Arguments for Denying Donald Trump the Nomination

Readers weigh in on the “dump Trump” movement and the thorny questions it raises about legitimacy in the American political system.  

John Sommers II / Reuters

Last week, I asked whether the Republican Party is bound by the outcomes of various primaries and caucuses to run Donald Trump as its 2016 presidential nominee, in accordance with the preference expressed by its voters; or whether the RNC rules committee, which meets this week in Cleveland, can legitimately free its delegates to vote their consciences when next week’s national convention convenes.

In this item, I’ll present the analysis and arguments of readers who believe that the Republican Party should dump Trump from its ticket. A separate item features arguments from readers who believe that the GOP ought to nominate Trump.

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Correspondents who felt certain that the popular vote should determine the nominee, or inclined in that direction, were contradicted by others who felt that  political parties are within their rights or even obligated to look after their interests, even if that means overriding primary voters.

As Elliot Svensson put it, “if the Republican party wishes to use its pre-established rules to avoid a predictable failure in November, this isn't disenfranchising primary voters. Quite the opposite! This is what political parties are built for: winning elections.”

Christian Germain agrees:

If there is a plausible scenario to deny him in favor of a candidate with a better chance to defeat Hillary Clinton, than that is what a responsible political party is obligated to do (within the bounds of their rules, of course).

And Brian O’Neill fleshes out this rationale:

Thinking of the best interest of the party isn’t cynical; parties exist,or they should, because they represent the interests of the most people. They are unwieldy, cobbled-together nightmares, and they should be. That can cause problems, like the hideous moral compromises inherent in the Democratic Coalition before the Civil Rights bill — but at its heart it is about trying to do what’s best for the most people.

Even though I believe that a lot of GOP office-holders are true believers, they balk at a ravening white nationalist taking over the party by empowering a minority of voters, even if they have benefited from the passionate intensity of the worst. That’s why I think “Stop Trump” is okay. Convention laws aren’t written from on high; they are chosen by the party in a way that benefits them. That’s good. They have a right to alter them to stop Trump.

Trump says the system is rigged. It might be. But it is rigged by the parties to try to win elections, which you can’t do if you are rightfully hated by women, Latinos, gays, youth, blacks, the educated, etc, and which you shouldn’t do if you are only loved by tyrants and by terrorists for recruiting purposes. The system is rigged to try to pick a winner, and you pick a winner by choosing someone who can appeal to the most voters. That person isn’t always the best choice, and is frequently a rotten one. But delegates blocking a sure loser isn’t anti-democratic. In a system where votes are the final currency, it is the bulwark of democracy.

Kalen Petersen is unapologetically undemocratic:

I left the Republican Party, my lifelong political home, over Trump.
The damage he's already done to our country's political norms and collective conscience, and still more what he may do in the future, is incalculable.  

The GOP is a party, not a plebiscite. Delegates exist for the same reason the Electoral College originally did: to be a buffer against demagoguery and a filter for ideological consistency. I wish the party had the guts to overturn the popular vote and nominate someone like John Kasich.

Alexander D'Agostino believes that political parties are useful insofar as they telegraph a candidate´s ideological positions to voters. “What to do then when the candidate for a political party decides to completely break with almost every single element of his or her party's platform?” he asks. “Kick that candidate out of the party.”

He writes that delegates must decide whether a candidate truly represents their party’s platform, and then whether to change the candidate or change the platform:

The Republican party has reached this critical juncture because its platform has become divorced from the interests of its voters. Many are simply not animated by orthodox small-government conservatism. The party leadership should decide either to fully embrace Trump and shift its platform, or to keep its current platform and expel Trump. I am surprised by the hand-wringing over the morality of whether delegates to a convention should be able to vote against the will of the voters that sent them. The DNC and the RNC are corporations, and should have the right to pick their own representatives. They are examples of delegative, not direct democracy.They exist to telegraph to voters the position of their candidates; if a candidate arises who is ideologically dissimilar from the leadership of his party, like Trump, then he should be kicked out. Then he can either run as an independent or form his own competing party.

Unfortunately, the American political system effectively only allows for two major parties, thanks to the design of the electoral system. This is unfortunate, and there is a good argument that it should be changed. But, as long as we have this system the best way to operate it is to have institutionalized political parties that are able to protect their own ideology.

