Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rule 40(b): The Rule That Came Back to Bite the GOP

Four years ago, when Rule 40(b) of the Republican Party’s convention rules required a qualified candidate for the Republican nomination for president to have demonstrated that he had a plurality of delegates from at least five primaries or caucuses, the old guard establishment changed this rule to require a majority in eight states. This more stringent rule was designed to prevent then Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.) from demonstrating that he could meet the qualification under the old rule and challenge the coronation of former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) as the party’s nominee.

Four years later, Rule 40(b) has come back to bite the old guard because its stringent requirement has been met by businessman and first-time presidential candidate Donald Trump. He has managed to leap over that hurdle. As of March 30, 2016, no other candidate meets this qualification. Trump has won the majority of delegates in eleven contests (including the Northern Mariana Islands, which counts for purposes of Rule 40). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has met the requirement in five contests and might meet the full eight-state requirement by July, but this is not certain. In any case, unless the rule is changed, Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) or anyone else, from former candidate and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) to non-candidate Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be ineligible to come in as a “dark horse” candidate and run away with the convention on a second or third ballot.

So far (as of March 30, 2016), these are the GOP Primaries or Caucuses where candidates have won a majority of delegates. Under a GOP convention rule (unless the rule is changed as the convention’s first order of business in July) a candidate must win a majority in at least eight states to be qualified.

Donald Trump: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Northern Mariana Islands (11).

Ted Cruz: Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Texas, Utah (5).

Rubio: District of Columbia, Puerto Rico (2).

John Kasich: Ohio (1).

If this situation remains the same, then even if Donald Trump does not meet the requirement under Rule 16 that he must have 1,237 delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot, he could still win on the second or third ballot because he would be the ONLY qualified candidate. No one else would be able to challenge him. This is why the GOP establishment will have to change the wording of Rule 40 or expunge Rule 40(b) entirely, in spite of the detriment of appearing to change the rules for purely self-serving reasons. Yet this change could be difficult to execute because Trump might be able to stack the Rules Committee with enough supporters to prevent the rule from being changed. Likewise, he might be able to quash any attempt to change the rule in a floor vote where delegates are asked to change the rule in an open process.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Disgruntled (Establishment) Republicans Float General as Possible Third-Party Candidate

Just a For-Your-Information post.

The Daily Beast blog-journal has published an article about a potential third-party candidate in the event that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively.

I do not know if the Republicans who have been putting their heads together to come up with a third-party candidate are behind this, but I suspect they are. The story is written by John Noonan, who was a national security advisor to both Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. (Ah-hah!)

Noonan compares Mattis to Dwight Eisenhower, which is misleading because Eisenhower ran as a Republican, after being courted by both parties, and he won some primaries. Mattis would be nominated by a third party that does not yet exist. Much about the whole idea of running a third-party campaign seems very dubious, but it is intriguing to consider running a man from outside the political establishment who nevertheless has foreign policy experience, which Mattis does, having been head of the U.S. Central Command (which oversees operations in the Middle East) from 2010 to 2013. What makes Mattis sound appealing is that he is not only an outsider, but he has a reputation for being tough. He is said to have resigned from Central Command  because he was frustrated with the Obama administration's unwillingness to regard the government of Iran as an enemy against which Mattis believes we should be more aggressive.

Historically, third parties have not faired well. The United States tends toward being a two party system with all the other parties being minor also-rans. Occasionally they act as spoilers. The Republican Party lost its first presidential bid in 1856, then won in 1860 because there was a three-way split. The GOP is the last third party to make it into the big-two club. The death of one of the prior big parties seems to be a prerequisite for the success of a third party. The Republicans replaced the Whig Party, which died after the presidency of Millard Fillmore, who actually did pretty well subsequently as a third-party candidate in 1852 on the Know-Nothing ticket. (Here was an example of a party nominating a candidate who did not necessarily share their views; at the very same time that the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings were nominating him, Fillmore, unbeknownst to the convention, was in Rome having an audience with the Pope.)

There is no down ticket for an ad hoc third-party presidential candidate, so it is hard to tell what such a candidacy would do to the Republican majorities in Congress, which are in danger in any case. Probably, the best case scenario for Mattis's candidacy, if voters look at him and say, "Yeah, maybe," is that he might win one-third of the vote while each of the other major candidates do the same, and the Electoral College would probably reflect the same even distribution of electors between the three candidates. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives, which would be the current House, not the one to be seated after the New Year, and they might decide that Mattis is the best alternative to both Clinton and Trump.

According to the Daily Beast, Mattis has expressed no interest in running for president. (Draft Jim! I can hear it now.)

He is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of the boards of directors at General Dynamics and Theranos, a biotech company. He is a lifelong bachelor (nicknamed the Warrior Monk). His medals include the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star. He is a Marine certified expert in riflery and pistolry. He once owned a library of 7,000 titles on philosophy and history. He is fond of quoting historical philosophers and military leaders, but he is also said to swear on occasion. (But Noonan suggests that Mattis comes off as tame compared to Donald Trump.)

