Opinion: Republicans and Democrats voiceless in vote | Opinion | DW | 19.04.2016
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Opinion: Republicans and Democrats voiceless in vote

New Yorkers are deciding who they want to send into the battle for the US presidency. For various reasons, the parties' leading candidates cannot declare victory unless they earn clear wins, DW's Ines Pohl writes.

For the leading candidates of the US's two major political parties, there is just one rule: Barely winning isn't necessarily better than barely losing.

Donald Trump, for example, only has a real chance of heading the Republican ticket in November if he wins at least 1,237 delegates in the primaries - the magic number to bypass a potential floor fight at the Republican National Convention in July. If he doesn't beat Texas Senator Ted Cruz by a wide margin in New York, he will likely far short of that number.

Ines Pohl

DW's Ines Pohl

The situation is different for Hillary Clinton. Thanks to her superdelegates, the former secretary of state is well ahead of Bernie Sanders in the fight for the Democratic Party's nomination. Despite his recent wins, the Vermont senator poses no further mathematical danger to Clinton. For Sanders, it barely makes a difference whether he barely wins or barely loses.

Home state heroine

Though it would do little for her mathematically, a victory - or defeat - in New York would have an intense emotional and psychological effect on Clinton and her supporters. Should Clinton manage to just eke out a win in New York, she would have to ask herself how she might take the nation in November after barely receiving half her party's support in the state she represented in the Senate for an eight-year term.

That could also call into question how democratic Clinton's path to the Democratic nomination really is. Senator Sanders continues to collect popular votes, and Clinton could end up advancing to the nomination based on the support of superdelegates. In that case, the Democrats, as the Republicans do, would face an existential crisis. Without the votes to back it up, Clinton's nomination by the establishment would effectively confirm the suspicions of many that the Democratic process is undemocratic.

This would destroy people's trust in the belief that they have a choice. It goes against the base democratic promise: that power lies in the hands of the people.

Parties vs. people

Like the Democrats, Republicans are debating what to do if the choice of the people contradicts the preference of the party's establishment. Specifically, what to do if Donald Trump receives the most votes, as he is well on pace to do, without reaching the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination.

For too long, Americans have had the feeling that the people at the top of their parties have ignored them - and even denied them the righ to choose their representatives. Populists with simple promises are most successful at moments like these, which refocus the battle on personality rather than substance. In the name of fighting the Republican power structure, Trump has blurred the boundaries of what was once considered acceptable political speech.

In the United States, this development has more to do with the party structures than with the political process. But it also has to do with political caste. Early in the race, Hillary Clinton - the former first lady, senator and secretary of state - and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and the son and brother of two previous presidents, had presented the presidential process as a democratic decision between dynasties.

A lack of options is dangerous. Real choice is what keeps a healthy and vital democratic process alive.

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