In most presidential primary seasons, and indeed, most presidential elections, the actual process is invisible to most voters. Most don’t know many details, and in most years, it doesn’t really matter much. In 2016, it’s different, and the reason it’s different is because the Republican Party is deeply divided. Most primary cycles conclude with one candidate or another attaining the crucial majority of delegates between mid-March and mid-April. This year, that’s not the case, and because of it, the true process has become illuminated more than usual, such that many voters, either having never participated before, or having been clueless participants in cycles of the past, now see something that’s always been there, but react to it as though it’s alien to them, the country, or the party in question. The process isn’t alien, abnormal, or otherwise different in any substantive way, but for those who’ve been drive-thru participants in the past, they’re very shocked by the existence of a process that’s been normal for nearly two centuries, though they’re just learning of it now. I wonder how many of these people paid any attention in civics class in high school. I wonder how many civics class teachers failed even to mention it. Whatever the case, as the old saying goes, “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” but rephrased for this election process, it’s not just the law of which voters have claimed ignorance, but of the entire underlying process by which the Republican Party selects its nominees. My aim here is to alleviate that ignorance, primarily because I’m tired of this phony “controversy.”
As the first order of business, let’s establish some facts, whether we like them or not, so we can work our way through from there:
- Political parties are private organizations. They have their own rules, bylaws, and procedures. Their internal processes are theirs and theirs alone. The candidate the party selects is the party’s choice, but not truly the choice of voters
- Our nation IS NOT a democracy, never has been, and had never been intended to be. Neither are the political parties (a much earlier article that covers this subject in full is here)
- The Republican Party at the national level does not have full control of the Republican Party in each state, though it exercises some control via the national convention and the rules committee.
- Most delegates for most states’ parties are bound in some number of national convention ballots, varying by state, but this doesn’t always mean what people think it means
These concepts have been true and available to inspection for every person who is alive today in the United States for their whole lifetime, and generations before. There are rules changes periodically, but the underlying process has not changed much since at least the nomination of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. What our contemporary electorate needs to understand is that in our system of government, their votes for President are a recommendation to the Electoral College, but not a mandate. Their votes in primaries serve as a recommendation to the parties, but these votes are not fully binding on the parties. This may surprise a drive-thru participant in public affairs. If one has educated him/herself, one ought to have known better all along. This list of bullet-points may seem like a negative thing to one who is ignorant, but if one understood the intentions of our constitution’s framers, one will understand it also because one understood it all along, having bothered to inform his/herself.
Before new readers have a walleyed hissy-fit because it seems that I’m calling so many voters “ignorant,”I want you to understand that there’s a qualitative difference between “ignorance” and “stupidity.” Ignorance is simply not having the requisite information. Stupidity is the failure to seek to alleviate one’s ignorance due to a lack of intelligence. Foolish mischief and prideful stubbornness result in the failure to seek to alleviate one’s ignorance for the sake of maintaining one’s internally contradictory opinion. Ignorance can be alleviated with a modicum of effort. Before we recoil at the “discovery” of this “hidden process,” perhaps we should actually seek to know and understand it. In any event, the level of ignorance among registered Democrats is several magnitudes worse. Most of them haven’t bothered even to read the Constitution.
Since the beginning of the Republican Party, it has always decided who its nominee for the Presidential election would be through a series of states’ conventions with a delegate process that has always, always varied from state to state. The truth is, as a Republican, there’s only one state about which you really need to care: Yours! If you want to be an elections analyst, or you’re merely very curious and hold an intense interest in public affairs, you might want to know all the others, but it requires a lot of study. Since the various states change their rules from time to time, and since new state statutes and constitutional amendments in those states affect those rules from time to time, it is always in flux. It is always evolving. It always has. It always will. That is part of the dynamic condition of the sort of constitutional, representative republic our framers had designed. If it ever ceases to evolve, you will know that the party has failed entirely, and probably the country as well.
All the state parties, to maintain their charters as recognized constituents of the RNC, must abide by some general rules, and agree to the rules set by the national party. Those rules can cause the state parties to adjust their own rules so they can maintain compliance. An example of this was Colorado, which in August 2015, changed its rules in order to protect its interests in the national convention. Let’s see if we can get this straight, shall we? In 2012, Colorado’s GOP held a “straw poll” to seek the recommendation of the voters at large. That state-wide straw poll had never been binding before, but because of the RNC’s rule changes, it would have to be binding if they wanted to hold a straw poll. In other words, delegates selected by the state party would be forced by RNC rules to go to the candidates according to the results of the straw poll, effectively converting the state from a Caucus system, to a primary election system. The Colorado Republican Party didn’t want to be constrained in that fashion, because they feared being stuck with delegates bound to a candidate no longer in the race. Just as now, there are delegates bound to Rubio and others who are no longer in the race, and they will be obliged to vote for those candidates on the first ballot at the convention. Colorado didn’t want its delegates constrained in that fashion, so they changed their rules, as they are entitled. They did so last August such that every campaign had time to know the rules and adjust accordingly. Some did, but some didn’t.
