton is the winner. It's a little bit premature right now.
KAYSo careful of your headlines.
ORNSTEINJust one of the things to say here is that to take the numbers that Danielle was talking about to a slightly different level, on March 1, on the Republican side, more than half the delegates needed to win a nomination will be chosen. So that's a huge block of delegates. By the time you get through that and while they are proportional, there's a 20 percent threshold in many of these states. Donald Trump is leading in the vast majority of them.
ORNSTEINHe will, if things hold, win enough delegates that he'll have a very large lead over anybody else. And by March 15, with another large block, he won't have enough to win a nomination outright, but he will be in an extraordinarily strong position. Every previous person in that position has gone on to win and the same will be the case with Hillary Clinton. But on the Democratic side, because there are only two and because they are much more proportional, Bernie Sanders will probably end up with 40 percent or more of the delegates at the convention, which means it'll be a very interesting convention.
KAYOkay. We're gonna get back to the process in a second, but I think we should put full disclosure, cards on the table. Do we all think that the likely Republican nominee is going to be Donald Trump, Norm?
KAMARCKI'm holding my opinion on that.
KURTZLEBENI can't say that for sure, no.
KURTZLEBENIt's quite -- it is still quite possible that he's not the nominee, I mean, because the key thing we have to look ahead to is both Super Tuesday and then March 15.
KAYWhat about on the Democratic side, Danielle?
KURTZLEBENIf I had to guess, I mean, Hillary Clinton has such a strong lead right now. She's doing very well. And Super Tuesday looks good for her.
KAMARCKYeah, I'd say Hillary.
ORNSTEINI think Hillary is 85 to 90 percent. Trump is probably 70 percent.
KAYOkay. 'Cause we're going to talk more about the process, but I think it is worth our audience knowing kind of what we're all thinking and how the landscape looks. So we will have more of this discussion on delegates. I will try not to get as confused as I have been for the last 16 years covering American politics.
KAYNorm Ornstein is with me here in the studio. Elaine Kamarck's here as well. Danielle Kurtzleben is here. We'll get into the Nevada caucus results. We'll look ahead to South Carolina as well. We'll take your phone calls, 1-800-433-8850, firstname.lastname@example.org is the email address. Do tweet us. Do Facebook us and I promise you that by the end of this hour, you, too, will understand the U.S. nomination process. Stay with us.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane's on a book tour. You've joined our conversation on the nominating process in U.S. presidential elections. Before the break, we were talking about this complicated system but also about delegates and super delegates. And we're very lucky to have in the studio with us a super-delegate. Elaine, you look like a normal person, but clearly you are a party grandee. First of all, tell us how you become a super-delegate.
KAMARCKSuper delegates are...
KAYI'm assuming it's not hereditary. We're not going quite that far.
KAMARCKNo, it's not like peers in the British Empire. No, super delegates are by office, okay. So I happen to be a member of the Democratic National Committee, and therefore I get a vote at the convention. The reasoning back in 1982, when super delegates were created by the Hunt Commission, was that the party leaders in an open nomination system were reluctant to compete against their constituents for delegate slots. And so what happened in the first two years of the reformed Democratic Party was that the senators, the governors and the national committee people, the people who run the process, work for the party, are on the same ticket with the presidential nominee, didn't go to the convention.
KAMARCKSo you had this odd situation of two conventions, 1972, 1976, actually three, 1980, where you had very, very few of the leadership of the party actually at the convention. So they said, all right, look, these guys are not going to run against their constituents, that's too unpopular, so -- but we do need them there. Let's make sure they're there. Now there's a lot of hysteria over super delegates. They have never -- we've had them since 1984. They have never overturned the will of the primary voters. They have never acted contrary to the will of the primary voters.
KAYSo when you go to the convention in July, you will vote for whoever the primary voters have decided should be the candidate for your party?
KAMARCKYes because usually what happens is somebody wins a first ballot nomination, they win it in June, you go to the convention in July, and the super delegates all vote for that person. Now what has not happened since we've had super delegates is that there's been no one able to win a first ballot nomination, or there's been some kind of virtual tie at the convention. At that point you can see the super delegates playing a large role, but frankly at that point everybody plays a large role.
KAYSo that's when you feel the heat, Elaine.
