For many voters of both parties, it is not a stretch to say that the primary process has been a vast disappointment. Whether voters are upset at the conduct of the candidates, the rhetoric employed, the negative attack advertisements, or the results themselves, there has been little for voters to cheer throughout the process.
However, the greatest disappointment for all voters of both parties should be the structure of both the Republican and Democratic primaries. It is no secret in politics that the eventual nominee typically coincides with the choice of party leaders or large donors. But this primary process has been unique in revealing exactly how little both parties are “parties of the people.”
Though this is a Republican blog, I want to analyze the primary process in both parties because they share many of the same undemocratic elements. It is worth noting that the Democratic Party has a much worse “undemocratic” problem, a sentiment which is shared by many Bernie Sander supporters. Despite their near parity in national polls, the establishment choice, Hillary Clinton, has an almost insurmountable delegate lead over the grassroots enthusiast Bernie Sanders, and could secure the nomination shortly with victories in New York and Pennsylvania.
It would not be a stretch to argue that the Democratic nomination race would be more competitive than the Republican race without undemocratic party manipulation. As of April 19th (prior to the New York primary), Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 1289-1045 in terms of pledged delegates from state primaries, which is only a difference of 244 delegates. However, Clinton’s lead is largely due to her 469 pledged superdelegates compared to Bernie Sanders’ 31, a difference of 438. For some background, superdelegates are composed almost entirely of party elite and can vote for whomever they choose, regardless of election results. The fact that 2/3 of Clinton’s lead comes from party elite not beholden to the voters speaks measures about how “democratic” the party really is.
On the other hand, I would argue that the only reason Donald Trump is positioned to win the nomination is because the Republican Party is (somewhat) more democratic than the Democrats. However, the Republicans are guiltier than the Democrats of suppressing democracy in other aspects of the primary process.
With this background, I would like to highlight the main undemocratic elements that I see in each party. I am evaluating the party against the standard that the party’s nominee should be a popular choice of the people, and that each voter’s vote should carry equal weight in determining the nominee. Obviously this is not the case in the general election with the Electoral College, but I would like to focus solely on the primary process in this blog.
Use of delegates
Starting with the low hanging fruit, the use of delegates to select an eventual nominee inherently creates a disconnect between the electorate and the selection of a nominee. The concept seems in principle to be consistent with our constitutional system, in which voters elect representatives to fill offices on their behalf.
However, the distinction between representative government and the nomination process is the practicality. It would be impossible to have over 100 million American citizens participating in a direct democracy; that is, we could not devise a way for all voting-age citizens to debate and vote on each bill, regulation, or policy.
Conversely, there is no obstacle which prevents a political party nominee from being selected via a direct popular vote. All registered members of the party have the opportunity to select their candidate in primaries now, regardless of the format (caucus or standard election). Why not simply tally up the votes and award the nomination to the candidate who wins?
To further expand upon this point, the process of awarding delegates is inherently undemocratic no matter how you slice it. Donald Trump has been endlessly complaining about unfair delegate selection in the past few weeks, and he is largely justified in his complaints. For example, this past weekend, Ted Cruz was able to secure approximately 50 delegates contingent upon a contested convention. In essence, the Cruz camp was able to have Cruz supporters chosen as delegates to represent their state, and though many are bound to vote on the initial ballot for the winner of their state, they become free to vote for whomever in latter rounds of the convention.
Without getting technical about the convention process, consider this as an example. Trump won Florida, a winner take all state, and was entitled to all 99 delegates that the state holds. However, when party leaders and caucuses met by congressional district to choose the individual delegates, Cruz supporters were able to get many Cruz-supporters chosen as delegates. Again, these delegates would be free to vote for Cruz or whomever should the nomination extend to multiple ballots at the convention.
Whether you support Trump or not, does this sounds like how a democracy should work to you? Trump won large victories in South Carolina, Florida, and other states, and his “representatives” (delegates, for comparison to the constitutional system) openly do not support the votes of their constituents.
You can argue that this process is part of electoral politics, but I have a simpler solution. Let the people of each party choose their nominee through their votes and nothing else.
Even if you accept that delegates are necessary for a functioning primary system, having delegates who are not bound to voters runs completely contrary to a democratic system. Though the Democrats’ superdelegate is the most egregious example of the unpledged delegates, the same principle exists within the Republican primary structure. Depending on the rules of each state, certain delegates may be free to support any candidate on the first ballot of the convention (function as superdelegates in essence). In the case of a contested convention, more and more of the delegates become unbound in each subsequent ballot, at which point they function like superdelegates, and the winner of the vote in their state or Congressional District becomes irrelevant.
The entire system is quite frankly a slap in the face to voters. It allows party leaders a failsafe by which they can cancel out the vote of the people and secure the nomination for their selected candidate. Why even bother to hold popular votes in primaries when citizens’ votes can be overridden at the convention?
You may not see this as a major issue, but it can have a tangible effect on state primary outcomes. Primaries are supposed to be a process which allows the citizens of a given party to select their given nominee. For that reason, those who are not registered members of a party should not be allowed to influence the nominee of the party.
