Americas - Issue 94 - Magazine | Monocle

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View from the campaign trail

No rest for the elected

By Sasha Issenberg

Presidential candidates rarely stay in the same place for more than a couple of nights so when Mitt Romney decamped with his family to New Hampshire for a week in late June 2012 the press took notice. Romney, after all, had spent months in the state before its first-in-the-nation primary (which he had won) and was expected to return often during the general election (when he would lose the state to Barack Obama). But this time, Romney had no political events scheduled. In fact, he would go the entire week saying barely a word in public; he was going on holiday with his family.

In presidential politics, June has always been the slowest month. The long winter and spring calendar of primaries and caucuses ends on 7 June, providing candidates with a brief respite before the summertime convention frenzy and autumnal sprint. Within campaigns it is a time for restructuring, leasing office space across battleground states and hiring people to staff them. (A campaign organisation can grow fivefold between primaries and general election.) At the same time, the presumptive nominee has become the de facto head of his party, allowing him or her the opportunity to stock the national committee headquarters with loyalists and shape its priorities.

Yet this June stands to be an exceptionally lively one. There is no scenario under which Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination before 7 June, when the final primaries take place in California, New Jersey and New Mexico. Even if he does reach the necessary threshold, there stand to be procedural challenges that leave in doubt exactly how many delegates he will control when the convention begins in Cleveland on 18 July. Ted Cruz has shown remarkable skill at manipulating the selection of delegates so that even those legally bound to vote for Trump as nominee will take orders from Cruz on procedural votes, potentially permitting a distant second-place candidate to rewrite rules that will depose the first-place finisher.

That represents a remarkably Byzantine path to the presidency and it has been 40 years since a nomination was settled in such a way. What has changed is the media environment and so machinations that once took place in private – or were chronicled in books and magazines only well after the fact – are likely now to be tracked and documented in real time. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has insisted he will fight until the Philadelphia convention in late July. Unusually he will probably have the money to keep an active campaign afloat, allowing him to keep a public profile even as he loses any real chance of victory.

Republican party rules mandate that states conclude their primaries and caucuses six weeks before the Republican convention is gavelled to order. Typically the nominee gets to control the convention calendar, from the atmospherics (stage design and theme) and the agenda (speaker schedule and entertainment) to logistics. (The nominee’s home-state delegation always seems to get the most desirable downtown-hotel assignment while others get banished to motels a long shuttle ride away.) All of these decisions are made with the expectation that, when paired with the choice of a vice-presidential candidate, the convention can be the last chance for a candidate to control the news without an opponent’s interference.

This year it is likely that those six weeks will be filled with epic disarray, as neither Trump nor Cruz nor John Kasich is handed the keys to the convention. If not, Republican party leaders will keep the responsibility, trying to appear evenhanded as they make decisions about the convention’s message without knowing who the nominee will be. The candidates will be busy lobbying delegates and scheming over the rules, all while trying to do the traditional work of selecting a running mate and preparing for the general election. It is unlikely anyone will have time for a vacation. “The conventions,” says Cruz pollster Chris Wilson, “start on 8 June.”

Current affairs


Some wounds never heal. That seems to be the case with the recent threat by Bolivia’s president Evo Morales to sue Chile in the International Court of Justice over a disputed border river.

The Silala originates in Bolivia but flows into the Atacama Desert – after being diverted in 1908 – where it feeds Chilean mining operations and some northern towns. But the real grievance is the Pacific. Bolivians have never forgiven Chile for the 19th-century seizure of a 385km strip of coast, leaving them landlocked. That dispute is the subject of another claim brought by La Paz, expected to be heard by the court in 2017.

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