ORNSTEINSo an interesting element here is the Republicans also have super delegates, fewer of them, but the members of the Republican National Committee are super delegates. One of the scenarios that is an entirely plausible one here is that Donald Trump has a significant lead in delegates, but going into the convention he has a strong plurality but not a majority. And at that point it's at least possible that those super delegates, looking at Trump as a candidate who might not be able to win, move in a different direction.
ORNSTEINBut just imagine if you have a Donald Trump whose nomination victory is snatched away by the party establishment. Cleveland will be the most interesting place and maybe the most dangerous place to be in America in July and August.
KAYAnd exactly what his supporters would say is happening in the Republican Party. Here's a question for you, Danielle. To what extent, on the Democratic side, does the fact that super delegates have pledged before some states have voted influence voters' minds, do you think? Because it seems like it could -- is that slightly undemocratic that the super delegates can declare before...
KURTZLEBENOh, there are certainly plenty of people who think that the super-delegate process is undemocratic, absolutely. There's a very popular petition on moveon.org right now to tell the super delegates to, Elaine is nodding here, to essentially, you know, tell the super delegates to, you know, vote with the will of the people. And I will say, you know, getting back to this, the Sanders campaign is in part banking on the idea that, you know, super delegates, they're pledged, but they can change their mind. And the Sanders campaign told the Times, I believe it was this week, that, you know, if we can be close in regular delegates, then we're going to try to lobby super delegates to change their minds.
KURTZLEBENAnd like Elaine said, it -- there are plenty who would, should it look like the will of the people is with Sanders.
KAYAre those super delegates, Elaine, basically the establishment of either party?
KAMARCKYeah, they're the people who run the process. I mean, they're the state -- the most important of these super delegates on the Republican and the Democratic side are the state party chairmen because they have to run the nomination process. All those locations for the Republican caucuses last night, you know, you had the Republican party chairman setting that whole thing up.
KAMARCKSo these are people who work day in and day out of the party. They do a lot of work for which there is no remuneration at all. And you know what? They should go to the convention for all that work.
KAYNorm, to what extent -- let's talk a little bit more specifically about this race, given Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, now Nevada, as well, to what extent are campaigns on both sides at this stage reassessing their campaigns, re-kind-of-gearing their campaigns based on the process so far and delegate counts so far?
ORNSTEINWell, certainly you're seeing that kind of readjustment, but what we're also seeing, Katty, is the ages-old struggle between establishment and non-establishment wings. You go back to the Democrats in 1972, it was the anti-establishment, anti-war movement against the labor unions, who dominated the party. And on the Republican side now, Donald Trump is an anti-establishment candidate, but anti-establishment candidates and those who were not a part of the process made up 60 to 70 percent of the preferences of Republican voters.
ORNSTEINNow what you're seeing is candidates trying to figure out if there's a lane for them, and the conventional wisdom was that there were two lanes on the Republican side, an anti-establishment lane and the establishment lane, but what's happened is that it's not clear that there are those lanes. And for Marco Rubio, who's tried to straddle them, the fact that he hasn't finished better than second in any contest and doesn't have great prospects going ahead suggests that calibrating may not work.
ORNSTEINAt the same time, we've had this unwillingness to go after Donald Trump, the frontrunner, which to me is really interesting. Four years ago, you had one establishment candidate, Mitt Romney, and all the others attacked each other to try and become the alternative. This time it's one big anti-establishment candidate, and the others are attacking each other, and what ends up happening is that the anti-establishment one in this case just goes through unscathed.
KAYYeah, it's been fascinating to see the small amount of ad money that has been spent attacking Donald Trump. Let's go to the phones, to Felix in San Antonio, Texas. Felix, you've joined the program.
FELIXThank you. My question is, besides all the hoopla and song and dance that routinely go with caucuses, primaries, convention and super delegates, after that, the real power behind the throne when it comes to elected executive is the electoral college. Now to my knowledge, the electoral college has always honored the wishes of the popular vote, but they are not bound by that. They can go and elect somebody else.
KAYOkay, Felix, we're getting into a whole other sphere there because we're introducing the electoral college, which actually comes later in this process, but it's not true, is it Norm, what Felix is suggesting?
ORNSTEINWell, there's one element that Felix is suggesting that is true, which is in most of the states, you elect electors, they vote in an electoral college, they are bound, but there are no real penalties. So we have had electors who have gone the other way or gone another way, but it's certainly not true that the popular vote is always reflected by the electoral college, as we saw in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote, and the electoral college went for George W. Bush.
