Give the followers of Ron Paul credit for this misstep by Team Romney. They apparently spooked the nominee’s campaign enough to provoke a floor fight over delegate control, which blew up in their face rather spectacularly yesterday. By the end of the business day, Team Romney had retreated to a compromise proposal that seems to be gaining a little momentum, but is still far from over. Jazz Shaw had a good analysis of the situation on Sunday, and yesterday the Texas delegation threatened to go into full rebellion:
Texans, who select their delegates through a voting process that often elevates grassroots activists, say the change is an affront to the Lone Star State.
“We believe in Texas as a principle that no presidential candidate nor the RNC should be able to tell Texas who can or cannot be a delegate to the national convention,” said Butch Davis, a Lone Star State representative on the RNC rules committee. “It’s not a plain vanilla political fight. It’s a fundamental principle that we’re arguing for.”
Davis said the battle is over fundamental freedoms and voting rights: “This isn’t Reagan versus Ford, Goldwater versus Rockefeller,” Davis said. “This is George Washington versus King George.”
“We won’t allow this control by Republican candidate to take place,” Davis added.
By yesterday evening, Romney’s team had backpedaled significantly, but perhaps not to the extent sought by the suddenly-angered delegates:
Jim Bopp, a conservative delegate who had led the opposition to Mr. Romney’s proposed rules, issued a statement on Monday, saying he was pleased with the compromise.
“The Romney for President campaign has heard the concerns of the conservative grass-roots voices in our party and has crafted an amendment to the rules adopted on Friday to address these concerns,” Mr. Bopp said.
Under the compromise, delegates would be selected by the state and local level without interference or control by the party’s presidential candidate. That would allow competing voices inside the convention, both sides said.
But in a nod to the concerns of Mr. Romney’s campaign, delegates sent on behalf of a candidate would be required to vote to nominate that candidate on the first ballot. If they tried to vote for someone else, their vote would be recorded for the candidate to whom they were bound.
We’ll come back to the concept of “bound delegates” in a moment. Today, BuzzFeed reports that Team Romney feels more optimistic about this controversy dissipating before a floor demonstration:
“It’s an evolving process and its going well,” Romney aide Ron Kaufman, a longtime RNC insider, told BuzzFeed Tuesday morning. …
“Everyone wants the same thing,” he said.
Romney’s goal, he said, was merely to allow the party more flexibility in changing its rules in responding the changing political circumstances, something Democrats can do now and which, he said, “gives them a political advantage.”
I understand the anger over the initial proposed rules change, but it springs from a ridiculous anachronism in the presidential nomination process in both parties: caucuses. Primaries almost always result in bound delegates, and they also reflect the will of the voters in each state; they also don’t take days to tally from handwritten sheets. Caucuses may allow for grassroots activism, but they also create embarrassments for the parties and the candidates, as we saw this year in Iowa, Nevada, Maine, and other states. Delegates selected in primaries represent voters of that state, while delegates selected in caucuses represent themselves. Which is actually more valuable to the process of nominating a candidate?
Why not get rid of them altogether — and get rid of nominating conventions, too? That’s what I argue in my column today for The Week. Here’s the practical argument, which is that the little remaining novelty of nominating conventions has been eclipsed by the Internet for at least a decade:
In the evenings, of course, conventions feature more provocative fare — politicians giving speeches. Before the advent of the internet, this may have provided a novelty for some Americans, who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to see a potential nominee speak at length, having had to satisfy themselves instead with sound bites provided by local and national news broadcasters. Today, however, every speech given by a politician lives forever on their websites, YouTube channels, Tumblr pages, and Facebook accounts. Not only can voters watch speeches at their own pace, they can also watch commentary on the speeches, read the transcripts, and debate their meaning on social-networking platforms — all with or without a national convention.
Perhaps this is why a Rasmussen poll this week shows that most voters have little interest in the national conventions of either party. Twenty-seven percent of likely voters will watch all or most of the Republican and/or Democratic conventions; only 16 percent of independents plan to do so. The likelihood of these being previously unengaged and undecided voters is not exactly high, and even before the convention coverage starts, 35 percent of likely voters believe the media has paid too much attention to them.
Nor does a convention seem to matter that much in the outcome of the election. Gallup reviewed the last 15 presidential elections and found that the candidate leading in their poll prior to either convention won 12 of the 15 contests. The three exceptions — 1988, 1992, and 2004 — had no particular convention issue for either party that suddenly boosted or demolished a nominee.
This floor fight is another reason to get rid of caucuses and nominating conventions, unless needed when primaries don’t produce a clear winner. We’re having a fight over whether bound delegates should vote as bound, at the same time we’re nominating the candidate who won overwhelmingly. Voters who cast their ballots in primaries certainly expect them to vote as bound, at least on the first ballot; caucus state delegates are (mostly) not bound anyway. All of this nonsense produces nothing but dissension, division, and uncertainty months after voters had their say, and just weeks before the general election. That’s not a system for success for either party, nor is it a system set up to do the will of voters overall.
Each party still needs a convention to handle rules changes and the platform planks, but that doesn’t mean that the nomination has to be part of the convention, either, unless the primaries don’t produce a clear winner. Voters mostly don’t care about the four-day pageants, nor do they make any real difference in the outcome of elections, but we spend tens of millions of dollars to stage them. Maybe we should seriously rethink this before 2016.