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March 01st 2016 print

David Flint

Super Tuesday and Beyond

The US primaries system is confusing, convoluted and apt to confound those who like their democracy short, sharp and certain. Yet for all it's flaws and eccentricities, there is much to inspire jealousy in an Australian observer -- especially if that spectator happens to vote Liberal and reside in North Sydney

us ballot boxAn American presidential election is always of worldwide importance. This is especially true of the 2016 election. In many ways it could well be a turning point, with a series of crucial issues for determination.

Will the US continue the Obama policies and become little different from a European welfare state, gradually relinquishing its leadership role in the world? Will it continue to be ruled to a considerable extent by a committee of un-elected judges who have decided that the Constitution is what they say it is, and not what the nation’s founders intended? Will the federal government continue to be the taxing-and-regulating leviathan it has gradually become, emasculating not only the states but the traditional freedom of individual  Americans?  Will the borders of the United States be made as secure as they once were, with illegal immigration brought to heel ?  In summary, will the United States return to being the constitutional republic it was intended to be and once was?

As in Australia, the election is marred by the mainstream media not so much reporting matters but advancing their political agenda and concentrating on personalities. Their games may be different in the two countries but the  agenda is the same –  diminishing the chances of any candidate for leadership who is perceived by them, and the political class, to be too conservative. In Australia , the target was  Tony Abbott. In the US it is Senator Ted Cruz.

The mainstream media seems to be holding off recalling Trump’s business and personal record, investigating the inconsistencies between his stated policies and his previous  positions. Above all, there is scant attention to the question whether he has the gravitas and, above all, the character to be the president and commander-in chief. Some observers even suspect that the mainstream media is holding  off subjecting Trump to a rigorous investigation unless and until  he becomes the Republican nominee, and then only to ensure a Democratic victory.

Peter Smith: The Case for Trump

Similarly, they have avoided reporting on  Senator Marco Rubio’s apparent betrayal of his Republican Tea Party constituency over his attachment to an amnesty for  illegal immigrants. Border security and illegal immigration are  even bigger issue in the United States than they were  in Australia before  John Howard and then Tony Abbott resolved the issue.

Thus, whenever  Cruz  referred to  Rubio’s  role in the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill or his indication that  as president he would  not immediately revoke Obama’s executive amnesty,  Rubio’s reaction has been  positively Trump- like.  Instead of answering the charge, he has unleashed the  all-purpose mantra, ”That’s a lie!”  This has been reported by the mainstream media, but without any investigation as to whether Cruz’s  allegations are true.  So the constant themes have been that Cruz is accused of being a liar, or that Cruz is indeed a liar. Rubio’s other tactic has been  to allege that Cruz even supported his amnesty bill, whereas on all the evidence it is clear that Cruz was one of its strongest opponents. This again was reported but rarely investigated.

In the meantime, it seems likely that the Democratic nominee for the general election  will be Hillary Clinton, subject to there being no  proceedings against her concerning alleged breaches of official secrecy laws, or that the Clinton Foundation received money from foreign governments while she was Secretary of State. The authorities seem reluctant to act in either case, in marked contrast to the speed with which they moved against General David Petraeus, a person of some eminence and achievement, for having revealed classified information to his biographer, who also happened to be his mistress.

Clinton’s victory  is near certain, notwithstanding Senator  Bernie Sanders initial success,  as primaries and caucuses take place in states where they are significant pro-Clinton minorities. In addition, she is likely to benefit  from the votes of the establishment’s  super delegates − around one-fifth of the convention. According to analyses of polling  by influential conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Mark Levin, Hillary Clinton is likely to prevail in a general election if the republican contender is Donald Trump. While he has considerable support, Trump attracts an unprecedented degree of very strong opposition to his becoming president.  The Republican most likely to prevail against Ms. Clinton is Ted Cruz.

So who will be the Republican contender?   Donald Trump has so far won three states, for a running total of 82 delegates. Ted Cruz has won one state, gaining 17 delegates, while Marco Rubio, who has yet to claim a state, has 16 delegates. We are a long way, in other words, from the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination at the Republican Convention, to be held in Cleveland over three days, starting on July 18.

The several primaries and caucuses in March, especially today’s Super Tuesday (March 1) will be crucial. These  include Ted Cruz’s home state, Texas,  where polling suggests he will win. If he gains a clear majority he will be awarded all 155 delegates. ( Some states award delegates proportionately; in others it is winner take all.)

On the other hand, Rubio is well behind Trump in his home state, Florida, where 99 delegates are at stake. Although he adopted a much more aggressive style in the last debate, many Republicans remain disappointed by what is perceived to be his poor record in the Senate and his betrayal of his Tea Party commitment to deal firmly with illegal immigration. It is widely thought that Rubio’s latest strategy is to plan for a ”brokered convention”, although he may well suspend his campaign prior to Florida rather than suffer defeat in his home state. A brokered convention will occur if no delegate comes to the convention with at least 1,237 delegates. The convention will then choose the nominee — and the final pick need not be one of the three leading contenders! This could include the establishment favourite , Jeb Bush.

In the meantime, Rubio is angling to be the establishment choice, aided by his record that  he is open to dealing with both his party’s establishment and the Democrats. Despite his bullying personality, Trump’s  history as a Democrat suggests he, too, will be, as former President Jimmy Carter put it , ”malleable”.

If Cruz is the contender, and if he wins, we can expect he will fulfil the wishes of those who feel betrayed by the politicians and resist both the establishment and the Democrats. A President Cruz  will significantly change the role of the US government at home and abroad.

The US process takes time and is far from perfect. But we should contrast it with the appalling  situation in Australia, where the ruling cabals in the two principal parties too often decide preselections by standards and processes  more appropriate to a banana republic than  a sophisticated democracy.

Take for example, the recent by-election for Joe Hockey’s former seat North Sydney, which was decided with minuscule local participation. This so outraged Liberal voters that there was a 13% swing in the primary votes against the candidate — although from the brochures and the vast number of robocalls, electors might have reasonably thought that the candidate was Malcolm Turnbull.

So we should applaud the United States for their practice in democracy.