KAYLet's talk a little bit more about conventions and what might happen because we have heard, Danielle, both on the Republican and, to a lesser extent, on the Democratic side, and Norm mentioned it earlier, that Cleveland could be one of the most exciting, if not dangerous, places in the country this summer if it's a brokered convention, what's your hunch? Do you think there is any chance, seeing how well Donald Trump has done thus far that we could end up with a brokered convention?
KURTZLEBENThere's certainly a chance, and I hate to be that boring person who plays it safe, but it's true that, you know, we have to look at what happens in March, especially on March 15. What happens that day is these two big winner-take-all states, Florida and Ohio, which have respectively 99 and 66 delegates, those states vote. And by the way, Florida is home to Marco Rubio, Ohio is home to John Kasich, so those could be states potentially where there is a pretty tightly fought contest. And so I think we really need to see what happens with those big-delegate states.
KAYAnd just talk us through what would actually happen in Cleveland if we had a brokered convention, anyone, Elaine.
KAMARCKWell, here's what would happen. You only have a brokered convention if no one with goes in with a first ballot nomination. So we will know that for both the Democrats and the Republicans by the first week in June. If in fact no one can claim the magic number of delegates, which is 2,408 for the Democrats, 1,237 for the Republicans, then you will be -- see the process of negotiating begin.
KAMARCKAlmost always at a brokered convention, there's a test vote of some sort. And there will probably be a test vote cooked up over the credentials, over platform, over something like that. And then you'll get to the first ballot. Sometimes the test vote will tell you what the first ballot's going to be, but here's the most interesting thing. If in fact either convention gets to a first ballot, and there is no majority winner, then Katty bar the door.
KAMARCKBecause then everyone...
KAYShe'll do it, too.
KAMARCKEveryone is free, okay, every single delegate, the pledged delegates, the super, everyone is free to move towards a different candidate or move towards the opposite candidate.
KAYSo when you look at conventions on -- I've been to many of them, but when you watch them on the television, you see all of these people from the different states, often wearing fantastically, you know, wonderful outfits.
KAMARCKGreat hats, great hats.
KAYWonderful hats. They would be the people who be then free to say, right...
KAYIn this convention hall who are going to decide who our party nominee is.
KAMARCKThat's right, the legal, the legal basis for getting on the ballot as a Republican or a Democrat is a certification that comes out of the Democratic convention or a Republican convention.
ORNSTEINThere's one particularly important point to make. Banish the term brokered. Brokered means there are brokers.
ORNSTEINThere are no brokers anymore. Many people...
KAYBut I am willing to bet that if we got to that stage, there would be party grandees and non-grandees doing some serious backroom dealing at the convention.
ORNSTEINThey would be trying to do backroom dealing.
KAYTrying to do.
ORNSTEINBut, you know, there's a very famous book by Gore Vidal that turned into a movie with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson called "The Best Man." That's where you had governors and other major party officials who had blocks of delegates they could move like pawns on a chessboard. Do you think that Donald Trump's delegates are going to do that Donald Trump says or Ted Cruz' delegates? And you're going to have a convention where a party grandee stands up, Reince Priebus gets up and says here's what we need to do, you'll have a revolt on your hands.
ORNSTEINOpen convention, contested convention, those are the terms. We haven't had one go to a second ballot since 1952, but this time there is a greater chance certainly than in any time since 1976, when the Republican convention could have, with...
KAYCould have, yeah.
ORNSTEINJerry Ford and Ronald Reagan.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Do join us, 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number, email@example.com is our email address. You can send us emails, as well. I'm going to open the phones now to Chris in Raleigh, North Carolina. Chris, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
CHRISHey, thank you so much for taking my call. I did just want to give some voice to the -- I think it was referred to as hysteria over super delegates on the Democratic side. You know, this is a situation where, in the last couple of weeks, you know, the head of the DNC, who in 2008 was co-chair of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, in no uncertain terms voices the merits of super delegates basically, to paraphrase only slightly, to protect establishment members from grassroots movements.
CHRISAnd that's why people are upset. I don't think that her being up 451 super delegates will change voters' minds, but it does change what the media is saying when Bernie actually has 60 percent of the estimated popular vote so far and is only down by one delegate. So it does matter, and it is wrong and undemocratic. So thank you for taking my call.