Steve Demuth agrees that delegates are clearly within their rights to oust a presumptive nominee:

Hardly anyone believes the Republican party is at this point obligated to make Trump their nominee under all conceivable circumstances. If, for example, he were to suffer a stroke tomorrow that left him significantly compromised intellectually and physically, and in general unable to perform the duties of office, we would all expect and most would applaud the party for finding an alternate nominee at the convention.  

So the question really is what constitutes unfitness for candidacy, not whether the party can declare him unfit.  Here the role of delegates becomes crucial, because they carry multiple duties with them to the vote. Typically they have a legal duty to the state from which they were elected to vote as pledged in the primary or caucus; they have a duty as members of the Republican party to that party's ideology and platform; and they have a duty as an American citizen to the welfare of the country. There may be enormous tension between these, but I for one would not find fault with the delegates or the party if they found it advisable to dump Trump at the convention, notwithstanding that I do not wish any plausible Republican replacement to be President and believe many replacements could likely beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Ryan D. thinks of political parties as clubs with no obligations whatsoever to outsiders––clubs that can determine for themselves what theory of politics they operate under.

He writes:

I tend to come down on the side of the GOP being able to do whatever the hell it wants to do with its rules. It's a private party with a specific membership group, and if they want to elect a demagogic lunatic, more power to them.

Let me be clear: I'm no Hillary fan, and have long been uncomfortable with a lot of what the Democratic party has on offer (surveillance; the use of force in foreign policy; gun rights; censorship; and on and on). But, by and large, I've always been struck to a greater degree by which the GOP has stood for bigotry, disproven and fantastical economic theories, and anti-intellectualism. Gun to my head, I would vote for Clinton over Trump (but as of now, my personal preference lies with Johnson).

Still: why should the GOP have any larger obligation to anyone but themselves? The only individuals hurt are the 13+ million Americans who opted to identify as Republican during this cycle and voted for Trump. The private club owes no allegiance other than to itself. If that private organization sees itself as a standard bearer for little-D democracy, keep him. If they truly care about any semblance of this country as an inclusive, realistic state, they can opt for republican ideas and dump him.

Malcolm Collie, a British observer of American politics, believes that closed primaries, caucuses, bound and unbound delegates, and winner-take-all simple majority referenda are all flawed, “which is why systems are in place to take their results as advisory.”

He writes:

The Party nomination is really about who gets the benefit of the RNC's considerable fundraising and media backing. If the Party grandees philosophically feel they don't want to extend that to Trump they are absolutely free to do so. Call it vote with one's conscience if you like, but that's what it comes down to. There is no 'denial of democracy'. Trump is democratically free to run as an Independent, the people who wanted him to be the nominee are free to vote for him in a General Election.

Is it risky?  

Sure, but if Trump is so toxic to the Republican Party, as the RNC defines it, it is the choice they ought to make, and live with the consequences. The problem this raises is that the Republican Party still wants Trump's voters, who really don't subscribe to the economic conservatism the Republican Party wants to advance.

That's a pickle.

Says Eric Zelt, who plans to abstain in 2016 rather than choose what he characterizes as the lesser of two diseases. He writes:

My military service taught me that I was always to obey a "Lawful" order.  Blind fealty  was to tempered by my own certainty and application as to what constituted "lawful." Precedents of international law, my own christian-based upbringing, my patriotism helped inform my decision-making criteria.  Now, I never had occasion to really question an order, but knew in my heart and mind that I would know what to do if ever I had to.  

Another aspect of this dilemma is summed up in one of my favorite quotes:  "Good managers do things right; good leaders do the right thing."  

So if a Republican delegate looks at Trump, looks at the world, the political health of our country and decides that supporting this buffoon is not in the best interests of his/her party, and country, NOT voting for Trump becomes a very easy decision. Again blind loyalty to Party or personality is more often than not, destructive in the long haul, and does not reflect the wisdom in acting against the grain from time to time.

Dabney Dixon also believes that Republican delegates should let their conscience guide them:

Conscience is our ability to reason on behalf of the good and the greater good, discerning between right and wrong… it warns us when we are immoral, unethical, duplicitous, or even overly self-centered. Customs may vary widely around the world, but conscience has bedrocks of speaking the truth, caring for our community, supporting those less fortunate, and looking toward the long-term health and stability of our society.  

