Monday, April 18, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: “The fastest way to succeed is to look like you’re playing by someone else’s rules while quietly playing by your own.” Michael Korda
Welcome to the American Singularity.
As the number and frequency of Presidential primary contests has dropped, and Donald Trump’s chances of earning the requisite number of delegates to win the Republican nomination outright contracted simultaneously, the process by which national political parties actually pick their standard bearers is now garnering attention. In a normal election cycle, delegate politics are the purview of political scientists and maybe a few enterprising reporters who venture into Rules or Platform Committee meetings before the start of a national political convention. By now, most parties will have a “presumptive” nominee. Racking up early wins and the corresponding momentum typically winnows the field enough that the delegate discussion is moot.
But not in 2016.
Trump is bringing his giant spotlight and megaphone to the delegate process. His unique ability to focus the media’s attention and control the narrative through sheer volume of his noise has allowed him to start riling up the millions of voters who pulled the lever for him. Your votes are being stolen! The establishment is trying to keep us out! How delegates are chosen state by state is an arcane and confusing process to just about everyone. Networks are now sending correspondents to previously sleepy local conventions to try and figure it out. Trump is calling it out as one more example of a rigged system. “It’s a crooked process folks…” Trump said yesterday, “It’s not democracy.” He’s absolutely right: it’s not democracy, nor is it designed to be.
Know Your Party
Political parties are not public organizations. They are not governmental organizations. They are privately funded and privately run groups with very few actual members. The Republican National Committee, the controlling body of the Republican party, is made up of 168 people; that’s it. There are donors and staffers and the Chairman and all the state and local organizations that build out a national infrastructure, but even if you’re a registered Republican, it’s not really your party. It is the party with whom you have chosen to stand when it comes to choosing candidates for public office.
In the presidential process this private group serves as the foundation for how we will choose the next leader of the free world. They organize the convention, they help raise money, they deploy staff and organization to dozens of states all to help the GOP nominee win the White House. With more information than ever available to voters, we should not be surprised that Trump’s argument: if you win a state, you should win its delegates, is gaining traction. The GOP’s answer? These are the rules we’ve always played by. It’s Trump’s responsibility to know how they work. Both statements are true - that doesn’t make their “we’ve always done it this way” position a defensible one.
Banana (Daiquiri) Republicans
The six weeks following the June 7th California primary may be as tumultuous a time as the GOP has seen in living memory. If, as expected Trump has not secured the nomination, the fight over delegates and to whom they are bound will be an ugly business. Stories from individual delegates and delegations, some concerning, others outright disturbing, have begun appearing. And as you read them, like this one out of Indiana, it’s a reminder, even to someone who’s spent their entire life in politics, that there is a stark difference between republicanism (by which we choose people to represent our interests) and how the current process often works. If a Congressional district convention holds elections for its three delegates and only three people show up and are thereby win by default, is the system working? Half of life may be showing up, but the standard should be higher for choosing those whom we would ask to help us choose a president.
In an excellent Weekly Standard article, a bizarre story out of the US Virgin Islands further illustrates how relatively simple it can be to pervert the system. A Michigan-based political operative named John Yob (forthwith to be known as “Island John”) decided to offshore his business and his family. All things considered, a move to a Caribbean Island is the stuff you typically only see in retirement commercials. But Island John didn’t just sit around enjoying rum-based cocktails on the beach. No, as soon as he got there he rounded up six people (including himself and his wife) to run as a delegate slate under the “Uncommitted” banner in the Virgin Islands’ local nominating contest. They ended up winning, thereby allowing them to go to Cleveland as potential power-brokers in a contest where a bloc of six votes could mean the difference between the nomination and going back to Trump Tower. Is this a representative process? Does knowing the rules and how to manipulate them make it more or less legitimate? (Note: The Chairman of the USVI GOP has challenged Island John’s slate and the matter is now in court.)
It’s 2016, Folks
Is this really a system that still works? We have more options for more things than any people in human history. We can order just about anything on Amazon and have it arrive within 24 hours. We can order a car on our phones and it shows up in five minutes. We have 72 different ways to watch our favorite television shows. But we’re still choosing our leaders like this? Don’t we deserve better than the hegemonic duopoly the country has known for the last 150 years? The discussion around delegate selection fits into the narrative that so many Americans already believe: You think you’re in charge but you’re not. There are an exceedingly small number of people who control a process that you neither understand nor control. Trump’s argument ultimately isn’t about who represents the 16th Congressional District of Texas at the Cleveland GOP Convention. It’s about a system that only looks out for the Beltway Insiders and Party Poobahs. His argument has the distinction of being both atmospherically right and technically wrong.