GOP Primary Process Rigged
(Originally published in April 2016)
One predictable element of the current Republican primaries is that each time Donald Trump’s supposed inevitability is challenged, he will tell you it is because the process is unfair. He, his official spokesmen, his “unofficial” enforcers, his sycophantic “conservative media” surrogates, and his hornet’s nest of online commenters, consistently greet any momentary setback with a cacophonous chorus of “rigged,” “stolen,” and above all “unfair.”
To be fair to Trump, it is true that life really is unfair sometimes. Furthermore, it cannot be denied that political insiders beget more than their fair share of life’s unfairness (such as when they seek preferential treatment in their private business dealings by buying off politicians). So we must not let the crybaby antics of a front-running sore winner obscure the possibility that the GOP primaries really are unfair. Setting aside the Great Alpha Male’s congenital pouting, then, let us assess the process’s fairness.
The Trumpsters claim that Colorado’s caucus rules were unfair because they disenfranchised the voters of that state. On its face, this is analogous to screaming “censorship” when your sister asks you not to swear in front of her children during Christmas dinner at her house. This is not a free speech issue. It’s her home; you were free not to accept her dinner invitation, and she is free to protect her children, in her home, from language she dislikes. If you accept her invitation, then you have to play by the house rules.
Similarly, a party nomination process does not represent a citizen’s franchise, because it is not a vote for public office. It is the process whereby a non-governmental club chooses its candidate for public office. Members of the club who are invited to participate, and neither deceived nor defrauded out of that participation, have no grounds for claiming even a figurative disenfranchisement, regardless of whether they like the rules governing the process. In Colorado, Trump was invited, but chose not to participate actively.
In short, if you want to swear your head off on Christmas Day, host your own dinner; likewise, if you don’t like a party’s nominating rules, start your own party. What’s stopping you?
(I admit that the principle here would be clearer if American political parties were still what they once were, and what parties in some Western democracies still are: private alliances of likeminded citizen-members who pool their resources to promote causes and candidates. America’s once figurative “two-party system” has devolved into a literal one, with two parties converted through legislative controls into de facto branches of state governments, rather than the private clubs they ought to be in a free republic.)
Lies, deliberate misrepresentations, and threats aside, however, what really irks the anti-Trump majority about Trump’s whining is the absurdity of the frontrunner bemoaning the unfairness of a process he is winning. In truth, it would be easier and more reasonable for Trump’s opponents to cite the iniquities of the nominating process as evidence that the system unfairly favors Trump.
Trump supporters will scoff at that, since their vested interest in Trump’s advantage has blinded them to the many questionable rules about which “Mr. Trump” would be pouting if the shoe were on the other foot. Mark Levin has pointed out the most obvious peculiarity, namely that Trump has thus far achieved a much higher percentage of the delegates than his percentage of the popular vote. This is mainly because he happens to have won some winner-take-all states, although he has failed to reach even fifty percent of the vote in any of them.
Is it “fair” that Trump should receive all fifty delegates in South Carolina with only 32.5% of the vote, while Marco Rubio receives less than half of Minnesota’s delegates though winning with 36.5% of the vote, and while Ted Cruz receives only 60% of the delegates in Kansas despite earning 48.2% of the vote?
Is it “fair” that Trump gets 100% of the delegates for 45.7% of the vote (1,077,221 votes) in Florida, while Cruz gets only 67% of the delegates for 43.8% of the vote (1,239,370 votes) in Texas, or 52% of the delegates for 45.9% of the vote in Maine?
Shouldn’t other candidates be whining about the unfairness of these Trump-friendly results? No—because they knew the rules, just as Trump knew the rules in Colorado.
Trump has benefitted from open primaries in which Democrats are, for reasons unfathomable to mere mortals, allowed to participate in a GOP nominating process. (When a private business is electing its new CEO, does it invite the boards of directors of other companies to participate in the voting?) The most obvious case was perhaps Missouri, where Trump and Cruz finished in a virtual dead heat, 40.8% to 40.6%, and yet Trump’s 0.2% advantage earned him twelve extra delegates for the statewide win. Without Democrats, the popular vote would likely have gone to Cruz, resulting in a twenty-four delegate swing in Cruz’s favor. (It’s impossible to verify party affiliations from exit polls, but the Missouri exit poll estimates 5% of voters as Democrats, and shows Trump winning self-described “moderates” by almost two to one over Cruz.)
Whatever reasons state GOP leaders may have had for initiating the practice of open primaries, that practice has certainly favored the only literal “RINO” candidate in the field this year, a New York values progressive and long-time Democrat who has relabeled himself a conservative Republican without actually adopting conservative republicanism in principle or policy.
Shouldn’t other candidates be whining about the unfairness of Trump’s open primary advantage? No—because they knew the rules, just as Trump knew the rules in Colorado.
Early voting in some states began weeks before the official primary date. Therefore, many votes were cast when Trump was garnering all the attention as the surprise frontrunner, and before candidate withdrawals, debate debacles, David Duke fudgery, and Twitter madness had clarified just how ill-prepared, ill-informed, and ill-mannered he really was. Trump won the March 5 Louisiana primary by a narrow margin, but would likely have lost without the boatload of early votes cast for him during his late February hot streak, not to mention the early votes cast for candidates no longer in the race on March 5. One must question the legitimacy of allowing indiscriminate early voting, which undermines the vetting process built into the prolonged primary schedule.
