Nominees chosen, but the people haven’t spoken
The gyrations plaguing the Republican Party revolve around the insistence that those shell-shocked GOP establishment leaders, unable to accept Donald Trump’s nomination, rally to his side because “the people have spoken.”
But that’s not accurate. A small slice of a small slice of America gave Trump the nomination, as the numbers show (more on that in a moment).
Trump’s ardent supporters say the GOP leadership is putting the party over people. The American mainstream would say that, by nominating such a flawed candidate, the GOP is putting the party first, the country second.
What the 2016 nominating process has shown is that pluralism within an intraparty contest – among Republicans or Democrats – can veer far from the norms of the overall electorate. The primary election season may never again make sense unless independents – the largest voting bloc in America – are allowed to participate in every state contest. The disconnect between the primary and general elections has never been bigger.
Over at Vox, their terrific blog, “Mischiefs of Faction,” has concluded that Trump has been declared the “presumptive” winner of the Republican process by collecting just 5 percent of the U.S. vote.
How’s that? Well, Hans Noel of Mischiefs explains that about 25 percent of the country identifies as Republicans. Trump received about 40 percent of that bloc – but only among those who turned out to vote. And turnout in primaries – and especially caucuses — is extremely low. This is not a purely democratic process.
In the big picture, Trump so far has received 10.5 million votes in the primary season among the nation’s 220 million eligible voters, or 4.7 percent of the total.
Here’s how Noel explains this largely overlooked set of numbers:
At the end of the day, intraparty democracy hinges on a relatively small number of people. Let’s lay aside the utterly undemocratic influence that early states have over the process. Let’s lay aside the influence that donors and, yes, even party leaders often have over who is able to compete across all those primaries. The people who are choosing our major party’s nominees are only those most unusually committed to politics and the party.
One of Noel’s colleagues at Mischief, Julia Azari, recently noted the irony of an unpopular nominee, Trump, emerging in the current process while the closed-door methods of brokered conventions many decades ago subtly encouraged such outcomes. It sounds counterintuitive, but the reason was that, before the process relied upon state-by-state primaries, the convention rules prevented a nominee from winning with the bare minimum majority of delegates. Geography played a major role, and intolerance — sometimes blatant racism — often trumped mainstream candidates.
Here’s Azari’s take:
While these old institutions were far better at avoiding a conundrum in which a party nominates a candidate that many of its members don’t really like, they were hardly a bulwark against failures of substantive democracy. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with American history can point to at least a few instances of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
The pluralistic structure of old-school nominations — especially (on) the Democratic side, where a rule stipulating that nominees had to win two-thirds of delegates held up for 100 years — protected the veto power of the states that became the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. It wasn’t until after the elimination of the two-thirds rule that the Democratic Party began to take up the issue of civil rights.
Photo: Flickr/Karen Montgomery