Friday, April 15, 2016

Donald Trump and the legitimacy of the electoral process

I have written a bunch of pieces recently about why I am skeptical that the Republican convention will deny Trump the nomination if he has a delegate lead over everyone else.  Not many people get it, but over at Vox, Andrew Prokop does (see his piece here).  The basic problem is one of legitimacy.

So, what is legitimacy?  Um... It's something about... rules... and voting rights... and, oh fuck it.  A government/party/process is "legitimate" if people think it is legitimate.  Perception is reality when it comes to this kind of amorphous abstraction.  The flip side, then, is that a process is not legitimate if people don't think it is legitimate.

Would observers, or more importantly, Republican voters think that it is legitimate for the convention to steal the nomination from Trump?  According to the poll Prokop cites, no.  Notice something interesting.  Donald Trump has been polling around 40% for a while.  But, 55% of Republicans think it would be illegitimate for the convention to steal the nomination from him if he is the delegate leader.  That means a bunch of Republicans don't like Trump, don't want him to be the nominee, and won't vote for him, but would object to the convention stealing the nomination from him.

The key issue here is willingness to lose.  In order for an electoral process to work, people have to be willing to lose.  They don't have to like it, but they have to refrain from violent revolt based on the premise that the process was "legitimate."

Problems ensue when a large group of people are unwilling to lose.  Democrats and Republicans each have their favorite stories about lost elections.  Democrats blame their losses on money, exaggerating the importance of spending beyond all empirical reason.  Republicans blame voter fraud, with no empirical support at all.  Problems ensue, though, when one side views an outcome as so illegitimate that the proper response is to tear down the system.

The irony here is that Republican voters seem more willing to accept a "loss" (the nomination of a person without an outright majority) than the elites who are scheming to block Trump at the convention.  The reason party elites are constrained, though, is the perception of legitimacy.  Trump's supporters would riot if the elites blocked him at the convention, and the rioters would have sympathy, even among non-Trump supporters.

That makes the stolen convention strategy a bad idea.  Will it happen?  Anything can happen this year, but plenty of people understand that this would be playing with fire.

Please don't burn down my city this summer.  I kinda like it.

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