If Republicans in the United States only manage to stop Donald Trump by making use of arcane nominating rules and convention dealmaking, many would inevitably deride this as an establishment coup against the legitimate frontrunner for the presidential nomination.
There is some truth in this. Trump is, after all, ahead in the delegate count. But the argument rests on a misunderstanding of what political parties are for.
The point of having a party
As Ross Douthat argues in The New York Times, what is the point of having a political party apparatus, all those chairmen and state conventions and delegate rosters, if they cannot be mobilized to prevent 35 percent of the Republican primary electorate from imposing a Trump nomination on the party?
Imposing is the right word. Trump is using the party as a vehicle for his personal ambitions. He is not a Republican. He is not even a conservative. Trump doesn’t advance the party’s platform. He doesn’t respect its norms and traditions. Many of his supporters didn’t vote Republican — or indeed didn’t vote at all — until this year. Why should Republicans surrender to a loud minority that is invading their presidential contest?
Yes, Trump is winning a plurality of the votes and, under rules that were designed to stop, not help, hopeless contenders early in the selection process, he may yet get close to a majority of the delegates before the convention.
But, the atmosphere at Trump’s rallies notwithstanding, the mob does not rule here.
“The less-than-democratic side of party nominations is a virtue of our system, not a flaw,” writes Douthat, “and it has often been a necessary check on the passions that mass democracy constantly threatens to unleash.”
Last line of defense
The failure of “the” Republican Party — broadly understood as a network of elected, local and state party officials, donors, insiders and affiliated interest and lobby groups — to stop Trump so far has fueled a lot of discussion.
Four political scientists argued in an influential 2008 book, The Party Decides, that party actors normally influence the electorate in various subtle ways, from making endorsements to organizing events in their states to spending money on advertising.
That nudging phase of the nominating contest has not worked well this year. Many voters are not taking their cues from “the” party.
The rules governing the nominating convention, “in all their anachronistic, undemocratic and highly-negotiable intricacy,” as Douthat puts it, are a last line of defense; the last place “where a man unfit for office can be turned aside” if he makes it through the primaries.
Denying Trump the nomination would not be pretty. His supporters could revolt. The man himself could stage a third-party candidacy. This whole exercise is anyway likely a harbinger of a schism on the American right, as the Atlantic Sentinel argued last month. Any outcome other than a Hillary Clinton Administration is difficult to imagine at this point.
“But if that exercise is painful, it’s also the correct path to choose,” according to Douthat:
A man so transparently unfit for office should not be placed before the American people as a candidate for president under any kind of imprimatur save his own.