Huntsman, Trump, and the Limitations of a Two Party System – OTB

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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37 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    The electoral college is bad but I don’t see any clear path to changing it. I am suspicious of the work arounds which make states pledge their electoral college votes to the candidate who won the national popular vote. That seems likely to destroy the popular will of state’s residents. I am all for chucking the electoral college but would like to know how.

    There is still the party problem though in systems without the electoral college and in Westminster systems. Look at Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in the UK. The elites and the media in the UK think that Corbyn is going to be an unmitigated disaster*, a return to the “longest suicide note in history.” From what I hear though, Corbyn is popular among the Labour base and party members** and that group never abandoned old school Labour beliefs.

    *I wonder if there is always going to be a tension between party elites and the base. I’ve heard anecdotes of JFK addressing crowds with that he liked being among “real Democrats, not like those people in Washington.” There are tensions on a smaller level in the Democratic Party where people like DWS and Rahm Emmanuel are seemingly far to the right of the Party as whole but no one can seemingly get rid of them. DWS is safe in her Congressional district but wildly unpopular with the Party as a whole especially because she seems more concerned with protecting payday lenders than ordinary Americans (I can’t tell you how much this story makes me angry.) Rahm Emmanuel’s troubles are well known. I think people like DWS and Rahm came of political age during Clinton I’s heyday and learned the lessons of triangulation a bit too hard. They also are the kind of people who like to think going against your base makes you a grown up for some reason. Emmanuel seems to be running Chicago for suburbanites not residents. Triangulation ship is passing among Democratic voters born in the late 70s and later though.

    **Unlike the US, joining a political party in the UK does not seem that common and requires being dues paying even if the dues are de minimis. I am registered as a Democratic Party member but I don’t need to pay for this.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The predictions about Corbyn being a disaster seem fairly accurate. Most of Corbyn’s policy position seem to derive from Fanon and he seems to have very little to say about domestic issues. Corbyn and his allies also seem very bad at advocacy. Most British voters are not interested in what the Labour Left is offering.

      There is also a long tradition of a Labour Right exemplified by people like Roy Jenkins, Harold Wilson, or Hugh Gaitskill. They are just as much as part of Labour as Tony Benn was.Report

      • Art Deco in reply to LeeEsq says:

        You got five years to see what happens. Recall, however, Labour’s performance under Michael Foot’s leadership. Michael Foot was an experienced cabinet minister. Corbyn’s colleagues have never trusted him with an executive position, shadow ministry, or (if I’m not mistaken) committee chairmanship. Foot’s general intelligence was unquestioned. Corbyn’s academic history compares unfavorably to Dan Quayle’s. Corbyn’s employment history (salaried labor meathead) is, if anything, inferior to Quayle’s as well. Still, being a slacker’s worked out well for Justin Trudeau (if not his countrymen).Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      You don’t need to eliminate electoral votes to contrive means of processing the participation of people who might fancy third parties. A generation ago, George Will suggested that you might retain electoral votes as a tabulation convention while eliminating the office of elector and the ritual of electors meeting in state capitols in December. (To be sure, that might irritate the most ardent tricorn hats. William Voegli, take it away).

      If you have ordinal balloting (“ranked choice” in Minneapolis) within each state (or, with regard to the more populous states, within tabulation districts into which the state has been divided) and tabulate the ballots according to the conventions of the alternate vote, you can contrive for each state or district a winning choice, a runner up, a 3d choice, a 4th choice, &c, as if the state (or district) as a corporate personality had cast an ordinal ballot with that particular configuration.

      Now, imagine each state (or district within it) is assigned a quantum of electoral votes equal to the citizen population of same at the time of the most recent census. You apply this number to the corporate ordinal ballot, as if so and so many citizens had cast an ordinal ballot with this configuration. Then you tabulate your weighted ordinal ballots according to the conventions of the alternate vote and you have your winner.

      This will require certain conventions be adopted by federal statute (regarding procedures for candidate registration, the date of the election, the tabulation of absentee ballots, and the order of the candidates on the ballot), but otherwise you can leave each state to administer its election according to discretion. As replacing the current electoral vote distribution with citizen populations makes for a fairly granular distribution of electoral votes, you can extend presidential balloting to the non-state territories as well.

      This would require a constitutional amendment, of course. However, circumscribed procedural modifications have been the sort of amendments which have been adopted in recent decades.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I think people like DWS and Rahm came of political age during Clinton I’s heyday and learned the lessons of triangulation a bit too hard. They also are the kind of people who like to think going against your base makes you a grown up for some reason.

      Rahm Emmanuel is famous for his foul-mouthed tirades. I don’t think ‘grown up’ is an aspiration he harbors.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      **Unlike the US, joining a political party in the UK does not seem that common and requires being dues paying even if the dues are de minimis. I am registered as a Democratic Party member but I don’t need to pay for this.

