"It's like being shot or poisoned," famously remarked Lindsey Graham of the choice between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. "What does it really matter?"
It matters a whole heap to the Republican Party — or rather what's left of it — because both men are likely to be destroyed by Hillary Clinton in November, as well as the Dems taking back the Senate because of the likelihood of Clinton’s long coattails. Under some head-to-head models, Bernie Sanders would do even better than Clinton because of her perceived negatives, but Republican prospects are so poor that those negatives won't be a factor.
As Frank Rich puts it in New York magazine, "Clinton could probably shoot someone in front of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and still win."
And so Republican elites and their backers like the Koch brothers, profoundly dismayed that the shell game they have played with Republican voters for years has backfired badly, are looking for a unicorn who could sweep to victory at a contested convention, which the GOP confab in Cleveland is increasingly looking like it will be, and then stand a fighting chance on Election Day.
But the notion of the moment that Paul Ryan — let alone Paul the Apostle or Paul Bunyan — can reunify the GOP is a bad joke. The only thing the House speaker has going for him is a pretty face, with or without the beard. And while he's ambitious, he's not stupid. He knows that playing the unicorn in Cleveland would be a suicide mission. (Besides which, he can always pick up the pieces and run in 2020, and judging from his penchant for trying to stay in the news while staying off the campaign trail, he's already positioning himself to do just that.)
"I think it is all fantasy island," John Feehery, a GOP strategist, told Talking Points Memo. "This idea we are going to be able to pluck someone like a Paul Ryan and run him as a presidential candidate is a pretty big reach. I just don't see it happening."
Just the mere mention of Ryan seizing the nomination from Trump or Cruz has the right-wing media reaching for their pitchforks.
Breibart News, which is even more in the bag for Trump than Fox News and CNN, says Ryan is soft on immigration and to make the point has been featuring interviews with the family members of victims of crimes committed by immigrants who were in the country illegally. Breitbart also is making the strange and unconnected claim that "as a result of unbridled Muslim migration into the United States, more than 2,100 U.S. girls in Wisconsin — the state represented by Ryan — are at-risk of suffering the anti-Western practice Female Genital Mutilation."
If nothing else, Trump has made the long suffering working stiff an effective campaign issue, while Clinton and Sanders have made income inequality major planks of their campaign.
This makes Ryan an especially juicy target. He was widely and justifiably savaged in 2012 as Mitt Romney's running mate for his fealty to Reverse Robin Hood economics. This has been the lynchpin of Republican economic policy for decades, and Ayn Rand-hugging Ryan still passionately embraces its precepts: Reward the rich, screw everyone else, and shred the social safety net while you're at it.
There is a predictability to presidential campaigns. Yes, even this beyond crazy one. There are primaries and caucuses, nominating conventions, the general election and then the inevitable hankie-wringing for the losers: What went wrong and can the party be reunited after the inevitable clashes of policy and ego? One of the things that makes 2016 different is that both parties face serious reunification issues despite the likelihood that the Democrats will hold onto the White House.
Mind you that the Republicans face a far greater reunification challenge. But the Democrats have been working up some pretty pungent problems of their own right under our noses as the Republicans circle the drain and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take a page from the GOP playbook to bash each other over who is more qualified to be president, and Clinton’s surrogates launch a campaign to demonize Sanders’ embrace of democratic socialism.
You should not be surprised to know that the Democratic National Committee is going to do pretty much anything it can to grease the skids for the party’s preferred candidate, a tactic that disastrously backfired on Republicans when Donald Trump stole a march on the party establishment.
As secrets go, the fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the tank for Clinton and is not an impartial DNC chair isn’t exactly earth shattering.
When she briefly denied Sanders’ campaign access to its own important voter data back in December after it was found the campaign’s national data manager took advantage of a software glitch in the central DNC’s voter information database to mine Clinton data, she appropriately found herself on the receiving end of a firestorm of allegations that she had been making it more difficult for Sanders and Martin O’Malley to raise their profiles. That included scheduling most of the few Democratic debates on Saturday evenings when most people were watching football or otherwise engaged.
But the main Democratic mischief maker is the superdelegate, which is nothing less than an effort — again a la the Republicans — to suppress the vote, in this case make it easier for Clinton to secure the nomination.
A little background here: Superdelegates were dreamed up in the early 1980s after George McGovern got his clock cleaned by Richard Nixon in 1972 and Jimmy Carter's devastating loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980, in order to help the party establishment prevent the nomination of insurgent candidates of whom it disapproved.
Superdelegates are party bigs — 712 Democratic leaders, legislators, governors, and so on — who can vote for any candidate at the nominating convention, regardless of whether that candidate won the popular vote. These unpledged delegates are mostly in the hip pocket of the DNC and make up 30 percent of the 2,382 delegates whose votes are needed to win the nomination, and could thus make a big difference. As things now stand, Clinton has 469 superdelegates and Sanders a mere 31.
The superdelegate equation is especially outrageous this year because Sanders is nothing if not an insurgent, but he's still getting screwed.
Meanwhile, Sanders supporters are bewildered -- and increasingly angry -- over why he keeps winning states but remains well behind Clinton in delegates. The answer is that Sanders does well in states with caucuses, which tend to attract more dedicated supporters but tend to be in smaller states that yield far fewer delegates than larger primary states.
You could argue that the process is working pretty well since Clinton has received more votes in primaries and caucuses than Sanders (about 9.2 million to 7 million) and should be leading in number of delegates. That the rules were changed long before the game commenced, not in the middle of it. And that Sanders' slim pickings from caucuses is not so much stacking the deck against him than the realities of geography. But here again the superdelegate equation works against him and, long story short, it is unwieldy and undemocratic even if an argument can be made that party members should have more say than voters. Democrats need to ditch it.