KAYThank you, Chris. Well, I'm going to put that straight to Elaine, and then I want the others to weigh in because there is clearly a feeling out there, particularly on the Democratic side this time around, as Chris is suggesting, that there is something undemocratic about the super-delegate, and the fact that they have come out this early for Hillary Clinton tilts the scales away from Bernie Sanders.
KAMARCKI don't think that's the case, okay, I mean, I just don't think that's the case. I think that whether or not these super delegates had come out, it's very clear that Hillary Clinton has a deep well of support in the Democratic Party establishment. And this is a year where having the support of the establishment has not been very helpful to getting votes because the voters are pretty anti-establishment in both parties.
KAMARCKThe bottom line is...
KAYBut you're not suggesting, Elaine, that having super delegates all come out for Hillary Clinton actually helps Bernie Sanders?
KAMARCKNo, but I'm saying that it probably really doesn't matter in the end, that in fact this is something where the super delegates -- look, we had the same situation in 2008. Hillary had most of the super delegates, Obama was winning, and guess what, in June Obama managed to get most of the super delegates to switch for him. So they will follow -- the super delegates will follow the will of the people unless, and sort of think of them as the failsafe mechanism, unless the people don't decide.
KAMARCKAnd I think going back to Norm's comment, it is much more likely on the Republican side that you will go into their convention, and the people will have spoken, but they will not have decided.
KAYDanielle, when you're reporting for NPR, as you travel around the country following this process, how much grumbling are you hearing from Democratic supporters, Bernie Sanders supporters in particular, about the super delegates?
KURTZLEBENWell, the traveling I've done so far, I was in Iowa before a lot of the super delegates' recent kerfuffle had happened. But there is a lot of anger among Sanders supporters, at the very least about the amount of, you know, quote-unquote establishment support that Hillary Clinton has, however you define that, and everybody seems to define it differently.
KURTZLEBENWhat I will say is that those Sanders supporters seem to think that there is a -- there are, you know, some of those seem to think there is a smoke-filled-room sort of thing going on, where the super delegates are quietly plotting for Hillary Clinton. But once again, it is -- you know, you can think it's a great system or a terrible system, but the point is however complicated it is, they still can change their mind, and they -- I genuinely don't believe that they would go against what the electorate would want.
ORNSTEINTwo important points to make here. First is the whole system is undemocratic. You know, when Iowa voted, I tweeted, the people have spoken, 15.7 percent of a totally unrepresentative state. The second point is, what's the role of a party. It's to choose somebody who they think can win, who represents the party. Remember Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat or wasn't until he started to run for president. So the role of a party and of party officials is a reasonable and legitimate one.
KAYOkay, more on this system and what alternatives might replace it after this quick break. Norm Ornstein is here, Elaine Kamarck is here, Danielle Kurtzleben is with me, as well. We'll have a more detailed conversation about the nominating process after this quick break.
KAYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I am Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane. We are discussing the fantastically complicated process for nominating candidates for the U.S. presidential election. Let's go to Travis, in Deltona, Fla. Travis, you've joined the program.
TRAVISThank you. I'll put my comments in the form of a question, actually.
TRAVISIn that we don't really need -- or why would need a delegate system in the first place? We have the technology now that is easier to gather the popular votes and be able to get that all at once. The idea of having any kind of preceding process, whether it be caucus or vote of any sort in any state, does actually sway opinion when we see something that comes out and says, hey, nominee of one individual that has taken one state, that begins to sway public opinion.
TRAVISI disagree with what we would see there, that any statistical analysis, training and education and process is told to avoid bias of any sort. And anything that comes out that shows one state having an influence can show another. I am Florida, obviously, where it's that winner take all mentality, a popular vote would actually just show the same basic concept, but would also allow for a more fair and just system, in the sense that across the nation we would see everybody all at once.
KAYRight. I think Travis raises a great point. Let's get onto this now. Is this system so flawed and so complicated, Norm, and so undemocratic, as you have suggested, that it's time to think about a different system? Is there a better way for choosing the nominee for each Party?
ORNSTEINWell, as Elaine knows very well. We've had commission after commission and idea after idea to find a better way. There's been talk of a national primary, which in a lot of ways is what Travis is eluding to. Of course…
KAYWhere everyone voted at the same time and they did so electronically.
