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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 3:35 am | Fog/Mist 53º


Susan Estrich: It’s the Delegates, Stupid

Whenever I hear some otherwise smart person explain to me how Joe Biden is going to march in and become the Democratic nominee, or how “they” — whoever they are — are going to come in and save the Republican Party from Donald Trump, I pretty much know that person has never been to a convention or met a delegate, let alone tried to convince one to be for someone other than the person he or she was elected to support. 

The game, at this point, is about one thing: delegates. As The Donald himself explained it, you need to get a majority. You get a majority and you win.

Sure, there will be last-minute appeals to save the party, but the last people in the world who are going to be convinced to abandon Trump are Trump delegates. 

Ditto on the Democratic side. Wake up and smell the coffee, Bernie Sanders fans. Your man is further behind in delegates today than he was before he “won” Michigan.

He didn’t actually win Michigan, either: he tied, which means he and Hillary Clinton got the same number of delegates, whereas she clobbered him so badly in Mississippi that she got all the delegates.

She lost the nomination to Barack Obama that way last time: even though she won the big states, she got clobbered in all these little ones where he racked up huge margins in delegates. This is how she has, for all intents and purposes, wrapped up the nomination already.

She won huge in all those Southern Super Tuesday states — states that Sanders never spent time in or connected with, while Clinton had the organization and endorsements and everything that comes with having run there before (three times if you count her campaigning for her husband). 

Ask a Bernie supporter to do the math for you. He can stay in the race right through June, the way Jesse Jackson always did and the way Ted Kennedy did in 1980 when he defeated Jimmy Carter, the clear nominee and incumbent president, in New Jersey and California.

Democrats have a long tradition of humbling, or perhaps just influencing, their nominee once he (or she) is selected, so I’m not telling you Sanders can’t win California. I’m telling you it won’t matter, because Clinton will never lose California in the sort of trouncing you need to open a gap in a proportionate representation system.

They’ll divide the delegates here, and that will put her over the top. Sanders will get a speech on the same night as Bill Clinton (just kidding). 

All kidding must be put aside when it comes to the Republicans. A system that usually shakes out all right is not shaking out all right at all, at least according to most people who have ever been involved in trying to win elections.

The crisis you are seeing among Republican “leaders” — by whom I mean, of course, the people who get on television — is far less about principle than pure politics.

They see what Democrats see: a candidate who is going to be absolute poison to the groups Republicans have learned the very hard way that they must court.

Trump’s appeal to the politics of anger — of white male anger, in particular — is red hot in Republican primaries, but it doesn’t get you to 51 percent in a general election, and certainly not when the messenger is as controversial as Trump.

The problem that “establishment” Republicans — which now seems to include everyone except Chris Christie — face is that the Republican process is specifically designed to allow a winner at this stage to lock up the nomination and not have to drag it out like the minority-minded Democrats do.

So you will see more and more winner-take-all contests now that we’ve moved later in the process, which means Trump will get closer and closer to the magic mark: a majority. He gets that — he gets the nomination. 

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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