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Electoral College: Thoughts About the December 19 Presidential Election at the Texas Capitol

Monday the next POTUS will be elected

As the nation rumbles at a low boil, I’ve tried to summarize my thoughts about how, as 2016 draws to a close, voters seem to be more aware of (and more alarmed by and anxious about) our weird Electoral College. I mean weird as compared to the systems of other democracies across the planet. 

In those other countries that choose their chief executive officers through a voting process, the highest offices are awarded via popular vote, but in the United States, the two chief executive offices are chosen by the votes cast by state-constituted panels of electors.

These panels are constituted and organized based on the result of statewide popular elections that take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and in Texas, as in 47 of the other states, those panels are organized on a principle of “winner take all” based on whoever won a strict plurality of the state popular vote. The panels then meet and cast their ballots on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which is the actual Presidential Election.

High levels of concern

This year, more than in 2000, 2004, 2008, or 2012, advocacy for dramatic reform in the constitutional process of Presidential elections has been loud and persistent.

The public level of concern regarding the Electoral College and the outcome of Monday’s vote has no direct historical parallel. The closest analogous election might be the 1876 presidential election, which in its divisiveness had raised concerns of a second Civil War (about that, see my historical note at the end of this post).

This previously unheard of public discourse—about “Hamiltonian electors” stepping up to exercise independent judgment and discretion to deny the office of presidency to an unfit candidate—is happening right now in a way different from the last 224 years of post-Twelfth Amendment Presidential contests because:

(1) There is a gap between the national popular vote, which favors Hillary Clinton by more than 2 percentage points, and the apportionment of electoral votes, which favors Donald Trump by a projected total of 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232.

(2) This is only the fifth time in more than 200 years in which the Electoral College vote has not reflected the popular vote. (The previous four occurrences were in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.)

(3) Trump is perceived by some conservative and most progressive voters to be unfit to serve (particularly as the Russia stories continue to pile up); and

(4) The anger of at least half the voters regarding (among other things) Mr. Trump’s nonexistent electoral mandate arguably exceeds in intensity and furor the amount of public scorn heaped on the winners of the 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 Presidencies—which I am shorthanding as “lame duckling Presidencies”—ugly duckling meets lame duck.

Save us, Electors, you’re our only hope!

Our Electoral College system has broken before, but arguably never so badly as it has this year. So now we have public pleas and hopeful invocations addressed to the members of the Electoral College to fix what many are calling our national mistake.

Many are asking the “Hamiltonian electors” to (in effect) mirror (or honor) the national popular vote. (The previous link is to the National Popular Vote initiative, a multistate legislative initiative to enact state laws that would enforce the selection and votes cast by state electors to conform to the national vote.)

To mirror the popular vote this Monday, 37 of the total 306 Republican electors would have to break their oaths to cast their ballots in favor of the candidates who won their state. The breach of tradition would be unprecedented.

Texas electors get a fair amount of attention on Monday because our state has a large population and a correspondingly large number of electors (38) out of the total of 538 electors. (The seeming correspondence between the number of Texas electors—38—and the margin of Mr. Trump’s expected Electoral College victory—37—is purely coincidental; each state’s electoral votes are calculated by counting up the number of Congressional delegates assigned to that state. Texas, with 36 members of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate, gets 38 electors.)

If the electors in Texas were to vote proportionately in line with the popular vote in this state, 20 of the 38 votes would be for Trump (i.e., 52.23% of 38, rounded up), 16 would be for Hillary Clinton (43.24% of 38, rounded down), 1 would be for Gary Weld (3.16% of 38, rounded down) and the remainder (1 vote) would be for Jill Stein (.8% of 38, rounded up).

So … is that what’s going to happen?

Uh. No. There is simply too much institutional, cultural, and, perhaps, other pressure on the electors to conform to prior tradition.

While electors are typically invisible political party functionaries and fundraisers who never enter the public sphere, two of the Texas electors are in the national public spotlight. One has resigned because of a moral objection to casting his ballot for Trump, and the other has indicated that he will not vote for Trump on Monday.

So I predict that on Monday when the results are announced, the Texas electors will have maybe one dissenting ballot, and the dissenter (a Republican Party loyalist who was chosen for his position as an elector by the Trump campaign team when the campaign office filled out its paperwork for the election late last year) will almost certainly not cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton.