Again, I emphasize, I think this is a dubious scheme, but Mattis certainly seems like the best man for itunless this third-party committee would consider running Ted Cruz for president as an even better idea, but they evidently won't. Nobody is saying anything about what Mattis's domestic policies would be. Maybe he has no fixed ideas on the subject, having devoted his life to the military. What does he think about Obamacare or energy policy or the nomination of the next justice to the Supreme Court? (On national security, how much of a priority does he think that hardening our energy grid against electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attacks should be?)

I am not ready to call for a third-party candidate because the nominating process is not yet complete. Let us finish one thing before we start another. Donald Trump has not won the nomination yet. No one should be counting their chickens before they have hatched. (Can I get anymore clich├ęs in here?)

Notable quote:
No one would have questioned Mattis if he'd slept eight hours each night in a private room, to be woken each morning by an aide who ironed his uniforms and heated his MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat). But there he was, in the middle of a freezing night, out on the lines with his Marines.”

—Capt. Nathaniel C. Fick, USMC, ret.
Here is a stripped-down resume, for what it is worth:

James N. Mattis was born in Pullman, WA, Sep 8, 1950.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marines as a raw recruit in 1969.
He earned a BA in history from Central Washington Univ., where he also took ROTC training, 1972. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Marines, 1972.

He is a graduate of two Marine strategic warfare schools and the National War College.
As a colonel and then a general, he served in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Mattis conducted both combat operations against, and negotiations with, the enemy in Fallujah. He is, on one hand, a strong advocate of winning hearts and minds, but, on the other, he once was chided for expressing his opinion that shooting bad guys can be fun. That dichotomy is perhaps summed up by the motto he gave to the 1st Marine Division, when he commanded it: “No better friend, no worse enemy.”
He led the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, an educational organization for combat training, tactical development and leadership. He then led the U.S. Joint Forces Command and was also the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (2007-2009) within NATO. (He was the last American to hold this job.)

Mattis led the U.S. Central Command (2010-2013), retiring from this position and from the Marine Corps.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Death In High Office: Patterns of Coincidence in American History (?)

Deaths of U.S. Presidents in Office

On the second to last day of March in 1981, nearly three months before the one hundredth anniversary of the assassination of President James A. Garfield, President Ronald Reagan was shot while walking toward the car that was supposed to take him to his next scheduled engagement. It is remarkable that the similarities between these two assassinations is rarely if ever mentioned, especially given the number of similarities.

The chief difference between the two incidents is that, whereas Reagan ultimately recovered from his wounds, Garfield finally succumbed to his on the September 19 following the assassination. Paradoxically, Garfield’s wounds were relatively less serious than Reagan’s, and, if somehow the two presidents had traded places across time in the very moment following their each being shot, President Reagan would not have survived in the hands of 1880s medical science whereas Garfield would almost certainly have recovered from his wounds had they been treated in the 1980s. Advancements during the intervening century in surgery, blood transfusion, and antibiotics would have made all the difference.

A rundown of the similarities between the two assassination attempts reveals that, although each similarity, separately, could be chalked up to unremarkable coincidence, taken together they are remarkable. Both presidents were elected in their century's eightieth year, and both were walking toward a mode of transportation—Garfield toward a railroad car at a Washington, DC, station, Reagan toward an automobile parked on the street in front of a Washington, DC, hotel—when each was shot twice in the torso by a pistol-wielding malcontent. Both assassins had been stalking the president and had delusional justifications for shooting him, which both confided to their journals, providing attorneys in each case with an argument for an insanity defense. In the case of Garfield’s assassin, the defense failed to save him from hanging a year after the shooting, but Reagan’s would-be assassin wound up in extended custody, saved by the fact that none of the 1981 victims died until years after his trial and, perhaps, because insanity defenses worked more often in the twentieth century than in the nineteenth.

The repetition of similar presidential assassinations one hundred years apart is not a novel idea. The ninety-eight year interval between the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy might be even less exact than the one between the attempts on Garfield and Reagan, but the case is more famous and there were as many or more coincidences between Lincoln and Kennedy. Both were elected in their century’s sixtieth year, both were in a sitting position at the time of their assassinations, both were shot in the back of the head, and both presidents’ autopsy reports were mysteriously lost. Moreover, Lincoln was succeeded by his vice-president, Andrew Johnson, while Kennedy was succeeded by his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson.

The deaths of presidents in office seem to have followed patterns until they stopped doing so, detracting from the otherwise uncanny impression that the patterns might have been predictive, which they evidently are not. Here are the facts surrounding the eight presidential deaths in office, combined with those regarding the assassinations that were either successful or came very near to being successful:

1. Andrew Jackson survived an assassination attempt in 1835. A man fired two pistols, point blank, at the president, but both misfired. The aged president attacked his assailant with a cane before police rescued the would-be assassin.

2. William Henry Harrison died from natural causes in April 1841, just days after his inauguration. (Rumor/ legend has had it that he was poisoned, but there is no proof of this.)

3. Zachary Taylor died from natural causes in May 1850, a year after his inauguration.

4. Abraham Lincoln, first elected in 1860, was assassinated in April 1865, less than a month after his second inauguration. (Lincoln had escaped several kidnapping and assassination attempts.)

5. James A. Garfield was assassinated in July 1881, just a few months after his inauguration. (He died in September.)

6. William McKinley, like Lincoln, was elected to two terms. He was assassinated in 1901, about six months after his second inauguration. (He both was assassinated and died in September.)

