Hayes: The problem of the Republican establishment stalemate


Bob Hayes, Columnist

It perhaps seems odd for the overwhelming winner of a political vote to only receive a 35 percent share of voting support. Yet, that is exactly how Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary unfolded, with Donald Trump finishing with the Republican victory just eight days after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican caucus with only 28 percent of the vote.

Beyond Trump’s win, the big story arising from the Republican vote is the second-place finish by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who gained 16 percent of voting support in New Hampshire. Following Kasich were Cruz and a handful of candidates, none of whom topped 12 percent. These low individual shares of votes are the products of the Republican race’s continued collective issue of overlapping candidates.

Though Iowa and New Hampshire often precede the vote of more Republican establishment states, the fact that Trump and Cruz have secured substantial shares of delegates – and continue to lead polls for future states – while the moderate-establishment candidates have split the vote in several ways is a problem for many Republicans who oppose a Trump or Cruz candidacy.

More specifically, the trio of current or former governors consisting of Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie— who dropped out Tuesday after struggling in both Iowa and New Hampshire — have each cannibalized the collective voting bloc of centrist establishment voters. It is fair to add Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to the mix of candidates who have more establishment support than Trump or Cruz, though he falls further right on ideological score. Similarly, FiveThirtyEight’s “Republicans’ Five-Ring Circus” depicts Kasich, Christie and Bush as moderate-establishment candidates, while Rubio tends to draw voters further right, closer to Cruz’s voting bloc. Beyond nebulous ideological scores, that these four candidates have each received more endorsements from current politicians than either Cruz or Trump shows us where the party’s interests lie.

Though having a plethora of options is initially a nice problem to have among voters with centrist establishment ideologies, come voting time, the voting bloc’s split among the candidates causes less preferable options to ultimately gain a larger share of delegates. This is precisely the reason third-party candidates struggle to gain electoral success: Voters realize that selecting an independent candidate in favor of their preferred Democrat or Republican means their major-party candidate loses votes in favor of the voters’ least preferable candidate. Ultimately, choosing between established alternatives leads to a more amicable outcome.

What this means now is the two governors (and Rubio) continue to collectively split the moderate-establishment vote, while Cruz and Trump take home more delegates from their unique voting blocks. If just one candidate represented the not-Trump-or-Cruz voting bloc, that candidate would begin to rack up delegates and make a push for the nomination.

Although Christie dropping out certainly helps, the continued presence of three candidates who represent similar voters causes the problem to persist. The longer the vote splits, the taller task it will be for an establishment candidate to win the Republican nomination. FiveThirtyEight’s David Wasserman wrote on Tuesday, “The real delegate prizes are in March, which is do-or-die time. That’s why South Carolina and Nevada are the last best opportunity for anti-Trump/Cruz voters to coalesce… If South Carolina and Nevada don’t make up for New Hampshire’s failure to clarify the establishment field, the odds of a contested convention go up dramatically.”

When evaluating this split establishment problem, we must understand that its solution is not nearly as simple as calling out all but one candidate to drop out of the race. At this point, each of these candidates (save for Christie) has attained enough voting, donor and endorsement support to justify individually staying in the race. While their decisions to pursue the nomination make sense at the individual level, the dilemma exists at the collective level of the establishment voting bloc. Interestingly, it is reasonable to assume that each of these establishment candidates would prefer any of the others to Trump or Cruz, yet the further they each push on, the more likely we are to see Trump or Cruz extend their current delegate leads and win the nomination.

At this point, it is essential for these establishment candidates to look past their individual incentives of winning the nomination and for all but one to drop out. Voters, too, understand this and consider abandoning hope for candidates who go on to struggle and choose to support a moderate-establishment candidate with more voting support.

Eventually, primaries concluding with Kasich leading the establishment pack with just 16 percent become a major problem. The longer the establishment stalemate lasts and consolidation is postponed, the more unlikely it becomes that the Republican establishment will see one of their own lead the party this fall.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.