Why are people so angry about all this?

So … let’s go back to our lame duckling President, put in office through a circumstance where the Electoral College vote doesn’t match the popular vote. In this context, which I will term for convenience a “broken election,” the President is installed by the Electoral College, but the disparity between the popular vote and the Electoral College outcome frustrates the will of those whose preferred candidate won the popular vote.

The reason why this election presents such a risk and challenge to our nation is different from (and worse than) than our previous “broken” elections for at least two reasons — the Russian interference (more on that here and here — but also, for balance, see The Nation‘s critique, here) and the growing evidence that the President-elect is so profoundly unsuited to hold office. 

Compare Donald Trump to the four other winners of the Electoral College who were also losers of the popular vote :

  1. George W. Bush — At the time of his Electoral College victory in 2000, Bush was the elected governor of Texas; while he was admittedly a policy lightweight, he had, by his duties of office, engaged in the basic functions of government oversight, such as legislative review, public speaking, policy analysis, staff management, and constituent services.
  2. Benjamin Harrison — At the time of his Electoral College victory in 1888, Harrison had represented the State of Ohio in the United States Senate for roughly one full term; while he had previously made unsuccessful runs for state office in Ohio, he was familiar with parliamentary procedure, bill drafting and analysis, the budget process, public speaking, staff management, and constituent services.
  3. Rutherford B. Hayes — Before he became President in 1876, Hayes was the elected governor of Ohio; while he (like George W. Bush) was a policy lightweight, he had proven himself to be a popular state executive officer with prior experience in government operations.
  4. John Quincy Adams — At the time of his election in 1824, Adams was the Secretary of State; while he had not previously been elected to an executive office, he had a lifetime of international diplomatic and government service under his belt, was supremely well-educated, and was a noted jurist, writer, and public speaker.

Neither Bush, nor Harrison, nor Hayes, nor Adams were as ensnared by financial conflicts of interest as Trump is, nor (arguably) were any of them as inexperienced and disinterested as Trump appears to be in essential principles of foreign policy, domestic administration, and actual governance — not to mention political checks and balances and other basic concepts of American constitutional law.

So there are broken Presidential elections, and then there is 2016. That’s why people are so upset; in his recent editorial in the Atlantic, James Fallows eloquently explains the foundations of despair.

What about the prospects of an electoral college revolt?

I have mentioned in a previous post that Professor Lawrence Lessig has published an idealistic constitutional argument as to why the members of the Electoral College should not cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

In advocating this course of action, Professor Lessig finds himself in the swelling ranks of a number of legal experts and public service professionals who similarly see the 2016 election as the most serious political crisis of our lifetime, and who additionally see a repudiation of Trump in the Electoral College vote as the only way we can save ourselves from disaster.

But people who suggest this revolt face a steep uphill climb, and not just because of tradition. An “exciting” December 19th Presidential Election creates two problems:

(1) Challenges to the Electoral College erode public faith in the process of the smooth and non-violent transition of power from one government to another. The Electoral College may be a stupid and weird procedural step, prone to this kind of brokenness, but it’s what we expect and are used to.

(2) The challenge to the expected Electoral College outcome is almost instantly reframed by supporters of Donald Trump as a petulant bad-faith refusal on the part of Clinton supporters to play the game by the rules as written. 

What the most hard-core Trump supporters need to acknowledge is that a broken election has subtle but important negative consequences for the winner of that election.

By failing to address the valid concerns of voters who favored the candidate who won the popular vote, the winning candidate makes the country more ungovernable.

All the winners of the previous “broken” Presidential elections faced this problem. Neither George W. Bush, nor Benjamin Harrison, nor Rutherford Hayes, nor John Q. Adams had as free a hand with the management of their administration as they would have if they hadn’t been elected with a metaphorical asterisk next to their names, and they had to accommodate this political reality. They all had to reach across the aisle.

And these historical loser-winners of the Presidential prize at least had some capacity (based on their own education, experience or sociopolitical awareness) to achieve this accommodation of their political reality.