7. Warren G. Harding died from natural causes in August 1923, in the third year of his first term. (Rumor/ legend has had it that he was poisoned, but there is no proof of this.)

8. Franklin D. Roosevelt died from natural causes in April 1945, three and a half months after being inaugurated to a fourth term. (He had survived an assassination attempt when he was president-elect in 1932.)

9. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, the third year of his first term.

10. Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt in March 1981, about two months after his first inauguration.

Except for the death in office of Zachary Taylor in 1850, which stands outside of the pattern, there were presidential deaths in office every twenty years from 1841 until 1961 as the president who was inaugurated in those years almost regularly died in office despite there being no rational way of accounting for such a pattern. (I will speak loosely here, using the years of election and inauguration rather than the actual years of death when the patterns truly ended, for example, in 1963.) If we count the near assassination of Reagan in 1981, this pattern might have been expected to continue beyond the end of the twentieth century, but it ceased. Not only did Reagan not die in office, but George W. Bush, who was inaugurated in 2001, survived his presidency. There are always threats against the life of a sitting president, whoever he might be, but none of these that we know of has even come close to success since 1981. This might be a testament to the measures taken to protect the president. For example, by the time of Reagan’s presidency, the Secret Service detail protecting him had been especially trained to do the counterintuitive: deliberately step in between the president and a gunman trying shoot the president. Agent Timothy McCarthy received a bullet to the chest because he stepped in front of Reagan. The wound did not end his life, but it ended his career. That bullet might otherwise have entered the president’s body and been fatal.

Deaths of Vice-presidents in Office

What is hardly ever examined is the pattern of vice-presidential deaths in office; yet there is such a pattern, and it is rather noteworthy, although, like the presidential pattern of deaths in office, the vice-presidential pattern only covers a limited period before which it did not exist and after which it has ceased to occur. It is not surprising that this pattern has been ignored. For one thing, the pattern is just a bit over-complicated. For another, Americans have always treated the vice-presidency with remarkable carelessness, both in their choice of vice-presidents and in terms of the historical oblivion that they face, unless, of course, they go on to become presidents themselves.

Perhaps the president with the worst luck in keeping his vice-presidents alive was James Madison. His first vice-president, George Clinton, who had already served as Thomas Jefferson’s second vice-president, died shortly before his party met in convention to nominate Madison for a second term in 1812. Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, whose name survives in American politics as the origin of the term “gerrymandering,” was nominated and elected vice-president, but he died mid-term from natural causes. This left the vice-presidency vacant. (Until 1973, the vice-presidency would be left vacant when the vice-president died in office or when the president died and the vice-president succeeded to the presidency; the Twenty-fifth Amendment was passed in 1967 to allow the president to nominate a new vice-president.)

Not quite in synch with the pattern of presidential deaths in office, the pattern of vice-presidential deaths is, nevertheless, best seen in relation to the deaths of presidents, beginning not with William H. Harrison but rather with the seeming odd man out, Zachary Taylor. This complicated pattern needs to be sketched out in order to be revealed. Taylor died in 1850, having been inaugurated only a year and four months earlier (leaving his underrated vice-president, Millard Fillmore, with a mountain of seemingly insoluble problems on his plate, over ninety percent of which Fillmore successfully resolved, for which posterity has never given him due credit). Following Fillmore’s fulfillment of Taylor’s term, the next president was Franklin Pierce. Pierce’s vice-president, William Rufus DeVane King, was the first vice-president since Fillmore. King died after 46 days in office, never once having performed his official duties. (As evidence that Americans have a history of being careless in choosing vice-presidents, it should be noted that when the Democrats nominated him for vice-president at the convention, they knew very well that King was a sick man and that he would be unlikely to live out his term.)

The next president was James Buchanan, and if we cared, at this remove, we might be glad to know that neither he nor his vice-president died in office. However, the next president was Lincoln who did die in office, although both of his vice-presidents survived their terms in office. His second vice-president succeeded to the presidency. After Andrew Johnson finished Lincoln’s second term, Ulysses S. Grant was elected president for two terms. It was the second of Grant’s two vice-presidents, Henry Wilson who died during Grant’s second term.

Within this seemingly random chronicle, a pattern actually emerges: A president (Taylor) dies in office and his vice-president (Fillmore) becomes president; the next president’s (Pierce) vice-president (King) dies in office, and the next president (Buchanan) and his vice-president (John Breckinridge) survive office. A second cycle begins and a president (Lincoln) dies in office and his vice-president (Andrew Johnson) becomes president; the next president’s (Grant) vice-president (Wilson) dies in office, and the next president (Rutherford B. Hayes) and his vice-president (William Wheeler) survive in office. A third cycle begins when a president (Garfield) dies in office and his vice-president (Chester A. Arthur) becomes president; the next president’s (Grover Cleveland) vice-president (Thomas Hendricks) dies in office, and the next president (Benjamin Harrison) and his vice-president (Levi Morton) survive in office. Here there is a wrinkle because the next president was Cleveland who is the only president to have been elected to a second term that was not consecutive to his first term. If we regard Cleveland as the same man as he was in his first term (rather than regarding him as both the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth presidents, which is how he is conventionally seen) and ignore his disconnected second term, then the fourth cycle begins when a president (William McKinley) dies in office and his vice-president (Theodore Roosevelt) becomes president. (Here we do have a genuine exception to the pattern because McKinley’s first vice-president, Garret Hobart, died in office.) The next president’s (William H. Taft) vice-president (James S. Sherman) dies in office, and the next president (Woodrow Wilson) and his vice-president (Thomas Marshall) survive in office. (Although Wilson barely survived, spending his final years in office in extremely poor health.)

