Senator Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win the Democratic Party nomination for president, and Donald Trump’s candidacy is still alive and kicking.
Americans are not in the process of electing their next president. Not yet. We are engaged in the preliminary battle of the two parties.
The Rs and the Ds are going at one another. They are fighting to see who will be their party’s nominee.
Voters who are registered independent or some such, don’t usually get a vote in this process. The parties are picking their boy (or girl) and only members of the party in question get to choose.
That’s clear and simple enough. What isn’t clear and simple is that these aren’t ordinary elections where the winner takes all and close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
In presidential primaries, close counts for a lot. For instance, Senator Sanders “lost” by a cat’s whisker to former Secretary of State Clinton in Iowa last week. Does that mean she took all the delegates? Nope.
Sanders got 21 of Iowa’s Democratic delegates and Clinton bagged 29 of them. That’s an 8 delegate margin. The nomination requires 2,382 delegates.
Republican Senator Cruz managed to beat the media darling Donald Trump, while Senator Rubio tied Mr Trump for second place. That means that Senator Cruz got 8 delegates, while Mr Trump and Senator Rubio each got 7. Republicans need 1,237 delegates to nominate.
Each state decides how it wants to do its nomination process and they don’t all do it the same. Iowa uses the caucus system. In the caucus system, party members meet at a designated location and “caucus.” Voting for a nominee is usually only part of the process. They also vote on issues for the state party convention, as well as who they will send to that convention as delegates.
Caucus attendance is normally sparse, drawing only the most committed party members. In non-presidential years, it’s often hard to get enough people to a caucus to actually hold a meeting. Even in presidential years, the whole thing is frequently decided by party regulars.
What changed this year is that both sides have a candidate who draws rabid supporters. Mr Trump pulls out people who often aren’t even registered to vote. Senator Sanders attracts young people and idealists. Both of them attract voters who feel disenfranchised and disrespected by the current system.
The result was a rousing Caucus in Iowa last week. So many people showed up that some caucuses ran out of ballots. The Ds pulled their pants down at a few caucuses by trying to ram-rod the results for Clinton in an undemocratic manner.
But once the dust settled, only a handful of delegates were won or lost. Even more important, none of these candidates has had to stand for election in front of an electorate that votes by secret ballot in the regular way. Caucuses often go to the candidate who is the most politically adept. Politics is a skill and a craft. It must be learned.
I think that’s why Clinton and Sanders were in a dead heat, and Mr Trump got trumped. The two political pros couldn’t out-organize one another, not even when one of them, (Mrs Clinton) had the backing of the party machine in Washington behind her. Meanwhile, this was Donald Trump’s first time at the rodeo.
Tomorrow we’ll see how they run in an actual election, albeit a small election in the small state of New Hampshire. In a small election, just as in a caucus, the machine usually wins, because the machine has the ability to out-organize its opponents.
The real confusion will hit when we get past the likes of New Hampshire and Nevada and push on through to Super Tuesday. That will be the point at which the Ds may have to go to work, over-turning the votes of the rank and file by using “Super Delegates” to save their preferred nominee.
Those “Super Delegates” will be pressured to go for Mrs Clinton. That’s why I say Sanders is unlikely to win the nomination.
But I’ll write about that another day. For now, it’s enough to say that nobody’s candidacy died in Iowa, but a couple of them got roughed up a bit.
If Mrs Clinton can’t walk all over Senator Sanders in a caucus when she’s got the whole weight of the party machine behind her, she does have a problem with the rank and file. On the other hand, it says a lot that a neophyte like Donald Trump kept his head above water when the party apparatus was gunning for him.
In the meantime, think hard about how you vote. We’re electing our future and the future of our children.