In contrast, and heightening our fears for the future, Donald Trump seems emotionally and temperamentally unfit for the office, and we are worried (and I’m including myself in that “we”) that he cannot or does not know how to win—and more importantly, how to govern—with grace and a spirit of compromise.

Realistically, is Donald Trump going to get his 270 electoral votes on Monday? Yeah. I think so.

Whether or not he does, though, the only way we all get out of this intact is if he accepts the idea of a more blended power-sharing government than the one he erroneously believes and says that he has a mandate for.

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE

Let’s consider the candidates and issues involved in those four previous broken presidential elections, and see how those elections compare to 2016.

1. THE FOUR WAY SCRAPE OF 1824

In the only election determined in the House of Representatives following a failure by any candidate to receive a majority Electoral College vote, John Quincy Adams was elected over his nearest rival (and the winner of the national popular vote), Andrew Jackson.

The election marked the dissolution of the riven and internally fractured single-party system that had existed roughly since the War of 1812, and signaled the reemergence of a two-party system that would win Jackson the presidency in 1828.

There were four strong regional candidates for President, all running on the same party ticket, and all of whom won at least two states. With such a diffuse and fractured election, it wasn’t surprising that none of the candidates won a simple majority of the popular vote or the needed 131 electoral votes; Jackson came closest with 41.4% (and 99 electoral votes), Adams had 30.9% (and 84 electoral votes), Clay had 13% (and 37 electoral votes) and Crawford had 11.2% (and 41 electoral votes). By the terms of the Twelfth Amendment, Jackson, Adams, and Crawford, as the top three electoral vote winners, would be elected by the House of Representatives, with each state delegation getting one vote.

Voters who favored Jackson were not happy that their chosen candidate was “robbed” of office by the House of Representatives; Henry Clay, as Speaker of the House, threw his legislative support to Adams in return for a cabinet position; this “corrupt bargain” gave fuel to Jackson’s supporters to engage in four years of running political warfare with the Adams administration.

In contrast to 2016, all four of the candidates running for President in 1824 possessed reasonably strong political pedigrees, education, and experience for public office.

Adams was Secretary of State, and as the son of President John Adams, he had spent his formative years in overseas diplomatic postings, spoke multiple European languages fluently, negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, was an accomplished scholar and writer, and a witty, thoughtful and erudite expert on international law and relations.

Jackson was a U.S. Senator, the former military governor of Florida, and a nationally famous military strategist and hero following the Battle of New Orleans.

Crawford was the Secretary of the Treasury, former Secretary of War, former U.S. Senator and President Pro Tempore, and former state legislator with a lifetime of public service and legal experience.

Henry Clay was the Speaker of the House, having had a long career and influential career in Congress and previously in state government as a powerful and skilled orator and legislative expert.

As hard as these candidates fought with each other, and as bitter as the 1824 election may have been, none of these four potential Commanders-in-Chief had political or personal baggage that could be compared to Trump’s “negatives.”

To the extent that the election in February 1825 in the House of Representatives was constitutionally fraught, it was because Clay bargained for a cabinet position because he hated Jackson, not because the integrity of the election process was tainted by foreign interference.

2. THE SHAME OF 1876

In the shadow of the Civil War, violence against black voters and rampant corruption in the Ulysses Grant administration came the 1876 contest between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, the most serious post-Civil War constitutional crisis the United States has ever experienced, and one which came dangerously close to reigniting open warfare and rebellion over the unsatisfied grievances of defeated Southern pro-slavery sympathizers.

This was an election so fraught with connivance and error that all we know for sure is that Tilden won the popular vote, probably as the consequence of intense and violent suppression of the black vote in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida; of the electoral votes, 20 remain intractably indeterminate (partly because executive control of the state electoral colleges was disputed in a number of states and two sets of electoral returns were submitted by the governments of Oregon, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida).

In January of 1877, Congress passed a law creating a bipartisan Electoral Commission to award the missing electoral votes. Armed conflict seemed likely, and military defenses were strengthened around Washington D.C.; ultimately, Hayes was granted the 20 missing electoral votes in return for a compromise where Congress ended military oversight and removed federal troops from former Confederate states.

Hayes as governor of Ohio was the less well-known candidate, and was widely regarded as having a fairly thin resume of government experience. Nevertheless, he had served with distinction in the U.S. Army during the Civil War and was a popular executive officer in his home state.

