Rigged. That is the charge made by Donald Trump regarding the Colorado delegate assignments. Is he right? Of course he is. The GOP primary system is rigged to favor the party establishment as much as possible. The only thing different about this election cycle from previous ones is that people are able to see the sausage being made. Normally states like Colorado or Wisconsin are not important. Even California has had little importance since it comes so late in the schedule. Most races are usually decided relatively early in the primary season. Mitt Romney’s race was a little unusual in that it took until late May for it to be completely over but everyone knew that he was going to be the nominee even before the final votes made it official.
Rigged Delegate Games
When Trump was gaining momentum in August the Colorado GOP decided to leave their delegates unbound. This was in reaction to a Republican National Committee rule change that would have forced them to bind their delegates to their straw poll of voters. The fear of a Trump victory was apparently so great that they decided to forego the voting in order to deny Trump any delegates. That was never overtly stated so people’s expectations were not adjusted accordingly. Florida tried (whether intentionally or inadvertently) to ace Trump or anyone else out by making their state a winner-take-all state in March 2015. It was thought that “Jeb!” would win the state. After all, he was the party’s chosen candidate and a former two-term governor. But if not him then surely sitting senator Marco Rubio would win the state. There had been rumblings about him running and he announced only three weeks later. The system was designed to end the primary process early. In this way Trump or any other opponent would be denied any delegates from Florida and his campaign would come to an early, inglorious end. While Trump would not announce his candidacy until June, the system was already rigged to favor the GOPe and particularly “Jeb!” But, as Trump has acknowledged, that trick backfired because the people voted for him overwhelmingly. It was a rigged system but the political landscape changed and the voters nullified the rigging effort.
The Colorado GOP was taking no chances. It had already decided that the voters were NOT going to dictate the apportionment of the delegates. The problem there was that they did not have the guise of a vote which they could hide behind to do their dirty work. Colorado voters, and certainly not voters elsewhere, were not mentally prepared for what took place. It came as a jolt to the whole political system that delegates could simply be assigned without any kind of a vote. The Republican voters in Colorado probably expected to have some say so in this hotly contested and critical election. Yet their party apparatchiks dictated who the delegates would support. They then appealed to “the rules” as their out for their dictatorial behavior. As the Downstream Politics Staff wrote,
Appeals to “the rules” almost always sound guilty. That’s because people usually do it when they’re caught doing something that is self-evidently unfair and they want to justify it with a well-rehearsed interpretation of an obscure rule. In the court of common sense this type of appeal is tantamount to a confession of guilt. And the Colorado GOP and Cruz partisans touting “the rules” still haven’t cited the specific rule they believe justifies their actions.
Rules are typically used to determine if a football player’s feet were inbound or if a pass was caught. We sometimes have to refer to Robert’s Rules of order in meetings or to the Rules according to Hoyle in a card game, but such rules in politics are often not used for justice, fairness, or clarity. They are used for manipulation. Party insiders want to shape the outcome of the game so they try to shape the delegate selections to suit themselves. Columnist and author, Ann Coulter, put it like this:
What is the rule that says we’re not going to have an election, we’re not going to have a caucus. We the state party members are just going to pick the delegates without any kind of vote. We’re just going to exclude representatives from the candidates we don’t want. I believe what they are saying is, “there is nothing that forbids this particular form of cheating. I don’t think there’s a rule that says this form of cheating is ok. It’s just we haven’t prohibited yet…the fact that you can do something does not disprove that it is cheating. (The Seth Leibsohn Show)
Coulter has also written about reading the RNC Rules and can find nowhere that says it is within the rules to do what Colorado has done. What is legal (or not expressly prohibited) is not always moral. But worse still is robbing the expectations of the people of Colorado and the people the United States as a whole. The perceived injustice is real because everyone NOT on the “inside” expected a vote to assign the delegates.
The other defense of the poor rules system is that they are old rules. We’ve had them a long time and people should know them. That is a logically fallacious argument. The age of the rules has nothing to do with the justice or fairness of the rules. We had slavery a long time, too, but that did not make it morally correct, just, or fair.
Too Many Rigged Systems
Unlike a football game or a card game, there are 50 states and 50 sets of rules for delegate selection. It takes a professional to keep up with them all. But the reason it is done this way is to enforce the status quo as much as possible. Republican presidential candidates are supposed to follow a system, wait their turn, then become the party anointed one, like Dole, McCain, Romney, and “Jeb!” did. If the GOP really wants to reflect the votes of the people then they need to simplify things. Sean Hannity has proposed letting states decide the following:
- Will the state old a primary or caucus
- Will the state be winner-take-all state or will it apportion the delegates according to the vote
- All delegates will be assigned according to #2 and there will be no unbound delegates.
Sean’s suggestions are perfectly reasonable. The problem is that it reforms the system and that puts the GOP establishment at jeopardy of losing control. Control is the reason that they try to rig the system. Personally, I think that they should:
- Scrap the caucus system and go with the open primary system. The reason for this is that it better reflects the voting population of the general election
- Apportion delegates according to the votes in the state
- Drop the majority requirement for becoming the nominee. As this year has shown us, the number of candidates can affect the ability of the leader to get to the majority number. Most states have votes where the winner is the one who gets the plurality of the votes and that is reasonable for the election of the party nominee as well. Even with the electoral college, our presidential elections are almost always determined by the popular vote as well, be it a plurality or a majority. It will also cut the contentious nature and the resentment from weaseling and manipulating delegates so that the party is not hotly divided and can more easily unify.
- Consider adopting the electoral college model for the primary as well. It is already a known system and that would help the voters to understand the primary process as well as the presidential election process.
They won’t take these recommendations because it puts the party power structure too much in the hands of the people. Colorado was a successful rigging in that the outcome was what was desired. Florida was a failed rigging in that the voters dealt the establishment a blow by giving Trump the victory. We’ll hear more about other states like Indiana where some delegates will be apportioned before the vote takes place. The multiplicity of opportunities to monkey with the system is what the party elites rely upon to weasel their way toward their goals.
The Republican party elites want and need public support to maintain the party façade. But they then want to thwart or ignore the will of the people who support the party. It is very much like a bait-and-switch sales job. You can’t have it both ways. Either the party reflects the will of its supporters or it will lose them. When 75% of your supporters are telling you they want to go a different direction you had better be responsive. No business could survive that kind of revolt from its customers. Only in the isolation of Washington D. C. could a political party hope to survive such a storm.
Trump is right. The system is rigged. Like Governor Sarah Palin and the regular voters, he thinks that the system should reflect the will of the people. As with other issues, Trump promises to reform the system in conjunction with the GOP leadership. If he wins perhaps he can. In the meantime he’s fighting the system. And the system is rigged.