That marks the end of the pattern of vice-presidential deaths in office. A fifth cycle of this pattern almost seems to begin when a president (Warren G. Harding) dies in office and his vice-president (Calvin Coolidge) becomes president; but then the next president’s (Herbert Hoover) vice-president (Charles Curtis) does not die in office. After that, the next president’s (Franklin D. Roosevelt) three vice-presidents all survive, but, Roosevelt, partly because he is elected and reelected to four terms until after 1940, himself becomes the next president to die in office and is succeeded by his (third) vice-president, Harry S Truman. No more vice-president’s have died in office since Sherman in 1912, although one vice-president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973.
Patterns A and B

One way of looking at these patterns is to suggest that there are two patterns, one in which the vice-presidents die (Pattern B) and one in which they do not (Pattern A). Pattern A runs for only one cycle from 1840 to 1849, involving the administrations of William Harrison (who died in office), John Tyler, and James K. Polk, but it continues after three cycles of Pattern B from 1850 to 1920. There are then two cycles of Pattern A that run from 1920 to 1960. It is as if three cycles of Pattern B are sandwiched between three of Pattern A. Thus: A, B, B, B, A, A.

The pattern of presidential deaths in office continues until the failed attempt on the life of Reagan in 1981, at which point the pattern seems to have ended. There is no predictable pattern, however, because all of the patterns we have discerned ended in the increasingly distant past, disappearing just as inexplicably as they appeared. There have been attempts to make highly speculative explanations for the discontinuities in these patterns. I will indulge these notions only to dismiss them. An astrological theory is that all of the presidents who died in office are associated with Saturn in the earth signs, Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn. Apparently, Saturn was in air or fire signs in the years 1800, 1820 and 1980 when presidents who were not (successfully) assassinated were elected. Unfortunately for this theory, Saturn was in an earth sign, Taurus, in 2000. This astrological explanation for why the pattern has not continued does not work to explain why the pattern did not pick up again in the twenty-first century.

An even less orderly explanation (astrology at least has a mathematical regularity, after all) is that a curse was placed on the presidency by Native Americans. On whom was this curse placed in particular? William Henry Harrison or Andrew Jackson, both “old Indian fighters,” might be suggested. But this notion raises more questions than it answers. Jackson was not assassinated, though someone tried. Harrison died in office, but why would the pattern end by 1980? If the Pattern B vice-presidential deaths in office have something to do with such a curse, why? And why is it so complicated? Here, however, there is a marvelously imaginative suggestion as to why the vice-presidential “curse” might have ended. Pattern B ended with the election of Herbert Hoover whose vice-president, Charles Curtis, should have died in office according to the pattern; however, Curtis might well be expected to be immune to Native American curses because he was three-eighths Native American. Indeed, he was descended on his mother’s side from two chiefs, he was raised partly on the Kaw Reservation in Kansas by his maternal grandparents, and his boyhood nickname was “Indian Charley.” Clearly, a Native American curse cannot be worked on such a man, if we are to believe that the vice-presidential wrinkle in the patterns of death in high office is of Native American origin.

The bother is that both the astrological and curse explanations leaves much to the imagination and no pattern that will tell us anything about the future. The U.S. patterns of death in high office have always defied explanation. The one explanation that covers not only the patterns but the exceptions to the patterns (such as the death in office of vice-president Garret Hobart, which does not fit any pattern) is the fact that we humans, being dependent on our ability to see patterns anywhere, often see them everywhere, even where they do not exist. The Patterns A and B that we have been considering, most likely exist purely in the mind of the beholder. As remarkable as these patterns seem to be, in the real world there is likely not any meaningful pattern at all.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Republican Convention Rules: A History Lesson Relevant to Today

[Re-written to reflect updated information on Mar 29, 2016]

I must credit the attorney, author, editor, and conservative talk show host, Mark R. Levin, with many of the following historical insights that are relevant to this currently hot political topic.

The first Republican presidential convention took place in 1856. (The Republican Party had been founded in 1854, but that was not a presidential election year.) John C. Fremont was the party's first nominee, and, although he did not win, he was a strong enough third party candidate to prove that the GOP had a future (although it was not called the "GOP" until after the Civil War). In 1860, the Republican nominee was Abraham Lincoln, a one-term congressman who had run for the U.S. Senate but had no real executive job experience. (So, according to today's common prejudices about the necessary experience a presidential candidate must have, a man regarded as one of the country's best presidents would now be widely regarded as unqualified.) In the general election, Lincoln ultimately would benefit from the fact that the slavery issue had torn the Democratic Party in two, so that Lincoln ran against at least two major candidates and won with a plurality rather than a majority.

