Trump vs. Clinton: The election no one wants

Math is easy.

Eight months of polling, two caucuses, and two primaries have made it clear that roughly one-third of Republican voters are enthusiastic about Donald Trump's presidential bid; according to RealClearPolitics, national polls taken over the past week peg his support between 31 percent and 36 percent.

The other two thirds are appalled that Trump may be their party's nominee. In a five-person (or seventeen-person) race, one third of the votes is impressive, often a plurality. In a two-person race, one third of the votes is a dismal, distant loss. Trump is thus extremely vulnerable in any two-person race, and quite likely to win anything bigger.

Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, 2016 Presidential candidates.
Getty Images
Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, 2016 Presidential candidates.

If the Republican "power brokers" had any actual power, and if they truly see a Trump nomination as the cataclysm they claim it would be, they would summon the other four candidates—Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Ben Carson—to a woodshed where they would knock some heads together. Three of them would bow out for considerations to become obvious later; one would continue to challenge Trump.

No such backroom summit seems likely, however. There is too little concentrated power and too many egos committed to chasing a top job they are decreasingly likely to secure. The Texas debate highlighted the problem. For the first time, Rubio and Cruz directed their attacks at Trump, rather than at each other.

And though both landed numerous blows reassuring to those who prefer them to Trump, it is unclear that either made Trump look bad to his own supporters—and neither gave any indication of being on the verge of bowing out. And so, heading into Super Tuesday, it appears that more than two candidates will persist, and that the Republican Party will thus nominate a man that a sizable majority of Republicans disdain – perhaps even fear.

Across town, Democratic voters have been screaming for a decade that they just don't like Hillary Clinton. After all, if Democrats did like Clinton, she would have spent the past seven years as President—fending off attacks from an annoying Junior Senator from Illinois for being insufficiently ideological. But Democrats, in only somewhat smaller numbers than Republicans and independents, find Clinton neither likable nor trustworthy. They would prefer Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Al Gore or Bernie Sanders—really, almost anyone except (apparently) Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chaffee, or Jim Webb—to Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic power brokers, however, have already internalized the lesson that their Republican counterparts are now learning. Having allowed their voters to choose ideological rigidity over personal corruption once, they are not about to make the same mistake twice. Because while Obama may have paid off Wall Street, the insurance industry, and Big Pharma he never stopped vilifying them and he never ceased harping about income inequality.

The voters who foisted Barack Obama on the Democratic elite—before they foisted him on the country—forced them to cut a deal with the devil. But the Democratic elite know well the first rule of crony capitalism: better the devil you already own than the devil who requires an ongoing subscription fee.

This time around, the Democratic leadership has ensured that its entire primary season is a show. Party-connected superdelegates hold the balance of power, and they want to nominate Clinton. To become the nominee, Clinton need only retain her appeal to the elite; Democratic voters are window dressing. Losing the primary vote to Sanders would be embarrassing, not fatal.

The press will have a field day. Trump, perhaps the least ideological and most centrist candidate to earn a major-party nomination since Wendell Willkie (another Democrat running on the Republican line) will prove that the Republican Party has fallen to a lunatic right-wing fringe.

Voting for Clinton, a politician who has defined the establishment for a quarter century, will become a revolutionary act. Voters will pick their poison. In a Trump/Clinton race, one of these unloved candidates will become president. The partisan polarization that everyone claims to despise will accelerate.

America's political, academic, business, and media elites will launch studies trying to understand why Americans have lost faith in their leaders and their institutions. Most of them will come to agree with President Obama: Americans distrust our leaders because our leaders devote too little effort to explaining their greatness in terms that average Americans can grasp. Their own failings, or the gaping chasm between elite and average concerns, are unlikely to enter their thinking.

Taken together, America is hurtling towards an election that no one wants. The Democratic Party will nominate a candidate most Democrats dislike because their game is rigged. The Republican Party will nominate a candidate most Republicans dislike because their game is not. It's a wonderful advertisement for liberal democracy.

There may still be time to prevent this train wreck, but we are hurtling at full speed into some dangerous curves.

Commentary by Bruce Abramson, Ph.D., J.D. and Jeff Ballabon. Abramson is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and director of policy at the Iron Dome Alliance. Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic where he advises and represents corporate and political clients on interacting with the government and media. He previously headed the communications and public policy departments of major media corporations including CBS News and Court TV. Follow them on Twitter @bdabramson and @ballabon.

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