The Presidential Nomination 2020: Part 2 - the Republicans

The Presidential Nomination 2020:
Part 2 - The Republicans

The Republican presidential nominating process was crafted by the RNC to quickly nominate a consensus candidate with broad general election appeal. The 2016 process and its result obviously did not go according to plan.

But the fault was not in the rules, although they certainly can be improved. The fault lies with a party that for 50 years has been nurturing an ever shrinking base, often playing the race card and advocating policies antithetical to basic American values. The party has alienated the emerging American electorate.

It is not only the delegate selection rules that nominated an authoritarian, racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant demagogue as the Republican presidential nominee. But nonetheless party leaders, seeking ways to avoid a repeat of this catastrophe, are now looking to their nomination rules for a better 2020 outcome. The goal of rewriting the rules should go well beyond tweaking elements that did not work well in 2016, but in using the rules to encourage the formation of a winning coalition that addresses the needs of all Americans, including blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays and women.

For the 2016 contest, the Republicans "front-loaded" their calendar with many critical primaries and caucuses in February and March, hoping to winnow down the presidential field early in the spring to then rally around a presumptive, electable, consensus nominee and focus early on general election issues.

They also inexplicably established a system of proportional representation for early contests - through March 15 - that rewarded losing candidates with large numbers of delegates, thus inducing them to stay in the race long after it was clear that they could not be nominated. The next phase of the process was "winner take all," that allowed a factional demagogue to prevail even while only earning a plurality of each state's votes. The process was bitter, personal and chaotic and the nominee arguably unrepresentative of Republican principles and values.

So now the Republican Party begins its quadrennial dance of trying to adjust rules to improve its system and nominate a candidate who at least has a chance to secure 270 electoral votes, a difficult prospect for almost any Republican given U.S. demography and all but impossible for Mr. Trump.

Here are some unsolicited suggestions from a Democrat and a political scientist who will happily attend Hillary Clinton's inauguration next January. I helped craft my own party's rules for a number of cycles and thus speak from thought and experience.

Confederation or Federation?
Democrats have strong national rules enforced for all state parties. Republicans on the other hand, reflecting their governing philosophy of "states rights," allow each state party an all but totally free hand in crafting nomination rules. Thus Democrats require broad, representative, national participation and transparency in the entire process. The multiple, idiosyncratic and confusing Republican rules prevent the RNC from establishing and enforcing party policies that would help to nominate an electable candidate.

The Republican chaos of the spring of 2016 was in large measure a result of a "states rights" mentality that allowed each state party to independently design and execute its delegate selection procedures. Unlike the national Democratic Party which took authority away from individual states as far back as the unseating of the segregated Mississippi Regular Democratic Party in 1964, Republicans continue to have a laissez faire nomination process that is difficult to understand and that lacks consistency, transparency and fairness.

The Republicans will have to decide whether their party remains a loose confederation of state parties, or becomes a federal system with control, regulation and accountability from the top. In other words, the Republicans will have to decide whether they are truly a national party.

The RNC should standardize and regulate delegate selection procedures. It should codify specific guidelines that must be followed by all state parties and approved by the RNC. Once approved, challenges would only be brought to state delegations for violation of approved plans.

Candidate Right of Approval
Trump argues that the system of delegate selection is unfair because it doesn't give the voters what they voted for. He earned delegates bound by law to him in primaries. But the delegates themselves were selected by a separate, often non-transparent and unadvertised system and frequently turned out to be hostile to Trump.

These delegates could very well vote against Trump's interests on credentials, rules and platform issues. While they are required to vote for Trump on the first ballot, they could desert him on subsequent roll calls once they were liberated by state law. He won hundreds of delegates in primaries that turned out to be in fact supporters of his opponents, contradicting the primary voters' intent.

The RNC says that the system was known. But being known does not make it fair. Candidates are entitled to delegates that they have earned, and voters are entitled to having their presidential preferences expressed by their state delegations throughout the convention. There is a simple solution.

