PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION
The 2016 Presidential Nomination
"Pre-Season" can't end soon enough
Monday, January 18, 2016
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
It might seem so hard to believe, given all that has happened (moreso on the Republican, than on the Democratic, side of the "Presidential Nomination Process" 'ledger', admittedly) since this past Summer (particularly once a certain Donald J. Trump had jumped into the presidential race with both feet), but- come a year from this coming Wednesday (that is: on Friday 20 January 2017)- someone is actually going to be taking the Oath of Office as the 45th President of the United States...
almost as hard to believe is the fact that we are now- as I type this- but a fortnight from the first time at least some voters somewhere will first be "casting their votes in anger", as a result of which we will begin to have something other than nationwide polls and polls of "likely Primary voters" or "voters attending their first Caucus" and the like from which to begin to judge the efficacy of each of the surviving presidential nomination campaigns in both Major Parties.
I confess that I am a fan of Baseball (in fact, Major League Baseball happens to be my favorite spectator sport-- besides American Electoral Politics, that is) and I often find (and this finding has been no less true, to myself, in the now-five Presidential Election cycles The Green Papers has dealt with in real time) that there is a rather strong analogy between the quadrennial Presidential Nomination process and the annual Baseball season.
What goes on during the odd-numbered year immediately preceding that of the Presidential Election (and on into the earliest portion of the following year, until the Iowa Caucuses and, a week or so later, the New Hampshire Presidential Primary)- presidential contenders formally announcing their respective candidacies (or, often enough, publicly announcing they will not be a candidate after all [or even some already-announced candidacies later officially announcing their withdrawal of same]); televised debates, from time to time, amongst at least the leading presidential contenders in each Party; the Wonderful Wacky World of Political Punditry dissecting all of this all too often to the point of virtually conducting a necropsy, etc. (etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam)- is, in the end, but the 'Pre-Season' (that which is known as 'Spring Training' in Baseball)...
Exhibition Games (in the form of those periodic nationally televised debates between the presidential contenders in each Major Party) are being played, yes-- but none of the results of these (as is the case with 'Spring Training' games in Baseball) actually count in the "Standings of the Clubs"! Only once the Caucus/Primary "season" itself has gotten well underway can one really get a handle on the state of the presidential nomination race in either Major Party.
One of the earliest Commentaries I ever wrote (in fact, it was my sixth) for this website was entitled It's the Delegates, Stupid!!! subtitled 'and other Random Thoughts as we get ready to watch the first First-Tier Caucuses'. I kept that one rather short (in part because- despite nearly three decades of observing the presidential nominating process every four years and, further, intently studying the history of that very process during all those years, decades [and even centuries] before the 1972 Presidential Election cycle itself was playing itself out while I was still in high school- how best to present my own distillation of such things to a readership still coming across this strange new thing called 'The Green Papers' on what was, back then, the still-somewhat "magical" [at least to those well outside the realm of computer engineering] 'World Wide Web' was yet rather elusive to me [some- okay, many- of my readers might well argue it still is!]) but the main point of that piece still holds, where I therein noted the all too obvious: that, despite the fact that the Major Party National Conventions themselves no longer choose a nominee who has already clinched the presidential nomination through his reaching the "magic number" of a majority of pledged delegates at some point earlier in the pre-Convention phase of the campaign, that "magic number" is still a plateau yet to be reached as each Party's Delegate Selection/Pledging process first gets underway...
sixteen years after I first wrote those words, that same process is only now- once again- just about to so get underway.
If all that we have been observing (the vastest majority of us vicariously, via our televisions) since the various and sundry presidential contenders in both Major Parties first threw their respective "hats into the ring" (although, again, at least some of those same "hats" have already been retrieved by their owners) is, in fact and in the main, but an 'Exhibition'-- 'Spring Training'; the "Pre-Season" -- then the Caucuses in IOWA are, indeed, 'Opening Day'!
For the Baseball fan, as well as the players on the field, 'Opening Day' is filled with (if only but for a short time, before the first pitch is thrown after the home-plate umpire signals 'Play!') seemingly infinite possibilities- for the lowliest team coming into the ensuing regular season as for the most highly regarded (at least by the Sports-reporting equivalent of political punditry): after all, everyone's record in the Standings starts off at 0-0, no matter how well or badly each Major League club might have done in either the 'Cactus League' in Arizona or the 'Grapefruit League' in Florida during the immediately preceding 'Exhibition Season'.
Likewise, the situation as we now look toward IOWA's Caucuses on Monday 1 February-- for, as I now type this, not a single National Convention delegate has yet been pledged to any presidential contender in either Major Party: thus, if only theoretically, what has happened (for good or for ill re: each presidential candidate) in, for one, all those televised debates since this past September means nothing (yet!) and only once we start accumulating delegates per candidate (even if only in our own website's "soft" count in some cases) as each Caucus or Presidential Primary takes place in sequence will we begin to see who really has a good shot at each Major Party's presidential nomination this time round. In this regard, Iowa is simply but the first place in which "the games begin to count".
