Last week, I asked whether the Republican Party is bound by the outcomes of various primaries and caucuses, or whether it can legitimately free delegates to its national convention to vote their consciences and dump Donald Trump from the GOP ticket.
The question wasn’t hypothetical. Wednesday and Thursday, a committee in Cleveland will determine what rules govern this year’s convention. “Anti-Trump Republicans will make their final stand,” Politico reports, “a long-shot bid to hijack the rules of the Republican Party and deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination.”
In this item, I’ll present the analysis and arguments of readers who believe that Trump should get the nomination, whether because he won or due to the potential costs of denying it to him.
A separate item features readers articulating various arguments for dumping Trump from the GOP ticket.
Some readers, like Sandra Mann, bristled at the fact that the matter is up for debate. “He won. Fair, square, and legal,” she declared in exasperation. “What is there to discuss? Some people may not be happy about it but WHAT IS THERE to discuss?”
Jim Combs agreed, writing that Trump “earned it by getting the most votes. Regardless of how you feel about him, you can't take the nomination away from him.”
According to Steve Kerby, the sense that the nomination belongs to the real-estate mogul is grounded in the fact that “when these primaries started, though the GOP and Democrats used different rules, an implicit agreement was formed between the candidates on each side, that they'll play by those rules for the length of the primary.”
Changing the rules now would represent “a severe fraying of the mutual agreements that underlie our admittedly contorted political primary system,” he declared.
How might it undermine the American system? “American government is designed to limit the free reign of the popular will,” says a correspondent who intends to vote for Hillary Clinton. “Longer terms in the Senate, judicial review, the electoral college and federalism all keep a majority from radically changing government. The beauty of this system is that its checks and balances apply only to the results of elections, not to the range of choices offered to voters. In doing so, it deflects disappointment from popular democracy itself to leaders who over-promise.”
In this person’s view, “the idea of party grandees using little-understood maneuvers to limit the boundaries of voters' acceptable candidate choices is not so much bad because it's undemocratic (so is judicial review, after all), but because it frustrates voters who can only blame the system, not the politician. President Trump would likely face opposition in all branches of government, accomplish very little, and go down as a failure. Failed nominee Trump is also a failure and a cautionary tale for future candidates. On the other hand, stymied-by-bigwigs candidate Trump wins by losing and demagogues for years, building a coalition more distrustful of checks and balances than ever before.” In this telling, checks and balances limit the damage Trump could do in office, whereas “the risks of forcing out a fair-and-square winner are higher to the American system in general than letting him crash and burn as a candidate or an elected official.”
Jon-Erik Storm has similar concerns, writing:
...increasingly direct democracy is seen as the only legitimacy-granting way of deciding things... For that reason, I have very serious concerns about what the outcome would be if the Republican party denied Trump the nomination, not just for the Republican party, but for government altogether and America as a functioning republic. For something like that to have any legitimacy, I think Trump would have to be, as the saying goes, “caught with a dead girl or a live boy.” Unless something happens to make a measurable change in the minds of the people who voted for him, it would be seen as a theft. I don’t think you can go by polling...
Still, he has mixed feelings:
...if you’re asking what would I do if I was the 1,237th vote at the convention? I don’t know. I’d love to have a broader national debate about this to reaffirm that we are a representative democracy and that’s what got us this far. For that reason, and because I think Trump degrades us all, I would probably cast my vote against him if I were a delegate.
Matthew, an “interested observer from China,” sees Trump as an opportunity for the GOP. He writes:
Given that Hillary Clinton has made it difficult for people to trust her and has already created a strong impression of being a political elite who holds herself above rules which bind normal people, the G.O.P. has a good opportunity to win respect by subordinating their own interests to the will of the people.
Trump may not be an ideal candidate, but he still offers Republicans a chance to implement more of their agenda than a Clinton presidency would. There's a tendency to present presidents as being radically different or "transformational", but the overall direction of the country has remained remarkably immune to efforts to shift course dramatically. Trump has already pledged to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices who would help Republicans achieve their social agenda, and through the typical give-and-take of politics, a Trump presidency complemented by Republican control of the House and/or the Senate would create chances to bargain for the types of budget cuts, tax reforms, etc. that party leaders such as Paul Ryan have been seeking for years.