Lincoln was no shoo-in for the Republican nomination. When Republicans arrived at their convention in Chicago, William H. Seward (who is now best remembered for his decision, as Secretary of State in 1867, to add Alaska to the territories of the United States) had 45 percent of the delegates. Lincoln had some delegates from Illinois, his home state, and not much else. Here is where the story illuminates our contemporary controversy. Rule 16 of the Republican convention rules states that the candidate for president who hopes to become the party's nominee must have a majority of the delegates committed to him. Forty-five percent is obviously short of a majority, so Lincoln was able to benefit from the lack of a consensus in Seward's favor. In fact, Lincoln was able to pull some clever tricks to seat delegates in place of Seward's official delegates. He was helped, in part, by the existence of a "Stop Seward Movement" that was willing to entertain "anybody but Seward." On the third ballot, Lincoln won a majority of votes and became the nominee.

Today, Rule 16 still exists. (It occurs to me as likely, though I do not know this for a fact, that this rule is numbered "16" precisely because it was the sixteenth Republican Party Convention rule when the rules were originally being written. Since it was in effect in 1860, that makes sense.) Under the current system, the number of delegates that a candidate at the Republican Convention of 2016 must have in order to have a majority and become the nominee is 1,237 (50 percent + 1 of 2472). This means that the would-be nominee must have that number of delegates on day one of the convention if he or she hopes to become the nominee on the first ballot. As of (March 29, 2016), the front runner in the Republican race has 739 delegates, which is far short of 1,237. There are about twenty more primaries to go; so, he could pick up the needed delegates to make the required threshold; however, as Jim Geraghty of National Review points out, so far, the front runner has been getting about 46 percent of the delegates, and, if he only gets 46 percent of the remaining delegates, he will be at 1,170 delegates or 67 delegates short of the necessary 1,237. According to the “Rules Are Rules, and Tough Twinkies If You Don’t Have Enough Delegates” argument, that means the front runner will not have enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot, and everybody is in for a floor fight and more than one ballot. (That is called a contested convention, which is different from a brokered convention, which is a kind of contested convention where much is decided in backrooms rather than only on the floor of the convention.)

Even if the front runner does not have 1,237 delegates at the outset of the convention, he is not necessarily in trouble. Delegates are given different instructions by their states, but by the third ballot, most of them are free to vote for whomever they please from among the qualified candidates, even if it is not the person to whom they were originally committed. Enough delegates committed to other candidates could switch to the front runner to give him 1,237. (All could also go to another candidate, which is what happened in 1860.) The wrinkle comes when we consider what it means to be a qualified candidate. Traditionally, the candidate could be anyone, regardless of how many delegates they had coming into the convention. (Possibly even zero.) However, because of a rule rewritten in 2012 in order to prevent a candidate like Ron Paul (R-Tex.) from becoming the nominee despite not having many delegates, the universe of qualified candidates this years could be exceedingly small. Rule 40(b) (normally called Rule 40 for short) originally said that in order to be considered a qualified candidate, one must have won a plurality of delegates in five states. The text was changed four years ago from "plurality" to "majority" and from five states to eight. This would mean that the candidate either won in eight states where the winner took all of the delegates, or else, that in each of eight states where the delegates were distributed proportionally, he won the majority. (Or a mixture of these categories.)

The astute reader will remember that, in the early primaries and caucuses of 2016, there were as many as sixteen or seventeen candidates on the ballot, and, therefore, it was not unusual for a candidate to win the election without winning a majority of the delegates from that state, and even by as late as March 19, the majority of primaries and caucuses had not been winner-take-all contests. [As of March 29, the front runner has a majority of delegates from eleven primaries and caucuses. He has made the hurdle. His chief opponent, who currently has 465 delegates, has won a majority in only five contests, but his winning three more seems possible and even likely.] For purposes of Rule 40, winning the majority of delegates in one of the territories counts toward each candidate's majority-in-eight-states goal. This is why the candidates have taken what would otherwise seem an eccentric interest in such contests as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands where no one can vote in the general election.

Rule 40 has been under attack because, theoretically, it could prevent anyone at all from becoming the nominee, which is obviously absurd. If no candidate wins majorities in eight states or territories before the convention, Rule 40 would have the effect of rendering the front runner unqualified even if he did have 1,237 delegates. Unlikely, yes, but just possible. Further, it is possible and now even likely, that the front runner will have fewer than 1,237 delegates but have a majority in eight states. If the second runner has not won majorities of delegates in eight states by the convention, he will not be qualified to run on a second or third ballot. Even though, on the opening day of the convention, the front runner will be unhappy if he is short of the required 1,237 delegates, having made the eight-state threshold, he might turn around and become an advocate for not changing Rule 40 because it benefits him now.  Rule 40 could exclude every other possible candidate, not just the second-place candidate. If he has not won a majority of the delegates from eight states, then neither will anyone else have. Then no one will be able to oppose the front runner even if he does not have a majority on the first ballot, and delegates will have no other qualified candidate to vote for on the second and subsequent ballots.

In other words, if Rule 40(b) remains as it is currently written, there are four theoretical possibilities:

1) No candidate will be qualified. (By 3/29/16 the front runner had qualified.)

2) Only the front runner will be qualified.

3) Only the second runner will be qualified(!) (The front runner does qualify, this election year.)

4) Only the front and second runners will be qualified.