Tilden, as governor of New York, was much more well known nationally as a “good government” reformer, and as the prosecutor who had cleaned out the corruption in Tammany Hall.

But as weak (in terms of public perception or media attention) as Hayes may have been compared to Tilden, he was an elected public official with experience as a state executive officer, and hardly comparable to a failed real estate mogul without any prior knowledge or understanding of government.

3. THE DIRTY SQUEAKER OF 1888

In the 1888 election, the incumbent Grover Cleveland won 48.6% of the popular vote to Benjamin Harrison’s 47.8%. Harrison nevertheless won the Presidency by a combination of hard campaigning in key states and the help of a corrupt New York political machine. Cleveland in effect lost his home state and the advantage of incumbency by failing to counter Harrison’s machine.

While Harrison was not a particularly strong candidate (in terms of the qualifications of experience) in comparison to a sitting President, he was a member of the U.S. Senate with a long record of public service.

4. FLORIDA, 2000

In the 2000 election, Al Gore won 48.4% of the popular vote to George W. Bush’s 47.9%, but lost by a thin, hanging chad of electoral votes in large part because of a partisan U.S. Supreme Court decision to foreclose further review of the Florida electoral process in the face of an extremely close statewide vote tally.

Given the recentness of the 2000 broken election, and the untidiness and unseemly way in which the 2000 election was resolved, voters who are upset with the 2016 election are making frequent references to the 2000 election, seeking parallels and citing the election for its relevance to the question of constitutional reform of the presidential election process.

In one sense, 2000 wasn’t as messy as 1876; the 2ooo election involved a systemic failure of election procedures in just a couple of states, and there was no credible risk that the Civil War would be reignited. Though violence and intimidation were certainly present in Florida during the abortive recount process, the risk of a nation-wide military conflict was essentially nonexistent.

And in another sense, 2000 wasn’t as messy as 2016; while the winning candidate had a weak résumé in comparison to that of the incumbent Vice President, at the time of his election he held office as the elected chief executive officer of a populous state.

Recent Texas Election Stories You May Have Missed (2016 December 14)

My apologies for having not posted more frequently lately; I guess the impending collapse of Western Democracy has been leaving me feeling a bit unmotivated. (More about that in a later post). Here are a few quick links to catch up on some Texas election news:

I. TEXAS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS DO THEIR THING

The San Angelo Standard-Times has this story about two defections from the slate of Texas electors who will meet to cast their ballots in the Texas Capitol on 2:00 p.m. on December 19.

I’ll unpack this story in a separate post because it deserves more scrutiny (what with democracy teetering on the brink and all), but essentially the Standard-Times story repeats the received experiential wisdom of many election experts — that nothing exciting or new is going to happen with the Electoral College, because nothing exciting or new ever happens with the Electoral College.

The story notes in passing that Republican state officials are now considering legislation to punish any future so-called “rogue electors” in response to the defections. The text of the proposed bill (H.B. 543, filed by Representative John Raney) is here, and as currently drafted, the bill imposes a $5,000 fine on electors who fail to vote the party line.

II. IS THE TOWN OF BROCK EVEN REALLY REAL?

From the Palestine Herald-Press, this story about a dispute between the newly incorporated village of Brock and the city of Weatherford, regarding a proposed May 2017 election in Brock to choose a mayor and city council. The problem here is that when Brock incorporated, it did its incorporation election “wrong” by failing to include an initial slate of city officials in the ballot. Oops.

So the Weatherford city attorney is taking the position that the proposed May 2017 municipal general election in Brock is illegal. Meanwhile, the attorney for the putative legal entity (the town of Brock) is arguing in effect, “well, what exactly are we supposed to do? We got a judge to order a make-up election to fix our mistake, and we have to have a city council at some point, right?”

At heart, I suspect this is really a fight driven by the zero-sum game of local property tax revenue — another taxing entity in the county means another governmental competitor for statutorily limited tax dollars (because of the tax rate ceiling cap on local tax assessments).

In effect, the City of Weatherford’s attorney is saying that the town of Brock never really incorporated, because the town’s incorporation election was such an error-strewn screwed-up mess. Those are technical legal terms, by the way.

