by Jon N. Hall 4/25/16
The 2016 primary campaigns should serve as a major civics lesson for those Americans concerned about their democracy. Because of the unusual length of these primary contests, Americans are beginning to better appreciate the complex byzantine structure of the parties’ primary systems and their delegate selection methods, and there’s little about it that is democratic. Even guests on Fox News warn of the possible subversion of “democracy.”
What is lost on many Americans is the nature of the American political party. On Fox News, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-CA), an early Trump supporter, went so as to tell Gretchen Carlson this (short video):
But, remember, the GOP establishment, the Republican Party, are the people that are voting for Trump. I am not the Republican Party. Paul Ryan’s not the Republican Party. The people that are voting for Trump in record numbers, they are the Republican Party. And that’s why I don’t understand the talk about the GOP falling apart or the dissension. The people who are out there voting and they are the party.
Forgive Rep. Hunter for saying “the GOP establishment … are the people that are voting.” Surely, he didn’t mean to say that the voters are the establishment; that’s nonsense and Hunter merely misspoke. But what Mr. Hunter shouldn’t get a pass on is his repeated claim that the voters are the party. Are we to believe that Democrats, Alinskyites, radical leftists, and anarchists (who vote in the GOP primaries for Trump precisely because they think that a Trump candidacy would destroy the Republican Party) are the Republican Party?
If Hunter really thinks that the voters are the party, then he should be required to take remedial civics lessons. Political parties are private organizations; parties aren’t even mentioned in the Constitution.
But who are “the establishment”? There’s confusion on that score, too, but I’d say that elected government officials, especially those in Congress, are what’s meant by “the establishment.” So Duncan Hunter, you may not be the Republican Party, but you are a member of the Republican establishment.
The establishment is worried that the wrong person at the top of the November ballot will end their careers. Responding to speculation that the establishment might “parachute” him in as a “white knight” to save the GOP’s prospects, Speaker Ryan said he wouldn’t accept the party’s nomination. Ryan also opined that the nominee should be someone who ran in the primaries. That would seem to expand the list of choices to the original 17 candidates, which is better than just the final three. But why would delegates want to restrict themselves to 17, hmm?
Many Americans don’t really understand “democracy.” Democracy is the system where citizens get to vote on their government, especially their officials. But that’s not what the primaries are about. The primaries are about choosing whom the parties run to be officials. Real democracy happens in general elections.
On April 14, the Wall Street Journal ran “Let Me Ask America a Question” by Donald Trump, and it’s a fine example of the confusion many Americans have in understanding democracy, political parties, and the primary system. Mr. Trump asks America: “How has the ‘system’ been working out for you and your family?” The system to which Trump refers is the presidential primary system, and he doesn’t like it. Neither do I, but for entirely different reasons.
There is only one public official that the entire American electorate gets to vote on, and that’s the president. But because of the Electoral College, voting for the president in the general election isn’t really democratic. And voting for a presidential nominee isn’t democratic because the states have different systems. Some states have closed primaries, some have open primaries, some have caucuses, some have conventions, some are winner-take-all, some proportional, some have various mixes of bound and unbound delegates, some vote in February and some vote in June, and on and on it goes. How is the vote of someone in a winner-take-all state “equal” to the vote of someone in a proportional state? There never was much democracy in the primary system.
If general elections were conducted like the primaries, everyone would clearly see the dearth of democracy. Mr. Trump seems to think the primaries should be more like general elections. Perhaps he wants “direct democracy,” (at least until he’s elected). Perhaps Trump is running in the wrong party.
But candidates for president aren’t required to run under the auspices of a political party. If Trump decides to run as an Independent, i.e. unaligned with a party, then, given his penchant for democracy, shouldn’t the voters get to decide on whether he’ll be allowed on the ballot? Perhaps Trump is running in the wrong country.
The “system” Trump prefers takes self-determination and autonomy away from the party. The Donald seems to think there should be some one-to-one correspondence between the primary vote counts and the bound delegates, (perhaps he doesn’t think there should be any unbound delegates). But if all they do is rubberstamp the primary voters’ choices, why even have delegates?
There are thousands of Republicans in the national, state, and local Republican committees. There’ll be 2,472 delegates to the national convention in July, which is about five times the size of Congress. Are we to think that these people can’t decide on a suitable nominee without the input of the voter? If folks don’t like the nominee that convention delegates choose, then they can vote for someone else, or form their own parties, or even run for office themselves. Or they can be petulant boobs and sit out the election.
Delegates to the Republican National Convention would do well to consider that it was primary voters who chose those oh-so-successful nominees Dole, McCain, and Romney. And each of them got majorities before their conventions, so delegates dutifully “fell in line” and merely ratified the voters’ choices. So, to echo Trump: How has the “primary system” been working out for you, GOP?
I’ve been exercised about the primary system for quite some time; it makes little sense to me. In a 2009 article at GOPUSA, I proposed that “convention delegates ignore the result of the primaries, forget that they’re ‘pledged’ to a certain primary candidate, and engineer open conventions where they can choose, or perhaps draft, the best person.” Some delegates may be concerned about being “faithless,” as in not voting for the candidate they’re pledged to. But there are much higher things to be “faithful” to than a candidate, such as the future of one’s party.
In 2016, the most important Republicans in the entire nation are the delegates to the national convention. There, the 2,472 of them will pool their collective wisdom to put their hopes in one person. One hopes they won’t be swayed by the blather being spouted about disenfranchisement and democracy. Rather than deferring to the will of the primary voters, convention delegates themselves should select the nominee who they think is the best exemplar of Republicanism, who is best for the cause of conservatism, and who can win.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. • (542 views)