You could see it scattered across multiple headlines by Sunday night. Trump LOSES weekend delegate fight in five states! To read these ledes and the twitter feeds of the #NeverTrump crowd you’d have thought there were nearly a half dozen elections you somehow slept through and Trump had been trounced in all of them. The reality, of course, is that there weren’t any public elections and the only time Trump was actually beaten anywhere in recent memory was in Wisconsin. But what Trump was losing at was the race to collect delegates who are loyal to him and will willingly carry his banner into the convention in Cleveland.
The argument which has sprouted from this delegate curation process has been dismaying to observe, though not because of the first argument put forth by all of Trump’s attackers. The typical response to complaints from Trump supporters who claim that the nomination is being “stolen” is to say that these are the rules, and if Trump wanted to play the game he should have known them. Let’s set a baseline here by saying that I agree with that simple statement of fact. Ted Cruz is not “cheating” in any way shape or form. He’s playing to win and doing so within the constructs of the system as it exists today.
But having said that, I have a favor to ask of all my friends currently doing (potentially premature) end zone dances on the grave of Trump’s nomination prospects. Even as we agree that the rules are what they are, can we at least set aside the specifics of this election cycle and your distaste for the Manhattan businessman and be honest enough to also agree that many of those rules suck? This earnest conversation only works with the caveat that we clearly can’t (and probably shouldn’t) do anything about it this year and agreeing with me won’t endanger your chances of “stopping Trump.” We’re talking about the future here. These rules, which only apply to a certain number of states, aren’t just flawed: they’re embarrassing.
Remember back when conservative writers – many of whom rest on high perches in the #NeverTrump movement today – complained bitterly about how establishment party insiders were railroading their own base and forcing moderate candidates on us? Ah, good times, my friends. Good times. We were assured that our losses in 2008 and 2012 could largely be explained by the fact that the GOP elite around the nation were ignoring their own voters and rejecting conservative candidates in favor of “more electable” centrists. The nation, we were told, hungered for a real conservative, but The Man was holding the door shut. In 2016, however, the worm has turned cartwheels and the narrative has changed dramatically.
The events in Colorado have probably drawn the most attention since the voters never had a full primary election where they could directly weigh in. Attempts to describe this as “grassroots” activism are laughable at best, even when it’s being labeled as Scenes of a Political Revolution. Pleased observers refer to these machinations as evidence that Trump simply has a weak ground game. And it’s being repeated in various forms in a number of states. In Pennsylvania Trump maintains a huge lead, but it’s already been made clear that only 17 of the state’s trove of more than 70 delegates are bound to the will of the voters. The rest can vote for whom they will, and state party operatives have made it clear that Trump is not their choice. In other states, delegates are being put in place who will, under the rules, be forced to reluctantly vote for Trump on the first ballot but will be itching to turn their backs on him as soon as possible.
The question I have for everyone in the party on both sides of the Trump divide is… why are we defending these rules? If, as I requested above, we consider this question in some alternative, Trump-free universe, would any of you describe this as a way for the party to “listen to their voters and stop forcing candidates we don’t want down our throats?” I can answer that one for you. We would not. Think of this in terms of an entrepreneur attracting consumer support for a new product launch. Which argument do you think is going to wind up being more salable in the mass market… that you had the support of the largest number of engaged investors or that you found a clever way to game the tax laws?
Some of the arguments which conservatives are resorting to in defense of these state rules should truly remind us of the corner we’re being painted into. I was discussing this question with my friend Jim Geraghty on Twitter earlier this week and other #NeverTrump advocates were jumping in on the conversation. Addressing the question of not selecting delegates based on the result of the vote, here’s one of the common themes which emerged.
— MikeSal (@Mike_Sal) April 11, 2016
— MikeSal (@Mike_Sal) April 11, 2016
Really? This is how far we have to sink in order to defend the system? First of all, as I reminded that Twitter follower, there is no parallel between the electoral college and the delegate allocation system. Faithless electors are not allowed. (Though it remains unclear how much control you really have over them, but that’s a debate for another day.) As to the idea that primaries are “relatively new” and we did without them for nearly 200 years… sure. That’s true. We also did without many other things for much of our history, like electricity, indoor plumbing and a vaccine for smallpox. That still doesn’t make most of us pine for “the good old days.”
So how can we fix it? To repeat the key point here which seems to be gumming up the works, it can’t be changed this year. As a result, if the existing rules wind up allowing Ted Cruz to come out of Cleveland as the nominee, many of us will be happy with the result even if we lose so many voters in November that Hillary effectively runs unopposed. But the system can be changed for the next presidential cycle which, for all we know, may be just as tight of a race as this one. The flaws in the current system have been there for ages, but they weren’t obvious as long as there was a clear winner well ahead of the convention. We can’t count on that being the case any more.
But improvements can not and should not come from the RNC, Reince Priebus or any other top down solution. Republicans in all of the county and state party organizations need to voice their displeasure and demand some simple changes to place the process under their own control and create a defensible system. It really wouldn’t be that hard. While making my case, some opponents seemed to think I was supporting open primaries or anything else to “help Trump win.” That’s the opposite of what we’re talking about and I said as much, as well as indicating improvements which could be made.
Absolutely. Closed primaries, no caucuses, candidates pick their own delegates once they win any. It's that easy. https://t.co/DPuZQukFNB
— Jazz Shaw (@JazzShaw) April 11, 2016
These are not remarkable or revolutionary ideas. And it really is that simple if we collectively choose to make it so. Encourage all the states to hold closed primaries where actual Republicans cast a vote for the candidate they like the best. Count the votes and determine how many delegates are to be allotted to each person. And then let the candidates name their own delegates. This could be done in one of two ways. The voters could be allowed to vote directly for the candidate who would then submit their own delegate names after the counting is concluded. Or, if you insist on electing delegates directly, allow each candidate to name their own slate of delegates with their preference clearly shown on the ballot. When you send delegates who are not wholeheartedly supporting the person the voters selected you’re not really reflecting the will of the voters, are you? That doesn’t rule out some down ballot negotiations in an open convention, but it keeps the candidates who won some popular support involved in the process rather than having their armies march off the field to join their opponents at the first opportunity.
It’s too late to perfect the system in this cycle so we’re stuck with what we have. Making even more changes to “help Trump” at this point would just make the GOP process look like even more of a joke than the various changes under discussion designed to “stop Trump.” And nobody with a vested interest in stopping Trump would sign on anyway. But we can do better next time and we absolutely should. Let the Democrats have their superdelegates and an obviously rigged system. The GOP should be the party which embraces a truly representative process.