In situation number one, everyone would have been working themselves into a righteous rage even before the convention, and the repeal of Rule 40 would be absolutely necessary, throwing the convention wide open in the process. In situation number two, the second runner as well as the establishment party regulars, who dislike both the front and second runners, will be fuming. Most likely they will want to repeal Rule 40, but doing so would be transparently self-serving. The third situation cannot occur this election cycle, and I include it only because, under the vicissitudes of Rule 40, it could theoretically happen in the future, if Rule 40 is not repealed. In the last situation, the establishment will be jumping up and down with fury while the factions for the two qualified candidates will have relatively more nuanced feelings depending on what related circumstances seem most advantageous to each of them. Most likely, the second candidate and his supporters will be happier than the front runner and his supporters, especially if the front runner does not have the 1,237 delegates needed to win on the first ballot. The second runner would then be in a position to win over delegates on the second or third ballots, even seducing those initially committed to the front runner.

From the perspective of the establishment, the best move would be to remove the impediment of Rule 40, which, ironically, they were responsible for creating four years ago when it benefited them. The time to remove or rewrite the offending rule might well be before the first ballot, although I could be mistaken about that. If the same floor delegates who will be casting votes for the nominee are asked to vote on the repeal of the 2012 change to Rule 40 or repeal 40(b) entirely, you can see how the issue will not be academic to the delegates. Each will see his or her interest in which way they vote. It will affect who they can vote for on subsequent ballots. Changing Rule 40 will potentially hurt the two leading candidates, because it could allow anyone to be nominated in addition to the leading candidates. Without Rule 40(b), a person who has not even been in the race could be nominated in the convention and awarded the requisite 1,237 votes on the third ballot. (Such a stealth candidate is called a "dark horse.")

There is a question I wish I could answer but can't. What happens, under Rule 40, to the delegates committed to those candidates who have dropped out of the race before the convention? This much is fairly clear: Under the old Rule 16, the candidate with the third highest delegate total, who in this case has 166 delegates, could urge them to vote for one of the still qualified candidates on the second or third ballot. Of course, even without his urging, once their commitment to the candidate who won them in the primary or caucus expires, the delegates are released from their commitment and are free to vote for another candidate of their choice.  But I presume that this process does not apply to Rule 40. For example, the third-place candidate, who has already dropped out, won the majority of delegates from Puerto Rico. Suppose that the second-place candidate had won a majority of delegates in only seven states. If he wanted to, could the third-place candidate award his delegates from Puerto Rico, or could the delegates from Puerto Rico declare themselves, in favor of the second-place candidate, thereby giving him a majority of delegates in eight states? I doubt that the eight-state rule is transferable in this way, but it might be.

In conclusion, the Republican Convention of 2016 could be unsettlingly interesting and even exciting. Not adding the least to the cauldron of chaos will be the fact that participants will create much Sturm und Drang through both legitimate and illegitimate complaints. Ignorance of the rules is already causing a lot of nonsense to be uttered on news programs, even by presenters on the big networks who get mixed up in trying to explain it to their viewers. (Levin screened an attempted explanation of the GOP convention rules on NBC News and then commented on all the mistakes and contradictions that were made in the report.)

The supporters of the front runner seem to be upset already that the nomination might be won by someone who arrives with fewer delegates. This, however, is in accord with the party rules as established before 1860. The nominee must have the most delegates on the final ballot, not the most popular votes before the convention balloting. This is not to say that such an outcome will not cause disaffection and even hurt the prospects of the Republicans in the general election. No amount of explanation of the rules will convince the front runner's supporters that the nomination was not stolen from him if he does not get it. Manipulation of Rule 40 will give some credence to their protests. It is an excessively exclusive rule to begin with, but changing it at the last moment because doing so benefits the entrenched old guard who invented it four years ago will certainly cause an explosive controversy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

No History Without Language: A Selection of Historical Developments Among Words

There can be no history without language. More than that, language is part of history. If history is the study of change, then language has been changing continuously since before history was recorded. So, from time to time, I include topics from the history of language as part of this blog.

Language is a link between the mind, and the body, and the mind of another person. It is fragile, yet remarkable for its hardiness in spite of its fragility. Language is a paradox. Mechanically speaking, language is mere breath; yet its parts are made with different degrees of concreteness. Consonants like the sounds we represent with the letters K, G, B, P, F, V, T, D, S, L, are hard, sharp or liquid. One of the most remarkable discoveries of linguistics, the scientific study of language, is that there are pairs of sounds that almost regularly turn into each other. For example, a word that begins with a "p" can change into a word that begins with an "f." (And an "f" can become a "v.") Similarly, a "d" can also become a "t." Thus an ancient word that was pronounced "perd" or "pard" becomes "fart." While consonants can be whittled away through disuse, they tend to be more stable and persistent than vowels, the sounds we represent with the letters A, E, I, O, U. The vowels are so purely made of breath that they can and do change shape or even disappear entirely over time.