The Democratic Party, faced with the same phenomenon of "disloyal delegates" who do not represent primary results, adopted a binding rule called "Candidate Right of Approval". The rule is clear and simple. Presidential candidates must approve all delegates pledged to their candidacies. A Clinton delegate must be approved by the Clinton campaign. A Sanders delegate must be approved by the Sanders campaign. Such a rule for the Republicans would have eliminated the anomalies in state after state delegations where Trump won the primary, but a majority of the delegates were actually supporters of other candidates. Simple rule, simple change.

Proportional Representation
To prevent the nomination of a fringe, unelectable candidate, the Republicans should slow down the process that they recently accelerated. They should put obstacles in front of a rush to judgment. They should give the majority of their constituents time to rally around an electable alternative to a potential demagogue. In 2016 the Republicans required proportional representation, which chopped up delegations among many candidates, only through March 15th, and then permitted "winner-take-all", that allowed Trump to put away the nomination despite the objections of the national Republican Party and the Congressional Republican Party and most Republican Governors, not to mention the majority of Republican voters.

Requiring proportional representation through the very end of the primary calendar would allow Republican voters to take a breath, and potentially for the convention to rationally select a candidate who reflected the values of the party. After the 2016 experience, and Donald Trump's frequent tirades against minorities, women and the press, a slowing down of the primaries seems to be in order.

The Calendar
Front loading speeds up the selection process. The Republicans hoped a front loaded system would quickly result in an electable, consensus candidate.

It did just the opposite. The calendar should be "back loaded" providing another systemic means to allow Republican electorates ample opportunity to rationalize and evaluate potential Presidents. Many more states should hold their primaries and caucuses in May and June, and fewer in February, March and April.

The RNC should also rethink allowing the same four early states to stand alone. Just because Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada have been the "chosen" in the past does not mean they should always lead the nomination process in the future. The Republicans could allow states to go at any point in the calendar year of the convention, or group states according to region, time zone or demography, thus broadening representation throughout the process. For the sake of avoiding Trump like disasters in the future, slow is better than fast, late is better than early.

Broadening the Demographic Base of the Party
After the 2012 Romney defeat the RNC conducted an "autopsy" to try to determine why they kept losing the popular vote in presidential elections and what ccould be done to reverse the process. They determined that the party should reach out to key groups to expand their party base. The targets were to be African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women.

The national and state parties have done little to implement these recommendations. If demography is destiny, the RNC had better move fast both in symbol and substance to make their party look and sound like the real America.

The demography of Republican National Convention delegates is awkward, unrepresentative and often embarrassing to the party. The visual of heavily male, almost all white state delegations sends a hostile signal to minority groups and women across the country. The media frequently reports that Republican convention managers sometimes import minority group individuals to sit in delegations to make it appear that they are delegates, even paying and employing concession workers at the convention arenas. This problem can be addressed.

The RNC should require each state party to submit a comprehensive plan with their delegate selection proposals for party approval. These plans should outline the steps that each state party would be required to take to advertise to demographic targets, and reach out for their inclusion on the delegations.

The easiest way for Republicans to deal with female representation is to adopt what the Democrats have adopted: "equal division of each state delegation between men and women." Anti-quota Republican leaders shouldn't faint at this suggestion. The RNC is required to be half men and women. Each state has a Republican National Committeeman and Republican National Committeewoman. So do what the Democrats have done. It is not a quota; it is "equal division." It would be a first step, albeit just symbolic, but it would be the beginning of a process to make the Republican selection process representative of the U.S. electorate.

Ex-officio Unpledged Delegates
The Republican Party should make Republican Members of Congress and Republican Governors as automatic delegates to future Republican National Conventions. After 2016 it is clear that the party needs a "safety net" to ensure that a fringe demagogue does not lead it to the national and down-ballot catastrophe likely for 2016. Elected and party officials not only have their own constituencies, but they are loyal to the party. They belong at the Convention. They have a major stake in the selection of consensus, electable presidential candidates.

These are just a few ideas that would help the Republican Party to regain its footings and address the new realities of American politics. System Theory tells us that a system - social, economic, ecological or political - must respond and adapt to changes in the environment if it is to survive. The demography of the United States is a ticking time bomb for the Republicans. They must adapt and change if they are to survive. As someone who believes in a competitive two party system, I hope they do.