The latest crisis in this election cycle is the drive to oust Donald Trump as the presidential nominee at the GOP convention. Dozens of GOP delegates are trying to make this happen by having the convention rules changed by passing a “conscience clause”. Such a change will allow delegates to vote for whoever they want despite Trump’s victories in the primaries and caucuses. The plan brings back the idea of a contested convention. There are also a number of prominent republicans who have said they will not be supporting Trump, and some even say they will vote for Clinton.
Some of this is driven by the fear that Trump will not be able to beat Clinton come November, based on recent polls. But the other side to this “anyone but Trump” movement is a strong feeling the GOP doesn’t want to be associated with him as the face of the party. This is also a very reasonable position considering his racial attacks towards a federal judge, statements about banning Muslims from the country, and his statements supporting changing gun laws (which is a definite no no for the GOP). He has become an embarrassment to the party with his recklessness and less than conservative policy positions. There have also been concerns regarding his intimidation tactics and bullying of delegates to vote a certain way or suffer the consequences.
But any plan for a rule change will face many hurdles. It will require a lot of coordination among delegates, support from a majority of the convention’s rules committee, and will need to be ratified by the majority of delegates.
Can the rules by changed? Should they be changed? We are definitely in the murky waters over this one. The political party that talks about private morality now has an enormous public morality crisis to deal with.
I should say before proceeding that I am not a Donald Trump supporter, but there seem to be some very fundamental issues at stake here that affect us all as political participants.
Delegates are required to vote in a way that reflects the results of their state contests. It is a very big issue to abrogate this responsibility. This flies in the face of a rule change that allows delegates to vote however they want. If delegates are supposed to vote the way of their primaries and caucuses, it seems very suspect to be introducing a rule to change this. From a practical point of view, why spend all the time, money, and effort on primaries and caucuses if they are to be ignored? It also shows a failure of the electoral process where we have to abandon the system to deal with a candidate like Donald Trump.
It also speaks to a loss of the democratic process when delegates stop reflecting who the people voted for. What message is this sending to those who voted for Trump in the primaries and caucuses? The elites get to select whoever they want regardless of how people voted! To change the rules is to call into question the legitimacy of the process that was agreed on. Voters followed the rules. If those with the power can just change the rules if they don’t like the outcome, where does this end?
Of course, the alternative is just as shocking. When the stakes are so high, should delegates be able to vote “in conscience” if it means averting the possibility of the country and the world being subjected to a Trump presidency? Perhaps the interests of the country and world are more important than rules. Take the example of Trump’s stance on climate change which is worrisome for the planet. This then becomes a moral question of enormous magnitude.
Paul Ryan’s comments that delegates should follow their consciences whether to support Trump comes in the wake of his reluctant endorsement in the name of preserving party unity and the party agenda. And yet recently Ryan has said it is his “responsibility to support” Trump for the sake of unity of the party, an obligation he holds as leader of the House Republicans. A pact with the devil of sorts!
The situation is almost unwinnable for the GOP – they are damned if they do and damned if they don”t! This is not just a moral crisis, it is also a political crisis for the party given the terrible choices – dishonored by having Trump as the candidate or dishonored by changing the rules after the fact. Also, if they dump him, they will lose his voters for sure. So I see Paul Ryan’s recent “responsibility to support” as taking the back against the wall alternative.
But the GOP really have themselves to blame for all of this. They have known all along that Trump is a loose cannon. They have themselves to blame in a less obvious way too. Neoliberalism has caused people to be attracted to candidates like Trump. The GOP has broken the rules of the “free market” which has all but destroyed the middle class. The end result is that people end up voting for a despot as their leader because the GOP didn’t care enough about their interests. History has shown us that this is not an uncommon turn of events as evidenced by a number of other countries. Now its the United States’ turn. And I just have to add – the GOP helped create Trump with its Fox news and other extreme right wing institutions. Trump is the result of many things that the GOP has stood by and not stood up against – racism, bigotry, fear mongering, and hate.
Both major parties are facing parallel, though not identical crises and neither is innocent on the neoliberalism front. The whole election process has also been fraught with problems from both sides. We can only hope that some kind of overhaul of the system takes place as a result of all this friction. But I don’t think that means breaking the rules to stop the one who has prevailed on the vote of the people. Here’s to a better America and not a broken one!