For a long time, I noticed that there are words that mean similar things or even represent two related but different concepts, yet the chief difference between their pronunciation is a mere shift from one vowel sound to another, and I wondered whether this was meaningless coincidence. It turns out that it is not. Take, for example, the similarity of the first three letters in each of these two words: PENtagon and PAN-American. A pentagon is a five-sided figure while Pan-American refers to all of the Americas or both the north and south American continents. Is there anything more than coincidence to the fact that both of these words or prefixes consist of P – (vowel) – N? Yes. These both come from Indo-European, one of the hypothetical languages that linguists have posited to explain why languages can be grouped together based on their deepest similarities. This P – (vowel) – N combination is found in both ancient and modern languages ranging from Asia to Europe, including Sanskrit and Greek. "Pen" and "pan" were originally the same word, and here is how they could have both of the meanings “five” and “all”: Look at your open hand and think, These are the fingers of my hand; there are five fingers on my hand; these are all the fingers of my hand. Over time, as people needed to be more precise, they began to distinguish the word for “five” from the word for “all” by pronouncing them differently. That, at least, is the simplified version.

 Language Rules

Grammarians write rules in books and on the blackboard for students to memorize. Some of these rules are as arbitrary as they seem. For example, they will tell you that it is improper to say, “I don’t know nothing,” or “Ken, he went to the store.” The first case is the famous one of the “double negative” rule. You are not supposed to use it in English. It is said to be illogical, because “two negatives make a positive.” Yet many languages actually require speakers to use the double negative. In Russian, “Ya neechevo nye Zna-you” literally means, “I nothing not know,” and it is correct grammar. Centuries ago, English speakers, too, thought nothing of doubling the use of negative terms to emphasize the negativity of their expressions, rather than to cancel out one negative with another. The accounting method of grammar was invented by eighteenth century grammarians. (I am not telling anyone to flout the now recognized rules of formal English; just be aware that it is arbitrary, and that, as the old politician said, there are times when it is correct to say “ain’t.”)

Similarly, the locution, “Ken, he went to the store,” is considered “common,” which is to say that many people say it, but not the people who have been trained out of it by hoary grammarians. One is supposed to say, “Ken went to the store.” Yet, in Japanese, identifying the subject and right away referring to it with a pronoun is not only allowed but expected of a proper Japanese speaker.

When you knock on the door, do you say, “It is I” or “It’s me”? If you have been made neurotically self-conscious by grammarians, you say the former but say the latter if you are a normal English speaker (no matter how well educated you are). Linguist John McWhorter is fond of pointing out that the pretentious character, Hyacinth Bucket (who insists on pronouncing her last name “Bouquet”) from the British sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances,” always says, “It is I.” And she is made fun of for precisely this type of affectation.

Yet language follows rules that are entirely unconscious and more natural. There are the simple nouns that never change form from subject to object. A dog is a dog whether it acts or is acted upon. The only change it goes through is the addition of an “-s” at the end when there are two or more dogs. That is the simplified way of treating nouns in English, and it is a relatively modern development. English was originally more complicated but became simpler over the last thousand years. A great many of the words in English once had different forms depending on their use in the sentence. An important descriptive rule is that the words that we use most often are precisely the ones that have resisted simplification. The plural of "man" is "men," not "mans." A child and his peers are children, not "childs." (This making of plurals by adding “-en” instead of “-s” reminds us of the old, old relationship of English to German, which still makes words plural by adding “-en.”) It demonstrates what a common occupation farming was when English became simplified that the plural of “ox” is still “oxen.”

There are several other words that do not become plural with either an “-s” or an “-en” ending. These include "goose," the plural of which is "geese"; "mouse," of which the plural is "mice"; and "foot" with its plural, "feet." Body parts, by the way, are very basic words and to some degree resistant to change. In the case of “foot,” though, I believe the development of “feet” as the plural might be a bit more complicated than what you might think; there was originally an ending added on to “foot” to make it plural, but over time the ending was dropped and the sound change that made the word plural shifted to the vowel sound between the F and the T. Something similar, I suppose, happened to “goose” and “mouse.”

A lot of words in English used to go through radical changes based on their use in a sentence, and while most of them have been simplified, some have resisted simplification. “I,” as moralists are always pointing out, is a word we use all too often, and this constant use made it almost impossible for it to be simplified into one form, suitable for all purposes. For example, “I” is the subject of a sentence while “me” is the object. It’s “I hit you, and you hit me,” not “Me hit you, and you hit I.” When something belongs to me, it is “mine.” The word/meaning for myself changes into almost unrecognizable variations depending on its use in the sentence. When I join with another person, "I" becomes “we,” and this, too, is inflected as “we, our, us.”

There is a price to pay for simplification. For example, most languages have two different words for “you,” one for addressing a single individual who is very familiar to us, and another for addressing multiple individuals or people we don’t know very well. We used to have this in English, too. “Thou” was for individuals close to us and “You” was for everyone else. We got rid of that, but now we sometimes miss it. After all, not only must we now express our feelings toward loved ones with the same impersonal word we use for strangers, but who can be sure when someone says, “You were angry with me,” whether he is speaking to you personally or to everyone standing beside and behind you? For this reason, some people in the early nineteenth century started saying, “You was angry with me,” to indicate that they were addressing only one person. “You were angry with me,” would only be used in an impersonal or group situation. If you are guessing that this trend disappeared because grammarians trained it out of people, you are right. We English speakers are forced to live without this nice distinction that graces most other languages in the world.

(By the way, notice how inflected the word “thou” is when we still find it in older works such as Shakespeare and the King James Bible: "thou" is always the subject of a sentence, "thee" is always the object, and "thine" is possessive – and parallel to "mine," as in “I, mine, me.”)

