Monday, May 02, 2016

A Party, If You Can Keep It

If Donald Trump wins tomorrow’s Indiana primary, he will most likely go on to secure the majority of delegates he needs to claim the GOP nomination. And if he does, he will have earned that nomination despite the misgivings of many in the party.

However, if things don’t break Trump’s way in Indiana or down the road in California and other states, he may arrive at the GOP convention in Cleveland without having the 1237 delegates required by party rules to win the nomination. And if he doesn’t have enough delegates to triumph on the first ballot and subsequent ballots lead to a different candidate being nominated it will be a perfectly reasonable outcome.

What? But what about the “voice of the people”? What about the millions of voters who cast ballots for Trump across the country? Isn’t this supposed to be a democracy?

No, no it is most certainly not. One of the worst problems with the way that both parties select their presidential candidates these days is the illusion that the primary/caucus/convention processes the party follow are essentially the same as those that are followed in a general election. Many if not most Americans across the political spectrum have fallen for the illusion and believe it to be reality. The media has helped enable this by reporting on primary elections as if they were the same as general elections and rarely taking the time to explain the fundamental differences.

A key point which many fail to understand is that political parties are private entities. As such they can determine who can join their organizations and who will lead their organizations. This includes who will represent them in general elections. Nothing that they do in any of these areas has to fair, transparent, or open (unlike government entities such as the IRS-heh, heh).

If the GOP decided that the nomination would go to the candidate divined by Reince Preibus reading the entrails of a gutted sheep, it would be well within its rights to do so. Or the party could have the candidate determined by the type of smoked filled room Republican cabal featured in The Simpsons.

The point is that none of this have to involve the “voice of the people” or “the will of the voters.” The party should choose a candidate for the good of the party. Nothing more, nothing less.

In last Friday’s WSJ, Philip Terzian helped explain the roots of the problem in a piece called How George McGovern Made Donald Trump Possible:

Political parties aren’t branches of government. They have every right and reason to organize for success in general elections. Until very recently, most conventions in American history were brokered. Some of these were contentious, even rancorous, producing results that in historical terms—Lincoln, Eisenhower, James Knox Polk, Adlai Stevenson—were impressive. It isn’t unreasonable to believe that a party’s leadership has in mind the best interests of the party, and the country.

Have Republicans lately wondered why people who ought to run for president don’t, and why people who shouldn’t run for president jump right in? Read 1970’s Mandate for Reform. In a half-century we’ve gone from a shrewd, top-down selection process to a traveling carnival of the lowest common denominator.

It’s never been more of a carnival with a lower common denominator than it has in 2016.