Whether they win the nomination or not, the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have stunned the political world by bucking the Republican and Democratic party establishments and scoring electoral success as outsiders.
Should they continue their successes and both score wins in each of their parties’ caucuses and primaries, it is entirely possible for the Republican and Democratic parties to deny them the nominations.
It is something that is not without precedent.
In 1986, then-Alabama Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley ran against then-Alabama Attorney General Charlie Graddick for the Democratic Party’s nod for governor.
At that time in statewide elections Alabama was still a one-party Democratic state, but there was a clear conservative-liberal ideological division within the party, which was on display in the 1986 election.
The left plank of the Democratic Party at the time supported Baxley and the right supported Graddick.
The voter turnout that year proved Alabama was even more of a one-party state than it is now. In the 1986 election cycle, the Democratic Party primary had a turnout of more than 800,000 voters while the Republican Party primary drew 40,000.
Unknown Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt cruised to the GOP nomination while Graddick and Baxley fought it out.
Graddick won the Democratic primary, but the party ultimately granted Baxley the nomination because the Democratic establishment at the time saw Graddick as unworthy of the party’s nod. Their argument was that Graddick won as a result of Republican crossover voters in the Democratic Party. Graddick even took the battle to federal court, but lost.
While Graddick lost the fight, its aftermath was arguably worse for Alabama Democrats.
Later that year, Alabama elected Guy Hunt in the general election, the state’s first Republican governor in a century. Many blamed the outcome of that election on the shenanigans the Democratic Party played in the nomination.
Fast-forward 30 years.
As of last week’s Nevada caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has received 151,584 votes when combining the Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada outcomes, while Hillary Clinton has received 95,252 of those votes. However, the delegate count as of now is firmly on Clinton’s side by a margin of 502-70. The bulk of Clinton’s lead is composed of super delegates, which are unelected delegates free to support either candidate, by a margin of 451 for Clinton to 19 for Sanders.
On the GOP side of the presidential election it’s also possible the party could tip the scales against Trump.
The idea of an outsider like Trump winning the Republican nod is repulsive to a lot of the party’s long-time establishment. They loathe the thought of a “short-fingered vulgarian” from Queens carrying their party’s banner.
That conflict sets itself up for an ugly fight heading to the GOP’s convention in Cleveland, Ohio, later this year, even if Trump continues his winning streak throughout the primary process.
So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for both parties to nominate a candidate who did not win the popular vote nationally in primaries. And if it happens, there’s probably not much anyone can do about it.
While the parties would be acting at their own peril, there’s a legitimate argument to be made against Trump and Sanders.
Although Bernie Sanders caucuses with the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, he has always run as an independent candidate, going back to his days as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, including running in some elections against a Democratic candidate.
There’s an argument to be made that Sanders was never willing to be a Democrat until this presidential election, so why give him the party’s most important nomination?
The same goes for Trump.
One of the big knocks on Trump is he has supported Democrats for many years. Up until 2011, Trump had contributed evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But from 2012 forward, he has given overwhelmingly to Republican candidates.
But the fact that he donated to both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and to the senatorial campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid is a disqualifier in the minds of much of country’s Republican hierarchy.
If either scenario happens, where the Republicans or Democrats buck their respective party’s popular vote, there probably isn’t much anyone can do about it.
It’s sure to be litigated in the courts, but the Republican and Democratic parties are not necessarily beholden to the voters in picking their presidential nominee. There is not a constitutional right for a candidate to receive a political party’s nod.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the parties to say, “Screw the vote, we’re going to do what we want. We don’t want a repeat of George McGovern or Barry Goldwater, so we’re going to do what we think is in our best interests. Trump and Sanders have never done anything for our parties’ apparatuses, so why should we reward them with our party’s nomination?”
If it happens, it does have the potential to backfire on the two parties. It sets up a situation where one of the candidates would benefit from the backlash of the opposing party.
But what if both parties opt to go against the will of the voters and both select candidates that did not win the popular votes of the parties? It’s entirely possible if one does it, the other will see it as cover to do the same and voters in both primaries will be disenfranchised.
If that happens, be prepared for a voter revolt and the rise of multiple political parties beyond just the Democratic and Republican parties we have today.