ORNSTEINEveryone votes at the same time. You'd still have to decide who gets to vote in the Party primaries. But you could have that. Of course, what would happen is we would devise a system leading up to the primary, where you'd still have a winnowing out. And you've gotta have some sort of testing process. You find that candidates who seem extraordinarily attractive, when they go through a process of debates and having to look for votes sometimes prove that they are deeply flawed, that you might not see otherwise.
KAYBut you could have that whole debating process anyway, even if you had a national primary.
ORNSTEINBut you would have basically a pseudo caucus primary process leading up to it. There's been talk of having regional primaries. Now what happens, because they had clout early on, the South plays an inordinate role after these initial contests. Super Tuesday is called the SEC primary for the Southeastern Conference with all of those southern states. Rotating those primaries, you could have an urban primary or a rural primary that would more reflect the candidates. There are better ways of doing this.
ORNSTEINBut, you know, we have to keep in mind that there are rarely ideal candidates and you really do want to go through a testing process. A Ben Carson looks great to a lot of people at the beginning, and then you find that maybe there isn't as much there there. Lots of things that you want to do before you get somebody who's actually a nominee.
KAYAnd if nothing else, this is one fantastic test of stamina. I mean, Lord knows how they are still standing even at this stage.
KAMARCKIt certainly is.
KAYDanielle, you recently wrote -- did a piece on NPR called "No Way to Pick a President: Here Are Six Other Ways to Do It." You talked about the national primary. What else did you suggest?
KURTZLEBENWell, there is, like Norm said, the rotating regional primary, where you divide the country up into four different areas. And each cycle a different area goes first. So the Southeast, the Northeast, the West, the Midwest, that sort of thing. And then you also have -- there's graduated systems where you start with a couple of small states and you slowly work up to the bigger states.
KURTZLEBENAnd the advantage of that is you keep some of the retail politics that we have right now. Where, you know, Iowa and New Hampshire, you -- these less well-funded candidates can go first and, you know, sort of pick up some momentum and see how they do. You know, and that's different from a national primary, where a well-funded candidate could very well do much better 'cause they're trying to win an entire game board, instead of two states at once.
KAYOkay. So there are other ideas, plan, systems out there, Elaine, that people talk about and that have been explored. What are the hurdles to getting to any of them?
KAMARCKThe hurdle if very simple. And I wrote a paper recently for The Brookings Institution explaining this. Which is there is no one in charge of this process. In order to -- there's many other rational plans, as Danielle has explained. They're definitely more rational than what we have now. However, they would require the following, the simultaneous cooperation of 50 state legislatures or the simultaneous cooperation of 50 Republican state committees and 50 Democratic state committees or an act of Congress.
KAMARCKAnd -- or some kind of really powerful Democratic or Republican national committee. Now, I have just named for you 153 independent political entities. And nobody is in charge. So what we…
KAYSo basically you're saying fat chance.
KAMARCKYeah, fat chance, exactly. And what we have now is really left over from a process that began in 1832. Between 1832 and 1972 every single one of our presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Jack Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, they were elected in conventions composed exclusively of super delegates.
KAYAnd the system has now changed, become potentially more democratic, which was the idea.
KAMARCKThat's right, exactly.
KAYBut also deeply flawed. Here is an email from Greg, which kind of gets to this, but there's something in particular I want to pull out from it. "Will we Americans care enough to support a major change in the whole mess? No matter how complex the system for selecting nominees, many of us seem to know that the system is rigged in favor of those who have money and power." Norm, you've written a lot about this.
ORNSTEINI, you know, we may see a system change. I think there's gonna be a backlash. Whoever loses this election, the Party is gonna have to go through a very serious rethinking process. But we have to keep in mind, we're in a populous age right now. And what's driving Bernie Sanders' candidacy, what's driving Donald Trump and Ted Cruz's candidacy is a distaste for just the people who are gonna be changing those rules. And they'll be changing the rules to make it less likely that the populous will be able to play a role.
ORNSTEINSo the Parties, and I think this is particularly true of the Republican Party, are in danger of fracturing dramatically. Whatever they do they're gonna have a lot of dissidence. And what's happened is -- especially on the Republican side -- leaders who decided to play on the anger of Tea Party populous wing, that worked great in midterm elections, which are very, very different, but they have unleashed a beast out there that is consuming the establishment. And I'm not sure where that goes. And I don't think they know either.