Speaking of ballots at the National Republican Convention in July, I suppose I need to cover this briefly, since it seems there is a good deal of confusion. The way the national party, the RNC, selects the candidate who will be the party’s nominee is through a system of ballots. (Votes, if you prefer.) There are a total of 2,472 delegates in the Republican Party. Half of that number is 1,236. Add one(1,) and what you have is 1,237, also known as a “majority.” For those who are confused about this, it is important to remember that a “majority” does not mean “the most.” It means “one more than half.” A “plurality” is equal to “the most.” If the rule specified a “plurality” instead of a majority, then all a candidate would need to obtain is “the most” delegates. (The highest total.) The rules state, and have always, always stated, that a majority is required. This is not something new to 2016, but it has become an issue of popular concern because there now exists a better than even chance that no candidate will make the 1,237 delegate mark.
Now, in the electoral college, in the actual general election on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November, the candidate who obtains a plurality of electoral college votes is the winner, but here’s the bonus prize: The electoral college doesn’t actually meet until December. It is there that the new President of the United States is actually selected. It is most often a rubber-stamp of what the electorate has recommended, because most states bind their electors to do so. Nevertheless, it is possible, in some circumstances, for some elector or other to raise objections and to derail the rubber-stamping. It’s not happened in American history yet, but it is possible for the Electoral College to discard the “will of the people” and select somebody else, strictly speaking. It’s very, very unlikely. It is, however, possible. (For the record, this year’s presidential election falls on Tuesday the 8th of November, meaning this is one of those rare years in which the 1st of November falls on a Tuesday, such that the election gets bumped back to the second Tuesday of the month, because the Monday before the first Tuesday is the 31st of October.)
Returning to the national convention, let’s imagine one in which no candidate has obtained 1,237 bound delegates prior to the first ballot. It is still possible to win on that first ballot because there are usually some number of unbound delegates. It simply depends upon how clever a negotiator one is, with respect to the unbound delegates, and how large a shortfall one has. If nobody has obtained at least so many that with the addition of unbound delegates, they’re able to close the gap, what you now have is officially a “contested convention.” Of course, it should also be stated again that something else is true: It is possible to have 1,237 or more bound delegates going into the convention, and still lose. How can that happen? Easy! All it takes is that a candidate with 1,237 delegates has even one delegate abstain from the first ballot. In other words, ultimately, nobody can actually be nominated with certainty until the convention. This is where the term “presumptive nominee” arises. A presumptive nominee is a candidate who has obtained 1,237 bound delegates, but who hasn’t yet officially received the party’s nomination when the delegates cast their votes. Even if you had all 2,472 delegates bound to you prior to the convention, if 1,236 of them abstain from the first ballot, what you have is a “contested convention.” While highly, highly unlikely, even if a candidate somehow managed to have 2,000 or more delegates bound for the first ballot, it is strictly possible for that candidate to be defeated. So you see, those who say that the “party chooses the nominee” are exactly, technically correct, and if the party is absolutely dead-set against a candidate, they have the ultimate ability to turn that candidate away. That said, the party is not so likely to go this far to prevent the nomination of a candidate because it’s suicidal in an electoral sense.
One might wonder why a party would do so, or what justification there would be for denying a candidate the nomination. One reason might be that some substantial proportion of the party finds the proposed nominee unacceptable for some reason, perhaps electability, or that the candidate’s long-term impact on the party might be substantially damaging to its ends. Whatever the case, it is possible, and has happened that the candidate who had “the most” delegates going into the convention wound up without the nomination. This was true in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln actually went into the convention with the third highest delegate count. If you wonder why John Kasich sticks around, here is your answer, (although Abe Lincoln, John Kasich clearly is not…) Of course, Kasich has another hurdle to clear as the rules now stand: He hasn’t won a majority of delegates in at least eight states. This is a requirement that was put in place four years ago. At present, Kasich has only won a majority of delegates in his home state, Ohio, and it’s likely the only state in which he will have won a majority of delegates by the time we get to the national convention in Cleveland, this July. Unless there is a change to rules, he won’t be eligible for nomination.
