A fun what-if from the Economist on a slow weekend news day. What if we got rid of the presidency and the Senate and turned the House of Representatives into a 435-seat parliament? How would that shake out assuming the vote in November mirrored the polling in the two party primaries as of late April?
What would America’s presidential election look like under a parliamentary system? pic.twitter.com/s72Bw0nxmw
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) June 14, 2016
I think they’ve got the nomenclature right for Trump’s, Clinton’s, and Sanders’s movements, but no self-respecting conservative is going to cede that label to John farking Kasich and his merry band of centrists. Call that party the Republicans (or the Tories, in honor of the squishy British version of conservatism) and let the group to their right be the Conservatives. Also, while Cruz might emerge as Conservative leader, it’s unlikely that an also-ran like Kasich would head the Republicans. Kasich made the cut here only because he refused to take a hint and drop out in April despite having no chance of winning the nomination. He’s a placeholder. But that raises the question: Who would lead the Republicans? One enjoyable dilemma created by a formal Republican/Conservative split would be watching center-right pols try to calculate which party would be better for their careers and, consequently, which of their principles they should abandon. Should Marco Rubio join the Conservative Party and battle Cruz for the leadership? Or, fearing he can’t win, should he go all-in on amnesty, social liberalism, etc, and rebrand as a center-right Republican?
If the vote turned out this way, Hillary would obviously be a strong favorite to emerge as prime minister. She and Bernie would probably form a coalition, giving her a 54 percent majority in parliament, but Sanders would have leverage. His party plus Trump’s could create a different majority coalition; he’d warn Hillary that if she doesn’t promise to do things his way on trade, for instance, he’ll bolt and he and Trump will make a deal for one of them to run the government. That’s sort of what Bernie’s doing right now in holding out on endorsing Hillary, but once she’s safely elected president she can choose to keep her promise or not and won’t have to worry about consequences until 2020. In a parliamentary system, her job would depend day-to-day on keeping that promise. No matter how you slice and dice these numbers, though, the Conservatives and the Republicans end up as nonfactors. Cruz and the Republican leader would be at the mercy of the ruling coalition. That feels like a fitting takeaway from 2016.
As for Trump, how confident are we that Trumpmania would translate into public support for backbenchers running on the “People’s Party” ticket? A few weeks ago, he made Renee Ellmers an honorary People’s Party member by endorsing her in her House primary and making robocalls for her. She got swamped. For all the hype about a populist revolt on the right this year, few Republican incumbents have had trouble in their own primaries so far. GOP voters like Trump, but the jury is out as to how committed they are to Trumpism. It could be that right-wingers would vote reflexively for Conservatives or Republicans in many districts since Trump himself wouldn’t be on the ballot. I could see it working out the opposite way too, though, where Trump’s larger-than-life persona makes even no-name candidates from his party viable in districts where they’d otherwise be overlooked. The brand alone — People’s Party — is superior to “Conservative” and especially “Republican,” and polling before the election would show that Trump is the only right-wing leader with even a chance of leading the government, which would move some votes towards him from Conservative and Republican voters. In fact, with just two percent each from Cruz’s and Kasich’s parties here, Trump would have the single biggest party in parliament. If you’re a lefty, you’d have a tough choice between the Liberal and Social Democratic parties. If you’re a righty, the People’s Party might be the only real game in town.
While we’re on the subject of strategic alliances between candidates, here’s a clever idea from Josh Gelernter about how Trump can use Gary Johnson to his advantage:
[I]t’s worth noting that there are three solid Democratic states in which polling shows support for Johnson exceeding Clinton’s lead over Trump.
Which means that if Trump’s supporters were to vote Johnson, Hillary could be denied those states’ reliably Democratic electoral votes.
In New Mexico, where Johnson was governor for eight years, he’s currently polling at 14 percent, while Clinton leads Trump by 8. In Michigan, Johnson is at 12, while Clinton leads Trump by 4. In Connecticut, Johnson is at 6, with Clinton leading Trump by 5.
If these numbers are right (and if they don’t change too much before November), Trump could take New Mexico, Michigan, and Connecticut from Hillary by asking his supporters to vote strategically, for Johnson. Those three states combined have 28 electoral votes. Denying Hillary those 28 votes would mean she could (among swing states) win Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire and still fail to win a majority in the Electoral College. In which case the House would elect either Johnson or (much more likely) Trump.
Trump can win simply by denying Hillary 270 electoral votes even if he doesn’t reach 270 himself, knowing that the Republican House will choose the Republican nominee as president. Thus, if there’s a way to deny Hillary EVs by boosting Gary Johnson instead, it’s in his interest to do so. Three problems, though. One: As Cruz fans found out the hard way in the primary, it’s very hard to get voters to vote strategically. Kasich, remember, all but conceded Indiana per a widely publicized agreement with Cruz before the primary there and he still ended up with more than seven percent of the vote. Virtually all Trump voters would have to back Johnson in key states for an alliance to have a chance at working. Won’t happen. Trump will end up shrinking his vote total and boosting Johnson’s for nothing. Two: Even if it worked in the three states Gelernter mentions plus several others he identifies, that amounts to just 61 electoral votes total. If Hillary replicated Obama’s map from 2012 minus those 61 votes, she … still wins the presidency, albeit narrowly with 271. If Trump’s polling well enough to take further states off the board beyond the ones Gelernter has in mind, odds are he’ll have a decent shot at winning straight up, without this elaborate strategic-voting arrangement with Johnson. In which case, why wouldn’t he just try to win straight up? And three: Purely as a matter of ego, it’s hard to imagine Trump encouraging his fans to vote for anyone other than him, even if doing so redounded to his ultimate benefit. “Vote for Johnson in Michigan” would be a concession by Trump that he doesn’t think he can win Michigan himself. This is a guy, remember, who thinks he’s going to compete in New York. I think he’d rather lose than lower himself to attempting some self-abasing bank-shot victory involving the libertarian.
Exit question: How many seats would the Libertarian Party win in the U.S. parliament? Johnson might crack 10 percent in some states this year, you know.