Home/Time To Dissolve The GOP Electorate and Elect a New One?

Time To Dissolve The GOP Electorate and Elect a New One?

Reihan Salam, appalled by the state of the GOP nominating process, wants to create a Council of Guardians to vet candidates before putting them before the voters:

Anderson and Cost envision a Republican Nominating Convention, in which roughly 3,300 delegates, 3,000 of whom would be elected by rank-and-file Republicans in their local communities and the remainder of whom would be Republican officeholders, would select five official candidates. . . . I won’t bore you with the mechanics, but the basic idea is that you’d eventually be left with a manageable number of candidates who’d then be asked if they actually wanted the nomination, and those who said they were up for it would then be whittled down to five officially-sanctioned candidates.

The best part of this kooky scheme? This convention would take place in February of the year of the election. These candidates would then take part in a series of debates, moderated by Republicans for Republicans, interspersed with a series of three regional primaries, in which party members would vote for their favorite candidates. . . . [I]n this system, the GOP nominee would be chosen by the end of April at the latest. Such a short, focused campaign would give less-moneyed candidates a better shot at securing the nomination, and it would free up candidates with real jobs to focus on them rather than on begging Sheldon Adelson for his sweet casino money.

Well, yes, it would – and if the GOP electorate had a great deal of trust in their party leadership, such a reform would probably go over reasonably well with GOP voters. But if they had that trust then it would also be unnecessary (though possibly still worth considering as a way of saving time, money and energy).

And of course, the fact is that not only is there no such high level of trust, the overwhelming evidence is that the voters positively loathe the leadership of the party. That’s why not only Trump (who started out rich and famous) but Carson and now Fiorina are doing so well, and why Cruz is trying to position himself as an insurgent like them rather than as a sitting Senator: because the GOP leadership is wildly unpopular with its own party’s voters.

Why it is so unpopular is a good question. The Trump phenomenon suggests the possibility that ignoring the base on touchy issues like immigration has alienated them – but it also suggests the possibility that there’s a much broader distaste for the economic priorities of the leadership and the donor class, and a far greater willingness to entertain heresies like higher taxes on some forms of wealth and income and greater government involvement in healthcare – provided that they are enacted by people they trust (i.e., not Democrats, but also not the current Republican leadership). But even if that’s not true, and the GOP electorate is as down-the-line movement conservative as the leadership would like it to be, and is just angry because that leadership compromises too darned much with a Democratic President, how exactly is an effort to restrict popular involvement in the selection process going to win those angry voters over?

I’m all in favor of reducing the influence of large donors over the nominating process of both parties. But I’m at a loss to see how precisely Salam’s proposal would do that. Wouldn’t those donors make abundantly clear to the Nominating Convention who they would be willing to support, and what they have to say to earn that support? Who would be financing the local parties in this scenario – and thereby underwriting the careers of the people vetting the candidates? And, really, how different is his Republican Nominating Convention from, say the Iowa caucuses, which are dominated by local GOP machers, and which Salam laments for having undue influence over the selection process?

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the Democratic Party has a pretty similar nominating process to that of the GOP. Anybody can run, and it takes some combination of raw talent, money, fame, organization and media savvy to get in the game. And yet their process has not descended into an appalling circus – and no, even in the unlikely event that they nominate Bernie Sanders, that wouldn’t be evidence that it has done so. So why blame the nomination process itself for the circus in the GOP?

The evidence of the last few cycles is that the GOP’s voters deeply distrust the leadership. The evidence of the response of many insiders to this most recent cycle is that the distrust is mutual. If you want to solve that problem, you probably shouldn’t start by institutionalizing it.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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