“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it,” said Joseph G. Peschek, professor of political science at Hamline University.
What is happening in the race for the presidency right now?
The bizarre and unpredictable events happening in politics are being noticed even by citizens who generally don’t follow these stories.
The inflammatory comments yet continuing support for Republican candidate Donald Trump is a news story that has gained coverage all over the world, but that story is one of many.
In addition, another anti-establishment and self-described socialist politician, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has gained large support in both votes and donations.
Sanders and Trump may be getting lots of news coverage, but underneath that face of politics, there are secret races being run.
Just as the electoral college elects the president, not the general election, it is a scramble for delegates at this summer’s party conventions that will be the deciding factor, not Trump’s poll numbers or Sanders’s crowd sizes.
On the Democratic sides, Sanders has momentum and is trying to climb out of a delegate deficit to challenge Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, Trump has the lead, while Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio try to fight to win the possible contested convention.
“I think the difficulty Hillary Clinton is having vanquishing a 74 year-old socialist who is not even a Democrat is pretty remarkable,” said Steven Schier, professor of political science at Carleton College, referring to Sanders. “I think it speaks to the fact that [Clinton] is not seen as a fresh and appealing face. It reflects some of her political weaknesses.”
Peschek also comments on Clinton’s weaknesses.
“[Clinton’s weaknesses] are not entirely her fault. She’s been under attack from Republicans and conservatives for a long time. They helped to build this image of her with their constant investigations into Benghazi, but she has created some self inflicted wounds. For example, using her personal e-mail while Secretary of State, and she’s also change her positions on several issues during the campaign. I think it’s a combination of long-standing attacks but maybe some mistakes.”
There are several reasons that Sanders has been able to make Clinton’s path to the nomination tricky.
“I think a noteworthy part of his candidacy is an age gap. [It’s] one of the biggest age gaps that I’ve ever seen,” said Daniel Hofrenning, professor of political science at St. Olaf College. “His candidacy is fueled by young people.”
According to Hofrenning, it is possible to surmise that a lot of young people are skeptical of the market, which makes them attracted to Sanders’s candidacy.
Sanders, a self-described socialist, is critical of the free market, and young people who are about to enter this market support Sanders’s policies of stronger universal health and education benefits.
This being said, Hofrenning doesn’t think that Sanders has enough support to receive the nomination. “[Sanders] has got a small chance, but [Clinton] is probably in a more commanding position.”
“I’d say Bernie has about a five percent chance,” he said.
Schier added that all the races are proportional, meaning that any candidate who gets at least 15 percent of the vote in any caucus or primary gets their share of the delegates proportional to the percent of the vote they got. Since Democrats have no winner-take-all states, this proportional vote makes it very hard for Sanders to catch up.
In addition, Clinton has a large lead in the super delegates, who get to choose which candidate to support, and are very unlikely to switch from Clinton to Sanders, according to Schier.
It is hard to know whether Clinton, if she receives the nomination, will be hurt by her inability to defeat Sanders for so long.
It is interesting to note, according to Hofrenning, that President Barack Obama ran a long campaign against Clinton, and he went on to win. Much of Clinton’s chance, however, rides on her opponent.
Of course, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination is Donald Trump. While Trump has garnered a lot of support, he is not the clear winner of the nomination.
“While Trump has won the large majority of the primaries, he’s been less successful in the caucus states,” explains Schier. “He is yet to win 50 percent in any primary or caucus.”
After having lost the recent Wisconsin primary, Trump must win 60 percent of the remaining delegates in order to be nominated on the first ballot.
This brings up the main issue with Trump’s candidacy, the reason that Cruz and Kasich are still in the race, and one of the more confusing concepts in the election cycle: what happens at a convention where there is no clear winner?
At the Republican convention this summer there is a first ballot on which delegates are bound to vote as their states have told them through primaries and caucuses.
However, if there is no clear winner after the first ballot, then the delegates can vote for whomever they want. It is seeming unlikely that Trump will win on the first ballot, so the convention may be up for grabs.
“For the first time since 1952 [we could have] a convention with a lot of uncertainty about who will be the nominee,” said Schier. “If nobody gets a majority on the first ballot, then they keep balloting until someone does get a majority.”
“There was one convention in 1924 that took 105 ballots,” said Hofrenning. It is within this system of re-balloting that candidates Cruz and Kasich look to be nominated.
“The Cruz strategy is to prevent Trump on the first ballot and then win on a later ballot,” said Schier.
Kasich, according to Hofrenning, may be trying to do the same thing: “I am sure [Kasich] is hoping that, say, on the fourth ballot people are going to realize Trump’s not going to get to 50 percent, Cruz is not going to get to 50 percent, who else are they going to go to?”
“There are reports now that a bunch of Republicans are hoping that the convention will turn to House Speaker Paul Ryan and nominate him. That just shows you how wide open the race remains,” said Schier.
Ryan has repeatedly said that he is not running for president, however it is interesting to note that he also repeatedly said he didn’t want to be Speaker of the House, but he eventually took the job when his colleagues begged him to take it.
Where the election stands right now, some may think that it is going to be Clinton versus Trump, but both the nomination and the election are a long way off.
Tricky delegate math, momentum on the side of the underdog and contested conventions could turn this perceived Clinton-Trump match up into something completely different.