In a few months, we may find ourselves looking back with nostalgic regret on 2015, when we only had a mere 16 candidates running for the Republican Party’s nomination for president.
That was nothing compared to what’s likely in store for the Democrats in 2020. A sober estimate of the number of candidates who might contend for the Democratic presidential nomination next year and in 2020 approaches 40. Even if many of those decide finally not to take the plunge, we’re almost certainly going to see a 20-person field at a minimum.
This means the Democrats will face all the logistical problems the GOP faced — and more, owing to the Dems’ ideological makeup and the nature of the social and cultural debates of the moment.
Start with a shared headache.
In the GOP debates, candidates were lucky to get two or three minutes to speak—that is, except for one Donald Trump, who got to speak for roughly 47 minutes. Eventually, the debates were split (using poll data) into an A-list panel and a B-list panel.
But the Democrats will add a twist.
Let’s see how the political world reacts if the same happens in 2019 and 2020. What if the Democratic B-list panel has twice as many women on it as the A-list panel? You know that accusations of sexism and patriarchal dominion will fly fast and furious and will come to control the national conversation for a time.
The same will be true of African-American candidates, or Hispanic candidates, or LGBT ones.
As if that weren’t messy enough, let’s turn next to the early primaries and caucuses. If no one has truly broken out of the pack, the Democratic Party could find itself in mid-March 2020 with six or seven plausible candidates.
Since the delegates awarded by the Democratic primaries and caucuses aren’t winner-take-all, but are assigned on a proportional basis, a multiplicity of choices could make it impossible for any one candidate to get a real leg up on the others.
Here’s another wrinkle: According to current Democratic rules, no candidate wins delegates at the state level unless he or she wins 15 percent of the primary vote. There could be states in which no one wins 15 percent of the primary vote. What will happen then?
Now add in some of the “reforms” the party’s officials agreed to implement earlier this year about Democratic “superdelegates.” Superdelegates are longtime party regulars, who are allowed to choose the candidate they prefer at the convention, and Hillary Clinton spent two years lining them up on her side of the ledger.
The superdelegates only constituted about 15 percent of the overall delegate total, but the fact that she had them in her pocket served as a key element of the argument that Sanders didn’t have a chance to win and that people should vote for her as a matter of party unity.
As it happens, Clinton needed a hundred or so superdelegate votes to put her over the top at the convention, because Sanders did well enough in the primaries and caucuses to deny her a majority of the so-called “pledged delegates” on the first ballot.
According to the new rules, superdelegates won’t be allowed to vote on the first ballot. If the Democratic race doesn’t shake out nicely with someone far in the lead relatively early on, the much-discussed but never-materialized scenario of 2016 — a brokered convention — may well take place in 2020. That’s because the party (represented by the superdelegates) won’t be able to make a move on the first ballot and bring the convention together.
Ah, but the supers can vote on the second ballot! In which case what you could see is the party lining up to bring matters to a close — and its more populist progressive wing rising up in revolt as the people they think of as unprincipled hacks make their move.
Meanwhile, Trump will be playing the party like a piano, using his unparalleled ability to generate outrage in their ranks to mess with their heads and cloud their judgment.
Could be fun!
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