KAYWe have an email from Howard. "One thing that everyone I know seems to agree on, Democrats, Republican, Socialists, Independents, rich, poor, middle class, we want simple well-run primaries, not crazy, time-consuming, crowded, confusing caucuses." Can I just say that trying to explain what a caucus to Americans is hard enough, you try explaining it to viewers in Hong Kong, Singapore and France. The best description I've come across is that it's like a fantastically political cocktail party without the cocktails, unfortunately. Danielle, I mean, you know, a caucus process where in Iowa we had coin tosses and in Nevada we had card draws. Why? Why?
KURTZLEBENTo be -- Elaine is raising her hand. I'm not sure where the coin tosses came from, Elaine.
KAMARCKYeah, I can tell you this. Look, caucuses were the way in the pre-primary era that delegates and leadership of political parties were chosen. So what would happen is you'd in Iowa to these precinct caucuses. We pay attention to the presidential. What is happening there? In both Parties they are electing delegates to their county conventions. And their county conventions will then run county elections. They will elect delegates to the state convention. They will nominee -- nominate a governor eventually, etcetera.
KAMARCKThese caucuses are vestiges of an era when the Party leadership only nominated the president and ran the Parties. Remember, the Parties are basically semi-public entities. They are protected -- the Supreme Court has said they're protected under the First Amendment's right of organization. So these are organizations that have interests in winning elections, not just at the presidency, but all the way around. The caucuses you see are kind of vestigial you know, remnants of a much older political system.
KURTZLEBENAnd I will say, you know, there are a lot of drawbacks to caucuses. I mean, you can't just show up. You've gotta show up at a certain time. You've gotta devote a big chunk of your day to showing up. That said…
KAYI Iowa, where it's really cold.
KURTZLEBENIt is, yeah. I'm from Iowa. And don't I know it. I gotta say that I was at an Iowa Democratic caucus and I will say one thing about what's good about those caucuses where, you know, you sit at the table, you get in your corner, you discuss. I mean, there's something really great about watching a small town turn out, come out, have civil discussion about, hey, why do you like O'Malley, maybe you should come over to our side. That sort of thing. I mean, it's a really sort of great deliberative process and it's what's good about Democracy.
KAYI do agree. It is one of the most fantastically committed displays of the Democrat -- democratic enthusiasm and seriousness that I have ever seen. I'm Katty Kay. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." Do join us, 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. Let's go to Keith, in Washington, D.C. Keith, you've joined the program.
KEITHYes, hi. Thank you.
KEITHIt's a great program and really one of the most interesting elections I think we all agree, even though, as they say, sometimes like Chinese living in interesting times can be a curse. And -- but my question really -- and you've covered a lot of this, I think, about how sort of the questionable democratic democracy and the process.
KEITHMy question that puzzles me is about how Trump, even though he's only really getting about 30 percent of the popular vote in these early primaries and, you know, was 42 percent yesterday, but before it's been less than that -- how he can be seen as the nominee when he's not getting anywhere near a majority of the popular vote and probably won't in the end. So how will that carry him through to enough for a first ballot victory?
KEITHAnd then if I could even make it more interesting I'm gonna throw in one other question. None of you were really brave enough to say what you think will happen in a brokered convention. Choose somebody you think will come out? Would it be Jeb Bush because he's electable? Would it be Rubio, if we do get to a brokered Republican convention? Just finishing "The Team of Rivals," reading it again, you all know, of course, that Abraham Lincoln was really fourth on the list when that brokered convention went. Seward was…
KAYKeith, thank you. And I'm gonna put the brokered convention and who would come out of it to the panel in just a second. But first of all, let me get back to Trump question. Norm?
ORNSTEINWell, you know, we have these primaries coming up that are supposedly proportional. But keep in mind that for many of the bigger states there's a threshold of 20 percent support to get any delegates. And Trump is likely to be the first one over that mark. And he may be the only one in some of these states. Remember, in South Carolina, he didn't get 50 percent, but he got all 50 delegates. It's a little bit different in the way they allocate those delegates.
ORNSTEINThe second point to keep in mind is that if you are the leader -- and we rarely have, if there are multiple candidates out there -- somebody who quickly gets over 50 percent -- you're still gonna end up accumulating more delegates. And in these states that have proportional representation there are bonuses if you win statewide and often if you win by Congressional district you get more delegates. So you accumulate sizable numbers. The more you get, the more you have a lead, the more people gravitate to a winner. So that's the theory here. And by March 15th we're gonna know how close we are on that count.