      New York and other states would benefit if (regarding political parties) you had a core of members who pay dues and a periphery of registrants who merely indicate a preference when they register to vote. Caucuses and conventions of the former would be responsible for the business of the party and (in select circumstances) nominate candidates. Primaries held amongst the latter would (in other circumstances) nominate candidates.Report

  2. Art Deco says:

    Readers likely recall Huntsman as being the “too liberal” GOP candidate back in 2012.

    More precisely, he made comments indicating he despised GOP voters in about the same way bourgeois liberals do. Not the best marketing strategy. Some of his activities since indicate that GOP voters had his number.Report

  3. Stillwater says:

    I disagree with the implied framing that Trump is further to the right than the GOP generally re: policy. On balance, that’s not true (insofar as we can actually pin Trump down to specific policies). Which leaves style issues. Rhetorically, Trump is sometimes expressing bluntly what the GOP has dog-whistled, implied, or often overtly expressed themselves the only difference being that when called on it Trump doesn’t back down. He doubles down. (He’s backtracked on a couple things…) He’s also proudly belligerent: he’ll make the Saudis pay the US for fighting ISIS; he’ll punish Paul Ryan if he doesn’t cooperate in enacting Trump’s agenda; he’ll unilaterally (well, there’s some art in it) restructure the trade deal with China; he may go after terrorists families to put an end to Islamic extremism; and so on. I’m not at all convinced that those policy positions are that far outside the general talking points embraced by the GOP when, for example, talking about Dems failures to X and the treasonous actions and high-crimes undertaken by Obama/Clinton/etc (doesn’t matter who, only the letter after their name) with respect to Y (for just about any value of Y). And so on…

    Now, if the argument is that moderate Republicans will suddenly find themselves without a home in the GOP in the event of a Trump victory, the criticism might be directed the other way: why haven’t the moderates pushed back against the rhetorical excesses which have driven the base (to some extent) to reject the GOP? (And that’s not a rhetorical question, btw.)

    All that said, I agree with the concept of instant run-off voting, but I’m not sure it would alter the calculus of a Trump victory in the primary given that he’s likely to win some very big winner-take-all states alongside substantial gains in proportional states. Or in other words: the “problem” of Trump doesn’t arise from structural issues in our voting process.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    While there are fair criticisms of the electoral college system, one of them really shouldn’t be that it somehow fails to reflect the will of the people. We simply can’t make anything of the national popular vote when winning the national popular vote is the priority of no one… not the candidates and not the voters.

    How many Republicans stay home in California or New York because they know their state is going blue?
    How many Democrats stay home in Texas because they know their state is going red?
    How would politicians run their campaigns if they were seeking the most votes on the national level instead of the most votes in key states?

    We simply don’t know the answers to these questions.

    Pointing to the national popular vote is akin to insisting that your team deserved to win a baseball game because it had more hits when both teams entered the contest agreeing that whomever scored more runs would be the winner.

    And I levy this criticism at both sides of the aisle because either side seems willing to trot out this silliness when it is convenient to them.

    If you think the national popular vote ought to be what determines the Presidency, so be it. Make that argument. I will probably agree with you. But saying that we should put value on it when the system isn’t designed to value it is just wrong.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

      We simply don’t know the answers to these questions.

      Well, we do, actually: given that in most states EC votes are winner-take-all, candidates won’t expend effort to win states that are demographically impossible (except when coat-tails in certain districts matter). I don’t think that’s controversial, actually. But it’s not a function of the electoral college but rather a function of the winner-take-all nature of the way the votes are apportioned.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:


        What answers does that knowledge give us?

        I guess I misspoke to a degree.

        We do know that candidates would likely run their campaigns differently. But we don’t know how and, more importantly, we don’t know what the impact would be.

        The GOP candidate is unlikely to campaign in NY or LA. I doubt the Dem candidate will spend much time in Alabama or Mississippi.

        But if we used the popular vote, than maybe they would. How would that change the totals? No one can answer that with any certainty.

        I think you are actually confirming my point. Candidates don’t chase votes in states they know they will lose. As such, we don’t know how voters in that state would actually respond to being chased and/or knowing that their vote wasn’t going to a losing cause.

        Of course, there is also the possibility that voters who support the winning candidate in a solid state also stay home. I am very likely to vote Dem but I may not go to the polls in NY if it its inconvenient because the Dem is going to win NY regardless.

        There are just too many variables to assume that the current popular vote totals would predict the popular vote totals in an election that actually was based on popular vote totals.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

          The GOP candidate is unlikely to campaign in NY or LA. I doubt the Dem candidate will spend much time in Alabama or Mississippi.

          The second sentence may be true, but the first one isn’t (at least at the state level). California is 12% of the population of the country. If you’re the GOP candidate, looking for another million votes, California is where you pound the GOTV drum loudly: “It’s a national election now; make it close in California and we’ll finish the win in Alabama and Mississippi!” Ditto for the Dem candidate in Texas.

