This morning’s New York Times had two front-page stories about politics that were really one story. One was about the fact that Republicans who identify as evangelical Christians are rallying behind the aggressively impious figure of Donald Trump. The other was about how Hillary Clinton’s campaign is desperately trying to get ready for a prolonged state-by-state nominating contest against Bernie Sanders.
Each story had its own near-overt punchline. The first one captured the truth that American political Christians are not interested at all in the teachings of Jesus Christ, or even in generalized moral goodness, as long as they have someone to amplify the tribal hatreds that truly inspire them. The other described how Clinton, as in 2008, appears to have assembled an expensive and highly professional campaign staff that is flummoxed by the work of campaigning.
But in the background of both stories is a much less funny theme: the difference between what we say our political process is and what the process really is. The Clinton campaign is scrambling to deal with the unforeseen possibility that the nomination for the office of President of the United States might be determined by a series of contests in which various states’ voters cast votes as to which candidate they prefer, rather than simply being declared in advance. The evangelical Republican voters, on the other hand, are not preparing to choose a nominee so much as accommodating themselves to some foregone conclusion of a Trump victory.
The voters and the political professionals agree! It is very unsettling to be part of a contest among different political preferences, in which some will win and some will lose. And so the purpose of the caucuses and primaries is supposed to be the speedy ratification of the trends or results of this earlier contest of money and publicity and opinion polling.
Here’s an evangelical voter explaining his position on Trump to the Times:
“Spirituality is a big issue, but we need somebody who’s strong,” said Charles E. Henderson, 61, a disabled veteran from Lexington, Ky., who grew up attending a Nazarene church.
As one contemporary political thinker put it, in a somewhat different context, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.”
One way to identify which horse is stronger, between horses, is to have the horses run an agreed-upon distance. This is the prospect that’s reportedly unsettling the Clinton campaign. The Times offers reassurances from her campaign manager, Robby Mook, about the campaign’s appetite for racing.
“It’s not just a question of the first two states or the first four states,” Mr. Mook said in an interview at Sunday’s Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C. “We’re going to keep going into the map as long as it takes.”
As long as it takes—not just four percent or eight percent of the 50 states, but even more states than that! It could go “into late April or early May,” the Times reports. At least the citizens of New Jersey, California, and all the other states voting from mid-May on can continue to trust in the system and know that their votes won’t matter.