Saturday, April 16, 2016
Is the system rigged?
In recent days, Donald Trump has been railing against the Cruz Campaign for "stealing delegates" and acting like "union-boss thugs." Much of Trumps ire seems to be focused on the fact that the Cruz campaign lobbied hard in Colorado to get Cruz supporters nominated to be all of the unbound delegates that the State is sending to the Republican Convention this summer. Cruz has aggressively fought behind the scenes wherever he can to get friendly delegates appointed. Even delegates bound to support Trump on a first vote, may be inclined to support Cruz on a second. This has apparently enraged Trump.
Because of the wide variety of contests, a candidate cannot simply count on appealing to voters for votes and expect to win the nomination. That may work if a candidate has broad appeal and can sweep 80% of the delegates But in a heavily contested race where every delegate matters, a campaign needs to do whatever it takes, within the rules, to acquire delegates. Colorado started it's State Convention process back on March 1. Voters at the precinct level select delegates to later conventions where delegates are eventually chosen to go to the national convention. The Cruz Campaign lobbied heavily at each of these levels to ensure delegates who were predisposed to support Cruz for President at the National Convention.
One the one hand, Trump is correct that the process is very undemocratic. Voters in Colorado did not get a chance to vote for their candidate of choice. Cruz got his delegates by lobbying insiders, despite what voters might have wanted. On the other hand, the system is what it is. There are lots of undemocratic elements of the primaries. Closed vs. open primaries deliver very different results. Caucuses that require hours of participation rather than a simple vote also skew results. Winner take all States disproportionately benefit candidates with a bare majority, or even a plurality of support.
This diverse and convoluted process tests a candidate's ability to maneuver and focus on where to apply resources in order to maximize delegates. These are skills that also hopefully lead to qualities we want to see in a President, as opposed to a popular figure without much substance.
Perhaps the process is undemocratic. But the founding fathers feared pure democracy. They created a system of checks and balances to ensure that a brief level of democratic popularity would not be enough to wipe out decades or centuries of well established systems and procedures. Although the founders did not anticipate the influence of political parties, and many actively despised the idea of parties, they do remain a check on the system, for good or ill, to keep the process relatively stable.
Politics is a dirty business. George Washington got his start in politics by buying a large amounts of liquor for supporters on election day. Abraham Lincoln got the Republican nomination by forging delegate papers for the Convention and getting illegitimate delegates to demand his nomination. There are things any candidate must do to get to the nomination. Cruz's fight for delegates within the rules is pretty tame by comparison.
Trump understands how to grease the wheels in business, but is clearly out of his element in politics. As a result, all he can do is complain. I suppose if I were a Trump supporter I would complain with moral indignation as well. Clearly it is not democratic. But as someone who sees Trump as a dangerous dilettante in the world of politics, I guess I am happy to see the system weeds out such people before they can become a real danger to the nation.