For the Baseball fan, the second game of each season is not nearly as exciting as was 'Opening Day': since half the teams playing their firat game of the year lose it, the second game- more than anything else- means the difference between starting off 1-1 or 0-2 (even though, for that same fan, it does "feel so good that Baseball's back"). NEW HAMPSHIRE's traditionally holding the first Presidential Primary a little over a week after Iowa's Caucuses, thereby, functions as the equivalent of that second game of the Baseball season: those candidates who didn't do all that well (or as well as expected) in Iowa (yet didn't do so badly so as to now have to drop out of the nomination race altogether) have yet another chance (even if it be just one more chance for those who will, in the end, not be "winnowed in" after the Granite State has so voted) to, perhaps, "even the record" by doing better in New Hampshire, after which the months-long 'marathon' of presidential contenders in each Major Party accumulating the pledges of National Convention delegates proceeds apace.
The Baseball regular season in North America runs from sometime during the first week in April (occasionally, the end of March) until the end of September (often, into the first week of October): similarly, the Primary/Caucus "season" that will allow the 'rank and file' to determine the presidential nominee of each Major Party here in the United States itself goes on for no little time...
I have always thought (since first more seriously following Baseball in my early teens [now more than four and a half decades ago- if only by sheerest coincidence, just about as long as I have also been "following" American Electoral Politics]) that one should not begin taking the daily 'Standings of the Clubs' all that seriously until at least the first weekend in May each year (since, by then, each team has played a series of games against all sorts of opponents- from the strong to the weak- and one can now more fairly judge one's own favorite team's performance so far) and that one should not become all that elated (or, perhaps, downcast instead) about one's own favorite's chances at the World Series Championship that coming Fall until the weekend of Memorial Day here in America (the Memorial Day holiday falls on the last Monday in May) because, only then, have the Major League Baseball clubs each already played roughly one-third of their regular season's games (only after which- based on such a large sampling of results- can one them make fairest comparison between one's favorite team and its rivals as the remainder of the regular season thereafter progresses).
Similarly, and despite the fact that the results coming out of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire Presidential Primary will be- within that same aforementioned Wonderful Wacky World of Political Punditry- well sliced and diced before being tossed, where not even pureed (and the same will thereafter also be done to the results coming out of, first, South Carolina and, then, Nevada [or first Nevada and then South Carolina- depending on which Major Party the reader himself/herself might most be interested in]), one cannot begin to discern the "state of the presidential nomination race(s)" until after the first 'Super Tuesday' of Presidential Primaries and Caucuses on Tuesday 1 March this year and, even then, one cannot truly judge the chances of any given presidential contender for his or her Party's presidential nomination until after those Presidential Primaries to be held both one and two weeks thereafter...
and what one should then be looking at, in either case, is not the national polls of those in States yet to "cast their votes in anger" or polls of those "most likely to vote" in Presidential Primaries yet to be held (even though these will, nonetheless, continue to be rather interesting- where not also even intriguing): instead, one should look at how many delegates seem to be already in the corner of each surviving presidential contender as well as just how far (or not) each surviving presidential contender, at that point, might be from that "magic number" needed to actually gain his/her Party's presidential nomination (why?-- well, because 'It's the Delegates, Stupid!!!').
Thus, come St. Patrick's Day March 17th (by which time the numbers of National Convention delegates pledged to each presidential contender as a result of the Primaries held on Tuesday 15 March will themselves be fairly known and can then be added to those delegates previously pledged to candidates during the preceding weeks to create the newest running totals), one can raise a glass to one's favorite candidate for President (or, conversely, "cry in one's own beer")- depending on just where one's favorite candidate happens to then stand in the running delegate count!
I will conclude this piece with a quote from James Bryce's The American Commonwealth- one that I also used in the closing paragraph of that now-oh, so long ago early The Green Papers Commentary of mine (although, at the same time, didn't I only just write that one but a few weeks ago now?). While quite a lot has changed since the future Viscount Bryce first observed the American political and social scene back in the late 19th Century, much- strangely enough- has not changed all that much!...
Bryce was writing about the motives of the Major Party National Convention delegates as they met to choose their respective Party's presidential nominee (during an era when, yes [if only to a certain extent], they did so choose: for Convention delegates of that day were, more or less, "free agents" [at least in relation to the national Party: for many of said delegates were, nonetheless, beholden to a State and/or local Party leader- where not even a Party "Boss" (himself, likely, also a fellow delegate)- which, more often than not, served to diminish the amount of "freedom" within each such delegate's own "agency"]) but Lord Bryce's words could- as I myself so opined more than a decade and a half ago- still well apply to today's early 21st Century Presidential Primary voter or Caucus attendee:
There is the wish to carry a particular aspirant. There is the wish to defeat a particular aspirant, a wish sometimes stronger than any predilection... There is the wish to find the man who, be he good or bad, friend or foe, will give the party its best chance of victory. These motives cross one another, get mixed, vary in relative strength.
As I myself thereafter wrote, in my own answer to those words thus quoted back then, so it is also still the case nowadays: "It is precisely these mixed motives as outlined by Lord Bryce but now applied by the electorate itself to those fitting the modern version of Bryce's categorization of presidential contenders which we will now see played out over the coming weeks and months, beginning with Iowa's caucuses"...
please keep that well in mind, gentle reader, along with the notion that- after all- "It's the Delegates, Stupid!!!"