III. WHAT IS GOING ON IN KAUFMAN COUNTY?

From InForney.com comes this story about a newly elected county commissioner submitting paperwork to decline the oath of office. Greg Starek campaigned actively for the post in the March 2016 Republican Party primary, and (as with most Republican candidates in Kaufman County) was unopposed in the general election. The story gives no indication as to why Mr. Starek is now declining the seat, which will need to be filled by appointment. The lack of details means my curiosity about the circumstances is unsatisfied.

IV. SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS IN THE VALLEY ARE ALWAYS EXCITING!

From McCallen’s The Monitor comes this depressingly familiar story of alleged election fraud in a Rio Grande City school district election. And of course, it involves mail-in ballots.

The losing candidates (who ran together on a slate referred to as the ‘U.S.S. Restore’ team) allege that the winning candidates (who ran together on a slate referred to as the ‘Kid’s Choice’ political team) relied on 200 forged or unsigned mail ballots to carry the election, and also that election workers improperly harassed voters who requested “assistance” from campaign workers in casting their ballots.

Like I said, this is depressingly familiar, even in the weird details of the election’s alleged “wrongness.” There’s the allegation of ballot farming and signature forgery. There’s the partisan factionalism, a feature of Valley politics that we don’t generally see in more settled and sleepy school board elections in other parts of the state. There’s the fight over the legitimacy of the commonplace but fundamentally icky practice of campaign workers “offering assistance” to voters in the polling place.

And the weirdest element of the story for someone not living in the Valley may be the intensity and scorched-earth rhetoric of the criminal allegations in an election where by law (per Section 11.061(d), Texas Education Code) the winners earn no salary or other emolument and have what in most communities is perceived as the largely invisible, dull, and thankless job of running a school district (as an illustrative example of this observation, note the summary descriptions of cancelled unopposed trustee elections and elections with unfilled seats in this October 2016 Waco Tribune story about independent school district elections in and around the Waco area).

As is so often the case, the story “behind the story” is left untold. Again, it’s about money, and not just whatever income the school district can derive from the admittedly limited local property tax base, but also the money redistributed to Rio Grande City CISD by the Texas Education Agency. In a community of limited resources, control of that money is a matter of intense, all-consuming importance, to the point where elections become epic no-holds battles.

#Trump’s Twitter Problem: Life In “Post-Truth” America

Our presumptive President-Elect chose to take time out from his Sunday (November 27) to inform us via Twitter (with no evidence) that millions of people voted illegally, and that but for those illegal votes, he would have won the popular vote nationally. (As of this writing Hillary Clinton is more than 2,200,000 ballots ahead of Trump in the popular vote).

To repeat: Mr. Trump made this statement based on absolutely no evidence, and in the teeth of overwhelming rebutting evidence that what he has said is simply and unequivocally false.

Not to mention that he has in the space of a couple of inflammatory Tweets managed to insult the professionalism and intelligence of every county and state voter registrar, election worker, poll watcher, precinct judge, county elections board member, and state election officer in the country, not to mention every—or at least 3 million—of us voters.

If this is what we have to look forward to for the next four years, the ratings for Trump’s reality TV version of the federal government should be through the roof, right? So at least we have that going for us. It’s obscene—if understandable; this is the PEOTUS, after all— that this story got any traction at all.

But first, given that in my last post I opined that the Clinton campaign would be unlikely to seek recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and given that events have proven my opinion to be wrong, let’s address the decision by the Clinton campaign to piggyback on the Jill Stein campaign’s recount requests.

General counsel to Hillary for America Marc Elias (via a statement posted on Medium, and as quoted extensively in Rick Hasen’s blog) makes it clear that Hillary Clinton is wholly realistic about the likelihood that the recounts will not change the outcome of the election, but that such recounts should prove useful as audits of the accuracy and integrity of the election process and to settle fears regarding the risks of result-changing “hacks.”

Briefly, the Clinton campaign would not have pursued recounts but for the fact that

(1) The Stein campaign raised the money and filed the paperwork to get the ball rolling, and

(2) Voters were collectively so disturbed and agitated by evidence of foreign meddling and interference in the election that it made sense for the Clinton campaign to join in the recount effort in order to bring closure to the election.