For Josh Hill, a Republican Party looking out for its own interests has to stick with Trump:
Picking another candidate would surely spell the beginning of the end for the Republican Party. If Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and even Mitt Romney continue throwing shade at Donald Trump, it will only add to the misguided belief that D.C. politicians are out to deny people access to the Democratic process. Paul Ryan cannot keep the party together based on ideals and conservative theories if he is seen as allowing the party to disregard the entire primary process. Of course, Paul Ryan has no say in the rules of the RNC, but Trump supporters don’t see it (or understand) the way our process actually operates…
As a Democrat, I would enjoy nothing more than to see Donald Trump get ignored at the convention, lose the nomination, and watch the Republican Party wash away in a giant whirlwind of idiocy. But as a pragmatist, I believe the Republican Party should stick with Trump as the nominee, suffer a few years under Hillary Clinton, and try to take back the White House in 2020. Dumping Trump would be the final straw for many voters who see Trump as an in from the outside. Also, every mainstream Republican railing against Trump risks losing their position of power if Trump ultimately wins in November, either getting dumped by Trump himself or the fed up voters they undermined at the convention.
Raj writes, “The Republican party is *never* going to get rid of Trumpism, unless he is nominated and loses.”
Steve LeNard, a conservative, is so averse to Trump that he intends to break a long streak of supporting GOP nominees. Still, he can’t support replacing the real-estate mogul:
This is a tough question but I lean towards the belief that denying Trump the nomination at this point would be neither legitimate nor desirable. Illegitimate because whatever the rules or technicalities, the will of the primary voters was pretty unmistakable. Unmistakable enough that 15 other Republican candidates stood down. Undesirable because of how I believe the Trump supporters would react to such an outcome.
Hopefully any violence would be contained, but I can't imagine them supporting whoever was put in Trump's place. The party would likely be torn in half...
...voting for Hillary will be extremely tough for me. Comey probably made the right call in not recommending prosecution, but as a former contractor who lived for a lot of years in fear of inadvertently mishandling classified information, I find her actions pretty appalling. But I'll probably vote for her. I will not vote for Trump under any circumstances… a big part of me just wants to see her bury Trump in a landslide… but hopefully with enough time to rebuild before 2020. This is obviously not without its costs, especially with the Supreme Court on the line.
I still find it more palatable to the alternative.
Darrell Snodgrass, a Bernie Sanders voter, offered the most extreme defense of democracy––“as bad as a Trump presidency could be, America can and will survive,” he argued. “He may lead us into the next great depression, or the next world war.” Still, “Trump won the nomination fairly. The delegates are there to represent the states which they live in and should vote accordingly. The supposed cost of his presidency should not be a factor. For all his bluster, we don’t know how he would actually govern, or how Congress would follow his lead or work to limit his powers. My hope is that he would merely be inconsequential as Gerald Ford.”
On this side of the argument, Robert Henry Eller gets the last word:
It may sound overly dramatic, but I don’t know whether or not the U.S., or the World, can survive Trump. Probably the U.S. Presidency is constrained sufficiently that even Trump cannot do permanent damage - even though I think the jury is still out on whether W. has done permanent damage to the U.S. already. I feel like we’re on a cusp right now, politically, economically (wealth and income distribution), environmentally. My readings in science tell me the all systems we rely on, natural, social, economic, are complex, and balanced delicately. Trump may be a minor, maybe even irrelevant, factor. (W. was not really constrained. Neither was Tony Blair. Neither was Bill Clinton. All have precipitated major damage, if only because the rest of us failed to appreciate unintended consequences.) Or, Trump may be a major factor.
But when I think in a small enough perspective, I default to concluding that what’s most important is that our political system not only functions, but most importantly is widely perceived to be legitimate. The rise of both Trump and Sanders is a symptom of a widespread perception of illegitimacy. Even though legally, the G.O.P. is a private entity, and can make any rules it wants to about nominating candidates, denying Trump would reinforce the perception of illegitimacy. Political science research has already concluded that the actions of the U.S. government barely if at all reflects to consensus of the electorate - that we are effectively an oligarchy. Much as I fear Trump’s possible election (I have no confidence in Clinton’s ability to beat Trump.), I believe at this point, if the biggest issue at stake is the legitimacy of our political system, Trump should not be denied the nomination.
Either Trump is legitimately defeated in November, or we suffer through at least one Trump administration. I do believe that we learn best by experience, and fools by their own experience, etc. If we survive all that, perhaps our political system preserves at least what legitimacy it enjoys now. On the other hand, if political legitimacy turns out not to be our biggest current issue, and a President Trump manages to precipitate an unaffordable travesty (as I wrote earlier, I’m still not sure we have survived GWB. It was relatively easy for the Bush Administration to commit our country’s greatest foreign policy catastrophe. How difficult would it be for a Trump administration to blunder recklessly into something even worse?), then maybe we will end up wishing the G.O.P. had stopped Trump at the convention in Cleveland.
Thanks to all the readers who sent correspondence.