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Turning to Turnout

Democrats need to understand that even a bad GOP candidate can win when the scales are tipped in his favor

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The Republican intelligentsia has apparently decided that to stop The Donald they must reluctantly support Ted Cruz. Lindsey Graham got with the program. He now supports Cruz, when only a short time ago he said, "If Ted Cruz were shot dead on the Senate floor, you couldn't get a conviction."

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It's difficult to believe that Graham or those of his viewpoint want Cruz to be their party's candidate; my guess is they're hoping that Cruz can gain enough delegates to prevent Donald Trump from winning before July's Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Their only hope lies with a brokered convention; somehow they have convinced themselves that they can control the outcome.

That's risky. The "just-trust-us" crowd's track record hasn't been impressive of late. They were so certain that Mitt Romney would win in 2012 that early on election night, they took the corks out of the Champagne bottles. More recently, the richest of them all, the Koch brothers (who speak for the plutocrats) spent piles of money on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, only to have him reveal himself to be a man of a stupefying lightness of intellect. Walker flamed out before making it off the Koch brothers' bought-and-paid-for political flight deck. And let's not forget Wasilla's queen of garble.

Which raises the prospect of the most dismal scenario: They stop Trump, only to end up on the second ballot nominating Cruz, a disaster for the party and for the country. Why is that? Clancy Martin, writing in The New Republic, makes the case that Ted Cruz "is much, much more dangerous than Donald Trump." He explains: "Trump supporters are looking for answers, Cruz supporters already know the answers. A fearful person may be made dangerous, but a cruel person is already there."

Martin observes that Trump and Cruz are appealing to different segments of the Republican Party. "Trump appeals to the disoriented and confused, the needy; Cruz is the candidate of the dogmatist, the moralist, the doctrinaire. Trump gets the voters who fear and adore; Cruz gets the voters who hate and resent. Trump is all show; Cruz means what he says. Trump wants to be everybody's boss; Cruz wants to be everybody's master."

Cruz has laid out his plans: He would toss out the Iran treaty, which would be a terribly destabilizing move. He would bring charges against Planned Parenthood. He opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. (He even opposes contraception.) He would dump the Affordable Care Act without having anything to put in its place. His position on immigration isn't that far off from Trump's — no amnesty and he, too, wants a wall. Cruz is a climate-change denier at the exact point in time that the world is running out of time to deal with just that. He regards shutting down the government to be his major legislative accomplishment. And, yes, he is hated by his own party leaders.

So how could the Democrats lose? There's only one way: low voter turnout. If Hillary Clinton prevails and Bernie Sanders' voters stay home, Democrats lose. If Bernie prevails and Hillary's supporters stay home, Democrats lose. It's as simple as that.

Todd Gitlin, in his book The Bulldozer and the Big Tent, points out that Republicans always start with a big Electoral College and Senatorial advantage. Consider: Since 1968, when they bailed on the Democrats over civil rights, Republicans have been able to count on 153 electoral votes from the former Confederate states. This means they only need 117 more to win the presidential election. Add Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma, and you get 20 more electoral votes for a shortfall of only 97.

Democrats, meanwhile, can count on New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California — 105 electoral votes. Every other state is in play, although Washington and Oregon, good for a total of 19 more, have become reliably blue in recent elections.

Then there's the Senate: 230 years ago, the ratio of the most populated state to the least populated was 12:1. Today that ratio is 70:1. Professor Matthew Shugart of the University of California, San Diego, studied the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections. Here's what he found: Republican senatorial candidates won 46.8 percent of the vote nationally, whereas Democrats won 48.4 percent of the vote. Despite that, Republicans controlled the Senate by a 55-45 margin. In 2000, Shugart notes that George W. Bush lost the popular vote by a half-million votes but won 30 states.

Or look at the 2004 presidential election, when Bush beat John Kerry in 58.6 percent of congressional districts, even though he won only 50.7 percent of the popular vote.

In 2006, Democrats netted 30 House seats with a national swing of 5.5 percent over their 2004 vote, whereas when Republicans picked up 6 points in the popular vote in 1994, that translated into a pickup of 52 seats. In our winner-take-all system, Republicans always see their wins magnified, their losses minimized.

Democrats start at a disadvantage, so they must win big to win at all. Republicans can win small and still win, even with bad candidates. Consider the implications for November. ♦