So why did Stein’s campaign ask for recounts in the first place?

I don’t know—I guess it’s possible that the Stein campaign coordinated with the Clinton campaign, but that seems unlikely, given that neither campaign will benefit in any direct political way from behind-the-scenes cooperation.

I suspect that the Stein recount was motivated by no more than what it seems to be on its face—a grassroots-driven gift propelled by very real and understandable anxiety on the part of committed Stein supporters who could not have been happy with the idea of a Trump victory, especially if it was the result of some sort of direct interference or manipulation of the vote totals in key precincts.

Finally, Paul Musgrave, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has written a nice summary explanation as to why Russia benefits—at least in the short term—from all this anxiety.

 

So – Am I Being Too Hard On The Republicans?

A few posts ago, in a fit of pique, and in the context of Donald Trump’s relative success as an early front-runner among the potential Republican Party candidates running for that party’s 2016 presidential race nomination, I referred to the Republican Party as the “Party of Apartheid.” My wife believes that this rhetorical flourish stepped over a line (the invisible line of “I am trying to get a job and not look like a crazy person by insulting people needlessly.”) (P.S. I am seeking employment.)

The thing is, when I wrote that line, I didn’t actually think I was being particularly provocative or insulting. In the past, I’ve referred to the Republican Party as having a distinct intra-party segment or wing that could fairly be described as neo-segregationist, and for my own enlightenment, I’ve traced the history of the Republican Party’s post-1964 Faustian bargain known as the “Southern Strategy,” in which the party absorbed the explicitly pro-segregationist Southern Dixiecrats who felt abandoned by the Democratic Party. (For an introductory overview of the evolution of the “Southern Strategy,” this Wikipedia article is a good start. Also good is this recent short article by Professor Elwood Watson on GOP engagement with racial politics.)

The Southern Strategy was wildly and overwhelmingly successful, by the way. By welcoming the tattered remains of conservative Southern Democrats into their folds, the Republican Party decisively conquered local, state, and Federal offices throughout the South, particularly with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan.

Why did the strategy work so well? Think about it. It’s not as though the Federal judicial and legislative triumph of the Civil Rights Act waved a magic wand and made all the segregationists disappear, just because the formal mechanisms and legal framework of segregation itself had been abolished. The segregationists had to go somewhere.

Nevertheless, in a nod to those who may have felt individually singled out or insulted by my analysis of the Republican Party as an institution, I should acknowledge that the act of labeling a person, group, association, or political party as racist is rhetorically inflammatory, even when that person, group, association, or political party is objectively racist. The fact that racist individuals do not (generally) relish self-identification as racists should be seen as a positive recent development in American political discourse.

As politicians of all parties and ideological positions learned over the iterative process of attempting to win elections in the United States, starting with post-Reconstruction and moving forward through the Civil Rights era, one had to be sensitive to the ways in which threatened conservative white voters preserved their sense of self-worth as human beings in the face of cognitive dissonance on being told that they were horrible people for being bigots.

I suspect that for individual bigots (i.e., ultimately all of us, since we all have our own internal unsupportable prejudices), bigotry involves a constant gauging of social acceptability and peer status in terms of feelings about a prejudice, with an internal, unspoken tug of war between a personal racist assertion born of culture, background, and experience (say, something like an unspoken feeling that, “I hate minorities,” or “I hate poor people,” or “I hate people who are different from me.”) and a questioning of that personal racist assertion, (something like, “Do I really hate minorities? What about Colin Powell? He’s identified as a minority based on racial classifications, but he’s also a former member of a Republican Presidential administration. Do I hate Colin Powell? If I do hate him, is it because he is identified as belonging to a racial minority, or do I hate him for reasons unrelated to his identification as a racial minority? Do I hate Condoleeza Rice? She’s also a former member of a Republican Presidential administration. If I discover on self-examination that I do hate Condoleeza Rice, does my realization affect how I see myself interacting with a community of my family, friends, coworkers, and peers?”)