Yesterday evening, I read a story about a lawsuit against the GOP by Larry Klayman, of Freedom Watch, who you’ll probably remember/know from Judicial Watch lawsuits fame. Klayman is an unabashed Trump supporter. His lawsuit against the GOP is over the fact that apparently, Florida delegates are bound for three(3) ballots.(In many states, it’s just one ballot, two in others, and none in states that don’t bind delegates at all.) Freedom Watch is claiming that the delegates ought to be perpetually bound to Trump, but this is utter madness for a very obvious reason. Let me explain Klyaman’s foolishness by way of an example:
Imagine arriving at the July convention with no candidate having obtained 1,237 bound delegates. Further imagine that all states perpetually bound their candidates, so that no matter how many ballots they cast, they would always, always be compelled to vote for the same candidate. How would the party ever obtain a nominee? It couldn’t! Think about this for a moment, and then you will realize that Freedom Watch’s foolish lawsuit is truly a nuisance lawsuit that belongs in the category of “frivolous” if ever a lawsuit belonged in that category. His excuse, the “tort”(or “harm”) he cites in his suit, is that the people of Florida(of which he is one, thus alleging standing,) are being defrauded by the Florida and National GOP because they “held forth” that delegates will be bound. In other words, he’s saying that because voters may not have informed themselves of the Party’s rules, they’re being defrauded. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a toxic bit of political grand-standing, if ever there was one. Any decent judge, of sound mind and judicial temperament, would bounce this case out of his/her courtroom faster than one can say “build a wall!” Is Klayman really alleging that he didn’t know the delegate rules for his state, and was therefore harmed? That’s nearly the most preposterous thing I think I’ve read lately, but as I’m certain most readers will have observed, there’s no shortage of absurdity in this election cycle.
Having meandered through this whole topic a bit, I suppose I ought to conclude. My conclusion is as follows: The party selects its nominee – not the electorate – but the party tends to listen to the recommendations in various forms it has received from the electorate, where applicable. All of this has been true for every election in my lifetime, the lifetime of my parents, and for many generations before. If a person older than, let’s be charitable and say twenty-six years of age, doesn’t know these facts and rules, it’s only possible because they have chosen never to engage themselves in discovering them. I chose twenty-six because by then, a person should have participated in at least two presidential election cycles. I don’t know if I knew all of this by the time I was twenty-six, but I am fairly certain I’ve known most of it since at least the age of thirty years.
It is amazing to me that people who are in their forties, fifties, and sixties now complain about this as though it’s all news to them. The Internet has been around as a commonly accessible research tool for more than twenty years. Most states and most state parties have had websites devoted to this information for most or all of that time. To claim ignorance at this late date is to openly proclaim one’s complete lack of diligence. If one can surf the web over to Ebay or Amazon, to make purchases, and so on, I don’t see how it’s possible that somebody who wanted to know this information was somehow denied access to it. The election laws governing the states’ parties are generally available through each state’s Secretary of State website, where they may also provide links to the various parties operating in their state. I encourage all Americans of voting age, or even younger, to learn and know at least the laws relevant in their particular states, and certainly the rules applicable to the party with which they choose to associate, if any.
The United States was established so that citizens could, through the various levels of government and attending political processes, participate fully in their own governance. In short, being a citizen is supposed to be an active lifetime engagement for the people to determine the course of the nation. in order to fully realize that participation, citizens should become familiar and remain up-to-date on the laws and rules applicable to their particular political interests and participation. For most of my readers, most of this will not be news, although for perhaps some of the younger readers, it may be enlightening, but with all the, dare I say “trumped-up” controversy, I thought it critically necessary to clear the air on this issue. Factually, this is the process. You might not like it as is, but you have the ability to work to change it. If you think the existing parties cannot be reformed, you are also free in America to form your own and if you’re very successful, in a decade or two, you might be able to have grown it enough to have viable national candidates. What is not true is that some giant magic “easy button” exists to “fix things” instantaneously. Being an active citizen is something too few citizens actually do, and this is to the detriment of the country as a whole, and certainly to the parties in particular. Ignorance of these facts leave too many Americans easy prey for demagogues, and it’s instructive to watch how, with the circumstance of the GOP nomination fight, so many Americans are easily led astray. I dearly hope this will be a lesson for many, providing them the impetus to engage in the true blessing of self-governance in a thorough fashion they had never contemplated before.
Lastly, I would like to address the complaints of those who argue that it’s “too hard” or “too difficult” or that there is some situational constraint on one’s participation in the full political process. I grant that at various times in our lives, it can be more and less difficult to find the time to fully participate, but I also know this: If most of us really wanted to do so, most of us could find a way. What I’ve seen is that for many, complaining and stomping around is a good deal easier, and it satisfies the temporary emotional need. That sort of laziness will never lead to change, however, and it’s high time that having informed oneself, each goes on to a full and unrelenting participation.
Editor’s Note: This article should not be seen as an endorsement of all aspects of the Republican Party’s rules or procedures, but instead a simple statement about the simpler fact that some form of these rules, with some variation, have been in place since the beginning of the party. It’s also intended as a way to further that historical perspective and to alleviate some of the ignorance made plain by the reactions to this information by some people. My intent is not to criticize the electorate at large, but to make them aware of these historical facts so that even should they fail in this election cycle to obtain their desired result, they will have no excuse for not being ready to fully participate in the next cycle, and to fight for those changes they believe are necessary.