Shouldn’t the other candidates be whining about the unfairness of Trump’s early voting edge? No—because they knew the rules, just as Trump knew the rules in Colorado.
Other candidates accept the rules, even rules that disadvantage them. But present Trump with a hurdle that his hit-and-run, rally-and-tweet campaign is unable to overcome, and he, along with his surrogates and fans, will scream bloody murder, slander state party officials, threaten to disclose the hotel rooms of convention delegates, and push inflammatory propaganda about “stolen” nominations.
Pat Buchanan, for instance, argues that if “Trump is robbed in Cleveland of a nomination Americans believe he won, political disillusionment, and political realignment, may be at hand.” Consider the logic of that dire warning: it is robbery if Trump does not get a nomination that “Americans” (i.e., Trump supporters) believe he won. So now shattering the illusions of people who mistake their wishes for horses constitutes theft, and justifies “political disillusionment” and “realignment.”
Is it any wonder much of America is sitting by passively as psychologically disturbed men who prefer to imagine themselves as women use the force of law to invade girls’ bathrooms, when a purported leading advocate of “traditional values” is demanding that rules and reality bow before the delusions of personality cultists?
Sorry, but a nomination can’t be stolen until someone owns it. Apparently sensing this little chink in their reasoning, Trump and his supporters have chosen to leap headlong into a preemptive war against the likely outcome in Cleveland, by attempting to persuade you that the primary process even before the convention is rigged against Trump (who happens to be winning—go figure), and therefore that the whole primary system ought to be jettisoned immediately in favor of something “fairer,” i.e., conducive to an easier Trump victory.
Sierra Rayne, who writes about climate science and other issues at American Thinker, and is a regular Trump defender, makes the case forcefully:
[T]he Republican nomination process is an embarrassing joke. It’s too susceptible to gamesmanship and manipulation, if not outright corruption, and that only accomplishes the task of diminishing the party’s reputation among the general public.
Well, yes, perhaps that’s true. Winner-take-all states, open primaries, and early voting do tend to skew both perceptions and results in ways that might be judged illegitimate. Some states yield all their delegates to candidates who earn less than a third of the popular vote, allow Democrats to determine the Republican nominee, and short-circuit the vetting process built into the prolonged primary calendar with unnecessary early voting.
And what solution does Rayne offer by way of rectifying all the “gamesmanship and manipulation, if not outright corruption”?
If the GOP is serious about actually winning a presidential election in the near future, the leadership will move to a transparent and simple mathematical model whereby popular vote percentages in each state are automatically and uniformly converted to delegate counts that cannot be altered until after the first ballot at the convention.
Apart from the fact that no one is seeking to alter first ballot bound delegates now, I don’t see why state parties should have to conform to a universal method for selecting delegates, and I sympathize with some states’ desires to employ rules that favor party members who are serious enough to devote hours of effort to participating fully in the party’s development, while disfavoring drive-by participants. Still, I concede that a simple proportional allotment based on popular vote percentages in each state would be easy to manage. So easy, in fact, that even a mathematical simpleton like me can recalculate the delegates assigned so far according to such a method. Let’s do that, shall we?
Of course we can only use vote percentages that actually exist, so we’ll have to ignore the differences between primaries and caucuses, open and closed primaries, and so on, and just use the raw percentages that we have. And in fairness to the Trumpsters, I’ll even leave Colorado out of the calculation. Thousands of Colorado Republicans did indeed vote, but when Trumpsters are angry, thousands begin to look a lot like zero, so we’ll let them have their little fantasy and pretend no one voted in Colorado.
Here’s how I performed the calculations, so you may double-check my math for yourself. Following the primary map at Politico, I converted the exact percentage of each state’s popular vote for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz into the precise number of that state’s total delegates that each man would receive on a strictly proportional system, rounding upward for any decimal at or above .5, and downward for any decimal below .5.
Here is what I found.
After thirty-four primaries, counting all the state votes completed as of April 16, including D.C. but excluding Colorado and the territories, we reach the following delegate totals: Trump 554, Cruz 490.
Apparently the system is rigged after all! I could have sworn Trump was miles ahead, the race all but over, and the disenfranchised masses lighting their torches for the march on Cleveland, where Trump’s rightful nomination was about to be stolen. As it turns out, on the “transparent and simple” proportional model suggested by a most thoughtful Trump advocate, Trump would be less than halfway to the delegate majority, with Cruz right on his heels. The race, had this model actually been used, would have a completely different dynamic at this point. It would be a neck and neck contest between two men neither of whom had any realistic path to a first ballot majority.
Far from looking like a nominee about to have his prize stolen from him, Trump would look even more like what he already seems to be: a novelty candidate whose early plurality is fading as a huge field has pared itself down to three; whose lack of knowledge, coherence, consistency, and campaign management are becoming increasingly glaring liabilities; and whose survival in this race depends entirely on the continued presence of an already-eliminated establishment candidate (Kasich) who evidently remains in the running for no other reason than to divide the anti-Trump majority.
Proportional delegate allotment based on percentage of the popular vote in each state—sounds reasonably fair, now that you mention it. Let’s see the Trojan Trump whine his way out of that one.
(A final disclaimer in anticipation of the usual Trumpster attacks: No one paid me to write this article, I don’t work for a campaign, I have no establishment connections, I’m even more Canadian than Ted Cruz—and I’m not Jewish, so save the “Go back to writing about Israel” stuff for other authors.)