So a person might go from thinking, “I hate minorities.” to thinking, “I thought I hated all minorities. But other people who share my views appear not to hate Condoleeza Rice, either because (a) they don’t regard her as being a hated minority, or (b) because they don’t hate minorities. Now either I don’t know if I hate Condoleeza Rice, or my global hatred of minorities must be modified and altered because Condoleeza Rice lacks some element of unacceptability in the eyes of my peers. Perhaps I don’t hate Condoleeza Rice despite the fact that she is identified with a minority group, either because she transcends that group, or because I don’t really hate minorities.”

Among some groups (say, for example, the most extreme white supremacists), the peer consensus would support continuing to hate Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, or other nationally famous black political conservatives, solely on the basis of race – these groups and the individual bigots within these groups would then be compelled to distance themselves even further from their more moderate ideological peers, at a cost in terms of their self-identity and self-perceived social value and acceptance. When pressed on their rationalizations for their inability to not hate individual black conservatives, they would have to fall back on some distinguishing factor or quality specific to cultural determinations of say, Condoleeza Rice’s identification as a member of a minority group that she can never overcome; one could imagine a White Power gang member or a Klu Klux Klan member saying, “Oh, we can’t make an exception in our general worldview on behalf of Condoleeza Rice because of [some rationalization supporting the universality of our hatred for blacks].”

Among other groups (say, for example, conservative whites who have internalized a capacity to interact on civil terms with members of racial minority groups), the internal dialogue on race comes to a different conclusion than it does for more “doctrinaire” racists. A rural Southern bigot who has personal experiences of professional and social dealings with members of a nominally hated group might think. “Wait. I’m not a racist after all, because I don’t hate Condoleeza Rice. In order to actually be a racist, it would be necessary for me to hate Condoleeza Rice. Q.E.D., I’m open-minded. Thank goodness I’m not a racist, because self-identification as a racist comes with a number of unacceptable social trade-offs and costs that I’m not willing to be burdened with.”

Such a person, having experienced relief at not having to self-identify as racist, would read my labeling of the Republican Party as the “Party of Apartheid” (or more accurately, my use of that label to suggest that Donald Trump’s success in the early running among possible Republican Party candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination demonstrates segregationist vigor within the Republican Party) as deeply offensive. “How dare that horrid little election law attorney paint me with the broad brush of brutal South African racial apartheid, just because I happened to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012! I’m no racist! I don’t even like Donald Trump!”

Here’s where its important for readers not to conflate their own personal self-identification with the ideological positions and strategies of the groups that they are members of. The fact that I can regard the Republican Party as effectively repositioning itself as the Party of Apartheid does not mean that I think individuals who label themselves as Republicans are consequently automatically in favor of neo-segregationist policies, or that I think that all (or even very many) Republicans are white supremacists, or that they even agree with or approve of their party’s general position on any matters associated with race.

If that isn’t clear, let me repeat it. As a shorthand expression of someone’s moral qualities, policy views, or personal ethics, I find party affiliation to be a completely meaningless and useless label in the abstract. There are Republicans in South Texas who would be vilified as bomb-throwing members of the Communist Politburo by hard right-wingers. There are Democrats in the Texas Panhandle who would be satirized as fire-breathing ultra-right Fascists by hard left-wingers. If someone shakes my hand and tells me, “I’m John Doe, Republican,” I don’t think, “Oh, John Doe, you must be a racist.” In fact, I don’t make any judgment at all until John Doe actually tells me what he thinks and shows me how he acts.

It’s not even the case that any Republicans necessarily wanted or welcomed segregationists into the Republican Party after 1964. In 1968, George Wallace ran for President on the Firebreathing Racist ticket because the Party of Lincoln didn’t want him, and the Democrats had evolved away from him. But as I said, the segregationists had to go somewhere, and ours is a nation institutionally constructed to preserve a two-party political system.

When a group gets the boot from one party, they only have one option – joining the other party. They have to swallow their pride, alter their rhetoric, philosophically make their peace with the realignment, and move on with their lives. That’s what the segregationists did after LBJ (in the most dramatic political masterstroke since the Emancipation Proclamation) broke the power of the Southern Congressional delegation.

What’s interesting about the inevitability of Donald Trump’s current success is that reflects a new sophistication in the segregationist platform; one that (wisely) steers away from the tired, moribund, and politically impotent anti-black racism of the Old South, and instead energizes a more cosmopolitan national nativist racism that plugs into a nuanced hatred of an amorphous and threatening “other.”