Rules are for break­ing

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker

— It should be ob­vi­ous to all by now that Don­ald Trump knows noth­ing of what he speaks. His dis­as­trous eco­nomic ideas are but the lat­est in a litany of non­sen­si­cal pro­pos­als.

Yet, and still, his sup­port­ers — that Repub­li­can base so care­fully nur­tured by the very GOP op­er­a­tives and politi­cians who now find its mem­bers so dis­taste­ful — pro­claim his supremacy with such brac­ing ob­ser­va­tions as, “Well, at least he’s got [spheres],” or “At least he speaks his mind,” or “At least he doesn’t suck up to any­body.”

These selections from the morn­ing mail share a com­mon el­e­ment — “at least” — which seems apt enough, though “the least” seems more to the point. Trump was the least of so many other Repub­li­can can­di­dates who of­fered governing ex­pe­ri­ence, knowl­edge and even, in some cases, wis­dom.

So why didn’t these su­pe­rior can­di­dates win, es­pe­cially given his con­sis­tently low fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings? In­deed, both Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton, pre­sump­tively speak­ing, would be the most dis­liked nom­i­nees at this stage of any in the past 10 pres­i­den­tial cy­cles, ac­cord­ing to a FiveThir­tyEight anal­y­sis.

Trump’s av­er­age “strongly un­fa­vor­able” rat­ing of 53 per­cent — 16 points higher than Clin­ton’s — is at least 20 points higher than ev­ery other can­di­date’s rat­ing since 1980.

Never mind the many elected Repub­li­can lead­ers who are dis­tanc­ing them­selves from his can­di­dacy. Not enough of them, to be sure, which is dis­grace­ful and surely will be noted by fu­ture his­to­ri­ans as cow­ardly. My own run­ning list of syco­phants re­mains handy for the du­ra­tion of their likely short­ened po­lit­i­cal ca­reers. Nearly half of vot­ers say they’re less likely to sup­port can­di­dates who have aligned them­selves with Trump, ac­cord­ing to Morn­ing Con­sult, a group that con­ducts weekly polls of 2,000 vot­ers.

To an­swer my ear­lier ques­tion, the better can­di­dates didn’t win be­cause, ob­vi­ously, so many of them si­phoned votes from stronger ones, giv­ing Trump the lead and all-im­por­tant mo­men­tum. Thus, the con­stant re­frain from Trump sup­port­ers that the “es­tab­lish­ment” is ig­nor­ing the “will of the peo­ple” is only true to a point. Trump is the choice of a plu­ral­ity of the GOP, but not of a ma­jor­ity — a dis­tinc­tion with a cru­cial dif­fer­ence.

At this stage, as the GOP con­venes its cir­cu­lar fir­ing squad com­posed of party lead­ers, op­er­a­tives, hacks, flacks, politi­cos — if you’ll par­don the re­dun-

WASH­ING­TON

dancy — and, yes, cer­tain me­dia, they might better ex­pend their en­er­gies con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tive vot­ing meth­ods that might have pre­vented Trump’s as­cen­dancy and likely would pre­vent fu­ture dem­a­gogues.

One of these meth­ods, al­ready used by a va­ri­ety of pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions to elect of­fi­cers, as well as by the United Na­tions to elect the sec­re­tary-gen­eral, uses an “ap­proval” bal­lot by which vot­ers rank all the can­di­dates of whom they ap­prove rather than se­lect just one. Far from new, this idea was sug­gested in 1770 by French math­e­ma­ti­cian and as­tronomer Jean-Charles de Borda, who ex­pressed con­cern that sev­eral sim­i­lar can­di­dates would split the ma­jor­ity vote and al­low a non-con­sen­sus can­di­date to win. Voila. Through elec­tion by or­der of merit, now known as the “Borda count,” each can­di­date was awarded a num­ber of votes equal to the num­ber of can­di­dates be­low him on each voter’s bal­lot. The can­di­date with the most votes won.

Fast-for­ward a cou­ple of cen­turies to 1977 when New York University pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor Steven J. Brams and de­ci­sion the­o­rist Peter C. Fish­burn de­vised “ap­proval vot­ing,” which is sim­i­lar but even sim­pler. By their method, vot­ers would cast a vote for each can­di­date of whom they ap­prove, in no par­tic­u­lar or­der. The can­di­date with the most votes would win.

Another rank­ing method, ad­vanced re­cently in The New York Times by economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, was de­vel­oped by 18th-cen­tury math­e­ma­ti­cian and po­lit­i­cal the­o­rist Mar­quis de Con­dorcet. This process called for rank­ing can­di­dates in or­der of ap­proval — or not rank­ing them at all as an in­di­ca­tion of dis­ap­proval. The can­di­date with the high­est ap­proval rank­ing would win.

Long­time vot­ers might find such sug­ges­tions jar­ring, but a Trump nom­i­na­tion could be a rule-changer. He can brag that he has won a cou­ple dozen con­tests but the re­al­ity is that another of the other pri­mary can­di­dates might have beaten him if not for vot­ers scat­ter­ing their bal­lots among so many. This is to say, the ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­can vot­ers re­jected Trump.

Had an ap­proval sys­tem been in place, it’s con­ceiv­able that John Ka­sich could be ac­cept­ing the nom­i­na­tion in July. And Trump would be pil­ing up ap­proval rat­ings where he be­longs — on re­al­ity TV.

Kath­leen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@ wash­post.com.

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