          The people who are really screwed are the ruralistas. Attention and money goes to the big metro areas — you spend your money where getting another 5% turnout means a lot of people. Of course, isn’t preventing screwing the ruralistas how we got the EC in the first place?Report

          • Art Deco in reply to Michael Cain says:

            I don’t think that candidates spend a whole lot on handbills and other things you distribute more effectively in urban zones. Broadcast advertising does not skip over rural households. Neither does direct-mail or internet advertising.Report

            • North in reply to Art Deco says:

              That may be but your GOTV operations would work much better in a urban or suburban setting than a rural one. Do away with the EC and ruralia would undoubtedly get the shaft big time in terms of political attention.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to North says:

                I think this is true, but to be clear we’re mostly talking about a shift from rural Ohio to urban Texas. The big distortion of the EC is state by state rather than urban vs rural. The presidential candidates aren’t spending much time in rural Utah, and are spending a lot of time in urban Florida.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to North says:

                Of course, I live in one of the states where GOTV consists largely of registration efforts well in advance, and shouting “Fill out the f**king ballot and mail it!” loudly for a couple of weeks. This will be the second federal election cycle for vote-by-mail. The evidence suggests that in the first cycle, two years ago, vote-by-mail increased turnout more in the rural areas, to the advantage of the Republicans, than in urban and suburban ones.Report

              • gingergene in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Hmm. This is an interesting twist to the voter ID laws. How do local Republicans feel about this? Do they still agree with their brethren that strict ID laws are necessary to avoid fraud? Or do they feel it’s too early to tell?Report

              • Art Deco in reply to gingergene says:

                Cannot speak for Republicans in his area. Personally, I dislike postal balloting and believe it should be used very sparingly: military, shut ins, college students, foreign service, non-geographic electorates, and that’s it. And paper ballots please. And hand counts unless you’re doing something vexing like single-transferrable-vote tabulation.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:


            I think I’ve framed my argument poorly. My argument was that, in the current system the GOP candidate is unlikely to go to LA or NYC. And that the Dems aren’t going to hit Alabama and Mississippi. In a truly national election, the former would DEFINITELY change and the latter might, for the reasons you offer.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:


          You started by saying this: one of [the criticisms of the EC] really shouldn’t be that it somehow fails to reflect the will of the people.

          Consider Colorado: given that Colorado is a winner take all state, if Trump garnered 51% of the vote, he’d get all nine EC votes. Do you think *that* reflects the will of the people? That’s the argument against the EC in this context. Your argument (I think) is that the popular vote wouldn’t be any better since we don’t know how people would vote in such a system. Which I find sorta confusing given the criticisms of the EC coupled with the idea that if the Presidency were determined by popular vote, then people would vote knowing that were the case.Report

          • Art Deco in reply to Stillwater says:

            The thing is, the effects of winner-take-all in Colorado are cancelled out in other states. Were you to allocate electoral votes according to the winner of the congressional district in question (and two according to winner take all), you’d still have the effects of gerrymandering. You might gain some benefit in aggregating voter preferences, but the effects would be quite small given the effort you have to put in to get a constitutional amendment passed.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Art Deco says:


              Yes, good points. What I said up there wasn’t advocacy for getting rid of the EC but explaining (well, maybe I flatter myself in that regard) the basis of a particular criticism of the EC.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:


            Good point. I spoke poorly.

            I know people (liberals, mostly) who look at recent elections where Democrats won the popular vote but lost the EC vote and insist that the people’s will was thwarted.

            I’ll revise my thesis: Looking at national popular vote totals in a system that does not incentivize voters or politicians to care about national popular vote totals is silly. I stand by the idea of complaining that your team got more hits in a game that is based on scoring runs.

            Is that better? I got a little ranty there and half-cocked.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

              Looking at national popular vote totals in a system that does not incentivize voters or politicians to care about national popular vote totals is silly.

              Well, again, if the system were changed to make Presidents elected by popular vote we’d have a different system, one that incentivized politicians to care about national vote totals. So… 🙂Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                Agreed. At which point the totals would mean something. As it stands now, the national popular vote totals are pretty meaningless. Despite much insistence otherwise (when it suits the person talking). I am principled in insisting that they are ALWAYS useless!Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

          In New York, you have a myriad of contests other than the presidential race. You’ve got ballot propositions, the state Supreme Court near on everywhere, county-level judges here and there, the state legislature, the federal Congress, and the odd local race here or there. The ballot propositions are reason enough.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

      I doubt the electoral college is severely demotivating. I’ll wager most people don’t give it a thought. The trouble with a national popular vote is that it would require adopting a common system of elections administration. In and of itself, national popular vote would not resolve the question of how to process the preferences of those inclined toward 3d parties or the problems which arise from the party nomination donnybrooks. Ordinal balloting would address some of these problems, and a revised law on presidential candidate registration would resolve others.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Art Deco says:

        This seems like an empirical question which can be and probably has been studied.