For example, in Missouri, both the Republican and Democratic primaries were decided by a margin of less than 2,000 votes, or about 0.2% of those voting in each primary. However, Missouri is an open primary state, so those not registered as a member of a party could have voted in that party. Given the small margins of victory, the impact of non-party members’ votes could have easily swung the state to victors Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
On the surface, having closed primaries seems undemocratic because it prevents those not registered for either party from voting. In reality, it is a protection to ensure that the party’s nominees are chosen solely by members of the party, and hence reflect the values and ideals held by members of the party. Inclusion of non-party members dilutes the influence of citizens of each party and can have tangible effects on outcomes.
Both political parties have a requirement that the eventual nominee has to receive the vote from a majority of delegates, whether they secure these delegates in primaries or in voting at the convention. The system works fine when you only have two viable candidates for an office. However, it is an onerous burden with four or more candidates vying for the nomination.
In over half of the primaries held during the nomination process, delegates were distributed amongst at least four viable candidates for the presidency. This makes it extremely difficult for one candidate to secure a majority of delegates available considering how widely spread the delegates were in the early primaries. If no candidate secures a majority of delegates, the nomination goes to the convention, and is voted upon until one candidate receives a majority.
But why is it so important to have a majority, or over 50% of the vote, as compared to a plurality (more than anyone else)? I understand the idea that a majority of the vote represents the fact that more than half of the party supports the candidate. But isn’t an election about receiving more votes than any of the other candidates? If the eventual nominee is not the leader in votes received or pledged delegates, then how is the process reflecting the will of the people?
Party leader manipulation
Perhaps the most dismaying attack against democracy by both parties has been presence of party leaders using their power and position to manipulate the election either against or in favor of a certain candidate. Again, both parties are guilty of this phenomenon, with Republican leaders working to stop Donald Trump and Democratic leaders propping up Hillary.
As I have already discussed, the main way that the Democrats have been supporting Clinton is through superdelegate support. However, the party has helped Clinton in many other ways, which has not gone unnoticed by many Bernie Sanders supporters. For example, Sanders supporters were rightly up in arms about the debate schedule, which seemed to minimize viewership by scheduling debates on weekend nights and opposite many sporting events. Since Clinton is by far the more well-known candidate, this schedule hurt Sanders’ attempt to spread his message early in the campaign.
On the Republican side, the #nevertrump movement is an even larger disgrace and a slap in the face to Democracy. As I have highlighted in my previous articles, I am not a Trump supporter. However, I am not a Republican Party official, but an “unbound” citizen who can attempt to persuade others without any repercussions.
However, I believe that there is a much higher standard for Republican Party officials. Of course, they are free to individually support whomever they would like. But they also have a responsibility to keep their views to themselves, and to allow the constituents of the party to decide their nominee. To state that the overwhelming choice of Republican voters cannot be the Republican nominee is nothing less than a slap in the face to voters. These officials are clearly worried about the damage that Trump will do to Republican fundraising and image; however, the Republican Party is (or should be) controlled by its constituents. For these officials to assert that they know better than the people about what is best for the people is nothing short of inconceivable arrogance.
If I have not made it absolutely clear throughout this article, I want to reinforce that the party’s constituents must choose the party’s nominee. There is not one set way to achieve this goal, but at minimum, it must allow all members of the party to have an equal say in voting for the nominee.
The problem is, a contested convention involves votes amongst the chosen few delegates selected to attend the convention. It literally disregards every single vote cast during the primary season and all of the work by campaigns to motivate citizens to get out and vote. Several prominent Republican leaders are openly rooting for a contested convention, and the chance to perhaps even nominate a “fresh face” who has not been tainted by the ugly primary.
Is this a joke? Republican leaders want to ignore the tens of millions of votes cast in the last several months to shove a new, handpicked establishment candidate down the throats of the American people. They want us to get behind a candidate whom we have not had a chance to evaluate and match up against other prospective candidates? Could there be anything more insulting?
Quite simply, the nominee cannot be chosen by delegates who are not bound to represent the views of their voters, and have no repercussions for ignoring the mandate from their constituents. These are not representatives in the Constitutional sense but, in the case of a contested convention, individuals empowered with the chance to choose the nominee upon their whim. Such a system could not be further from a democracy.
Karl Rove and others have made the case that the nominee is chosen by the party, and not the people, and the Democrats’ superdelegate system has revealed the truth of this statement. This means that our current political parties are not a democracy, but an oligarchy controlled by a privileged few leaders and corporate donors. But political parties are nothing more than collections of citizens with similar ideologies and opinions.
In today’s world, parties are the vehicle by which our interests and views are represented and conveyed in all levels of government. But if parties are not democratic, if they are self-serving entities that subvert the will of the people through tactics such as those mentioned, then our government is not “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
This article presents the views of author Mike McVea, not necessarily those of the Georgetown University College Republicans or GUCR Board. This piece belongs solely to Mr. McVea and cannot be reproduced in any way without her express consent. For more GUCR updates, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.