The above examples are pronouns and nouns, but verbs have become simplified, too. These action words used to be more varied than they are now, just like nouns. Linguists call verbs that strongly resist simplification “strong verbs.” Most verbs are “weak” in that they follow a very simple pattern when they go from present tense to past. “Today I talk, yesterday I talked.” Just add “-ed” to the end of the verb and you have it. This is the simplification that English has followed over the past thousand years. Any new words added to English follow this pattern. In contrast, strong verbs usually change the vowel sound within them. (Remember how “pan-” and “pen-” are related; changes in the vowel sounds are very common both as words change over time and, in this case, to adjust the meaning of the very same word.) An example will make this clearer:

Ring. Rang, Rung. That is, “Today I ring the bell; yesterday I rang the bell; and (also) yesterday the bell was rung.” The participial form, “rung,” can be used for several different verb forms, including passive, but it can be an adjective, too. “A rung bell is a bell that has been rung.”

There are only about forty strong verbs in English, or so I am told, because I have not seen the whole list. But here are a few of them. Notice that there are not always three different forms, sometimes only two.
Dive, Dove

Drink, Drank
Go, Went, Gone
Hang, Hung
Think, Thought
Wring, Wrung 

One of the most curious words on this shortened list is “hang.” It confuses many people because of the practice of hanging criminals. Some people are baffled as to whether criminals are “hanged” or “hung.” You will hear people say both, but which is correct? A simple history lesson explains the distinction. Apparently, the ancient Anglo-Saxons – the amalgam of Germanic tribes who came to England and are often spoken of as the originators of what we call English – did not punish their criminals by hanging. This is not to say that they did not have punishments equally or even far more cruel, but it meant that when hanging was introduced – possibly by the French – its novelty affected the native speakers of English so that they applied the word “hang” to it as if the word were being introduced into the language for the first time.

Now, “hang” was an old, strong verb, so it changed in meaning by changing its vowel. “Today I hang the laundry, but yesterday I hung the laundry.” “The laundry was hung.” (So were the stockings by the chimney with care.) When confronted with a new and very different meaning for the word “hang,” then, English speakers treated it as a new – and, therefore, weak – verb, and like all new words introduced into English, it follows the weak model.

Thus we should say, “The laundry was hung, but the murderer was hanged.”

And now you know not only which word is correct but why, and I hope that knowing why helps you to remember which is which, as it does me.

You might wonder whether the verbs that now end in "-ed" always ended in "-ed," or if they once had strong or irregular forms. It seems to be the latter case. For example, we now say, "Today I work, and yesterday I worked." The old, old past tense/past participle for work was "wrought." We can say that this is ordinarily not used anymore, but we cannot say that it is never used. In its participial form, we still use it as an adjective in terms such as "wrought iron fence," to describe a fence that is made of iron bars and other iron pieces that have been "worked" or "wrought" into shape and together to form a fence. A "set phrase" is what we call a term like "wrought iron fence" that consists of an archaic word that we would not use in ordinary speech but which we still use in that particular phrase to describe that particular thing.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Trump Not Necessarily a Shoo-In

Thomas Sowell’s two most recent columns state a problem with Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. “Everyone understands that the best chance for stopping Trump is for the fractured majority vote to consolidate behind one candidate opposed to him. But who will step aside for the good of the country?” He waits until part two of his two part argument to offer Ted Cruz as the best candidate but notes that the Republican establishment might prefer Marco Rubio or even Trump to the maverick Cruz.

I am not convinced that the GOP’s un-unified anti-Trump segment should despair yet. Due to stricter rules in some of the upcoming primaries and caucuses, Cruz and Rubio might together or separately deny Trump the number of delegates needed to win nomination on the first ballot.

Trump has done well in states with relatively open primaries or caucuses. He has not done as well in states with more closed procedures. (A closed process makes it difficult for non-party members to vote in a party’s primary or caucus, but the severity of these restrictions vary greatly according to state laws and local party rules.) Several strictly closed primaries and caucuses are coming up, and Trump might do less well than other candidates in these elections. The first states to watch are Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maine (which hold elections tomorrow as I write).

We will see four more such strictly closed GOP primaries or caucuses later in March, followed by five in April, two in May, and four in June. What is more, ten of these closed elections are designated “winner take all,” meaning that either the front runner alone or only the top two candidates will win any delegates. These races could mean that either Cruz or Rubio or both win enough delegates to deny Trump a first ballot win at the July convention in Cleveland. A second ballot could break the convention wide open because many delegates will be free to vote for whomever they like regardless of whom they were initially committed to vote for.

March Strictly Closed Primaries and Caucuses

Florida (Winner take all)
Arizona (Winner take all)

(One wonders how Trump will do in Puerto Rico primary on March 13.)

April Strictly Closed Primaries and Caucuses

New York
Connecticut (Winner take all)
Delaware (Winner take all)
Maryland (Winner take all)
Pennsylvania (Winner take all)

May Strictly Closed Primaries and Caucuses


June Strictly Closed Primaries and Caucuses

California (Winner take all)
New Jersey (open to independents but not to Democrats, Winner take all)
New Mexico
South Dakota (Winner take all)