        Since it ceased being a swing state has turnout in California gone down relative to the rest of the country? That sort of thing.Report

        • But California is a big citizen initiative state. There’s some evidence that in such states, controversial citizen initiatives have more to do with turnout than anything else.

          The likely initiatives in Colorado — pseudo-single-payer health insurance (already on the ballot), full-strength wine/beer sales in groceries, and some sort of big changes in fracking policy — are things that the both the Democrats and Republicans in the legislature have ducked. I’m expecting a larger-than-usual turnout this year. Also that initiative advertising will outweigh the candidate advertising. The oil and gas companies are already running pro-fracking broadcast ads.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Art Deco says:


        Popular vote or not, I think it is patently absurd that we have different rules for registration and voting in each state. I understand this probably exists for constitutional reasons and that we might want to preserve state autonomy when it comes to state elections and that, in a way, the EC effectively makes the Presidential election a state election because you are really voters for electors and not the President him/herself. But still… practically speaking… everyone should have the same means and opportunity to vote for the President.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

          One of the better arguments in favor of replacing the Electoral College is to add a degree of national uniformity to our election structure. You don’t have to replace the EC to make it happen, but the two would probably go together.

          I say this despite having federalist tendencies, and as someone with a stronger-than-usual status quo bias in terms of political science.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:


            I go back and forth on my federalist tendencies and it’d probably be best to describe my thinking as “Federalism is great for some things, awful for others, and somewhere in the middle for the rest.” Ya know… like most processes…

            For elections — national elections especially — I tend to think it is awful.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

          I’ve never heard of an actual case, but I remember a lunchtime conversation where the discussion involved the question, “Would you take a transfer that came with a promotion and pay raise, if it meant moving to a state where you couldn’t vote?”Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:


            My hunch is that most people would say yes (all other things being equal). Hell, I would!Report

          • One of the interesting background things in Turtledove’s Southern Victory series is that while slaves were freed in the USA, black folks were not given a uniform right to vote. And because of internal dynamics, women’s suffrage didn’t happen on time. These issues were left to the states. One (black) character specifically moved from Kentucky (which was in the CSA until World War I, then the USA afterwards) to Iowa in part for that reason (to vote, but also to be in a place with a culture that would allow him to do so).Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

          Popular vote or not, I think it is patently absurd that we have different rules for registration and voting in each state.

          I’m not sure why you think that. The presidential contest is the only one which transcends state boundaries. The disjunction which state-to-state variation in the dimensions of the suffrage and and in electoral practice can be finessed with tabulation conventions – just conventions more refined than those we now employ. Also, we’d have to craft a national apparat analogous to the Secretariat of State in each state or the Boards of Elections in New York. That would not be to onerous, in some other circumstance. The thing is that we’ve lost our capacity to build institutions (recall the most recent effort at building de novo a federal agency with a large census of employees was the TSA). You might still make the effort if there were something to be gained by it, but you’re not gaining much.

          A great deal of what’s in election law (New York’s what I’m familiar with, being a former party hack) is conventional and manifests (while it shapes) local habit. Whether a practice is better or worse than some other practice can be debatable or may be blatant but small beer. As is, I have lots of ideas about how New York’s election law might be amended. Legislative bodies suffer a tremendous sclerosis when there isn’t something in it for someone on the patronage of some committee chairman and if the locus of responsibility were shifted to Congress the chances for some improvement in election law helpful for New York would go from epsilon to nil. Not that important, but not something that would please me.

          As is, elections administration is distributed, which means the effects of certain sorts of abuses are contained. That would include voting by aliens, voting by felons, vote fraud, petition fraud, absentee ballot tabulation fan dance (I’ve got stories), ordering shizzy tabulation machines, &c. Also, the dimensions of the suffrage can reflect local preferences (this was a concern of Will’s forty years ago: that national popular voting would induce a race to the bottom regarding suffrage bars).

          I think a much greater problem than variation in suffrage, registration procedures, and the mechanics of voting would be our horrible jumble of an electoral calendar. A constitutional amendment which created a default calendar and then allowed states to vary from it if their variation was put to a vote at least once every 30 years would be helpful inasmuch as it would promote a sorting of people’s attention and simplify general election ballots. An appendix to the federal constitution delineating a practice manual for drawing electoral constituencies would be very much in order (it would not have to be verbose to leave little scope for gerrymandering). An amendment establishing ordinal balloting as the default while allowing states to opt for something else provided a referendum were held at least once every 30 years would be helpful inasmuch as first-past-the-post is just about the worst way to tabulate, especially when you’ve got a multi-member constituency.Report