KAMARCKYou know, brokered convention, I mean, is that -- was that the other question?
KAMARCKThat's right. In an open convention these days, and Norm made the point earlier which I think is well taken, that there -- the brokers are not nearly as powerful as they used to be. They don't really control delegates. On the other hand, my guess is that if we did get to this situation there would be governors and United States senators who would in fact participate on the floor.
KAMARCKAnd they wouldn't go into a secret room, but they would be involved in a process of persuasion. And the process of persuasion would probably be between the existing candidates who come in. The notion that you would get somebody who didn't compete in the primaries, which, by the way, often happened before 1972, you will not get a brand new person.
KAMARCKYou will get a coalition. Someone will drop out, someone -- that dropping out will give their delegates to someone else. And they will get the 51 percent that they need to get the -- get a nomination.
KAYAnd I'm assuming, I don't know whether the -- what the legality of this is, that what Keith was suggesting just at the end there, that could a Jeb Bush come out of a brokered convention. He's dropped out now, right, Danielle? I mean, he can't suddenly -- 'cause that would be your scenario…
KAY…that you can't just suddenly waltz back in again.
KAMARCKNo. I don't think any -- I think that is very likely, in any modern brokered convention, that it would be brokering between the people who did well and competed in the primaries and had blocks of delegates.
ORNSTEINBut is really important to stress that this is an anti-establishment Party right now. The dream of many is Paul Ryan emerges. Paul Ryan now is a pinata for the anti-establishment forces 'cause he's cut deals with Democrats. So you're gonna have -- this, you know, in the old days primaries and caucuses often existed. They didn't matter because…
ORNSTEIN…everybody knew you were gonna have these super delegates. Now, this sense that you're gonna get governors coming in and picking a nominee that's against the popular will, you'd have an uprising on your hands that would like Chicago for the Democrats in 1968.
KURTZLEBENRight. And I mean, you know, the favorite son of the establishment side seems to change every five seconds. But, you know, now it's Rubio. And the chatter the last couple of days has been, you know, as the caller says, you know, why is Trump doing so well without having, you know, such a big part of the popular vote. Simple. Because the Party is fractured right now. And so the chatter lately is, okay, if Kasich drops out, does his support go to Rubio? You know, and where does Cruz's support go?
KAYSo tell me -- I'm gonna ask each of you this, briefly. After Super Tuesday, who do you think the nominee is on the Republican side and will we know it?
KURTZLEBENTo be honest, I don't think we will.
KAYYou still don't think that even after Super Tuesday we'll know.
KURTZLEBENI think we might have to wait a couple more weeks after Super Tuesday.
KAYElaine, do you think we'll know after Super Tuesday?
KAMARCKI don't think we'll know after Super Tuesday.
KAYEven on the Democratic side as well?
KAMARCKOn the Democratic side I suspect it'll probably be Hillary, although it'll be a long -- that'll be a long race, Hillary and Bernie Sanders. But I think it'll be Hillary.
KAYAnd the race will continue even once we know from the delegate numbers that she is gonna win.
KAYWell, I mean, all right. Okay. We look at the maps and say it's gonna hard for her not to win.
KAMARCKRight. I think he will continue the race because he has a powerful message that the wants to inject in the Democratic Party. So I think he's in for the long haul. But I think she'll let -- in the end, have a first ballot nomination.
KAYYou've already told me, Norm, who you think the nominee will be on the Republican side and on the Democratic side. Do you think that when we get to the end of Super Tuesday you're gonna feel much more confident of your assessments? Do you think we'll have a clear picture by then?
ORNSTEINYes, I think I will. But, you know, by the end of March, we're still not likely to have anybody over that threshold of having a majority of those delegates. And remember that we had Al Gore really was a winner, but Bill Bradley stayed in right through and won some primaries.
KAYIt's gonna be a very fun race. I hope we've illuminated you and you are now all experts on the system for nominated the candidates for the presidency of the United States. Norm Ornstein, Elaine Kamarck, Danielle Kurtzleben, thank you very much for joining me.
KAYThank you all so much for listening. I'm Katty Kay sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for joining the program.
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