Over the centuries, conscience has at times demanded a very high price. Amazing Grace has shown us the sacrifices of British Members of Parliament as they worked to outlaw slavery through the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a victory finally accomplished in 1807.  Early suffragettes in the United States were vilified for their efforts, but their constant refusal to give in to societal pressure resulted in the 19th amendment in 1920.  During World War II, the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was first jailed and then executed for his refusal to accommodate the Nazi regime.  

Those who understand the consequences of societal actions need to listen to their conscience.  Moving against the current norms can be expensive in terms of time, money, and perceived lost opportunity.  Nonetheless, the courageous must hear the quiet interior voice and act, accepting the consequences now for a more just and peaceful future.

Marianna’s  rational for “dump Trump” is even simpler. She simply detests the man:

I'd like to see the delegates vote their conscience, period, because I am horrified beyond words by Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich (or whomever he might pick for VP). Call me naive (and you'd be correct), but I could never have imagined the existence of such a pair of lowlifes, especially the former, whose every word and gesture are offensive. The very existence of Trump and his supporters is already a horrendous blow to our country.

The odds are that Hillary will still come out ahead, so one could argue that things should be allowed to play out according to the rules. But my feelings of repugnance outweigh that idea, so DOWN WITH TRUMP, the sooner the better!

Steven,  a millennial from NYC who voted for McCain and Romney, changed his voter registration as a result of Trump’s rise in the Republican Party. “Trump has spewed hateful speech, showed no knowledge nor desire to learn the issues, changed his mind literally daily, and has not even run on an actual Republican platform,” he wrote. “He believes in 45% tariffs (45%!!!), and just said Saddam Hussein was a good leader.” Registering Libertarian “doesn't do anything to stop Trump,” he acknowledged, “but I wanted to be able to point that I was more strongly against this moronic bigot being the head of a party -- which is not my party -- than our cowardly republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.”

He adds:

I pray that the Never Trump pulls out a miracle... We were just one (legitimate) indictment away from Trump (and his temper) having access to the nuclear codes and any party actor who has endorsed that man should forever be ashamed of him or herself.

Joseph Garcia defended the role of informed elites:

I'll admit, I was upset when Bernie Sanders wasn't getting the delegates that reflected his popular vote. I accept I'm no political expert, so I don't let it bother me too much. I try my best to understand both sides, using logic to work out who I think would be better as an official.

I feel a large number of voters aren't even remotely suited to weigh in on the presidential campaign. When you think about all the facets of life that can change when a new president enters office, it's hard for me to take people seriously who vote because Donald Trump "is a wild card" or that "Hilary is a crook". Both are topics which could be opened up into their own discussions, but I don't think they by themselves should be primary voting motivations. With this in mind, I think it is best that we have delegates who are more engaged in the political world and who I believe can better identify the important reasons to vote for a candidate.

I know many dislike this notion, feeling it tramples their voice, their freedom to vote, but I believe we need it for now. I feel we'd have to reinvent the way voting works before we could afford to lose delegates and the "educated filter".

On this side of the argument, Chris gets the last word. He is from a traditionally conservative part of the country, and has typically aligned with the GOP in the past, interning for a Republican Congressman in D.C. and serving on the campaign staff of a former Republican governor as he competed for a U.S. Senate seat.

He writes:

I've no issue with the GOP choosing to dump Trump by whatever means it sees fit to use.  The Republican party is an entity that exists solely to further it’s own interests, whatever those are determined to be at any given time.  It is associated with but not a formal part of the government and is free to adhere to its own rules, change those rules, or ignore them entirely (so long as it complies with federal/state regulations) according only to its active predilections.  To wit, if the GOP (or the Green Party, or the Libertarians, for that matter) wants to choose a candidate by holding a pie eating contest or a boxing match, and if that method conforms with legal standards, then that’s as acceptable a process as a primary vote. Creating or changing a ruleset to deny Trump the nomination would be an extreme example of political maneuvering, but there are plenty of instances of parties changing their rules on the fly in order to further advance their stated goals.

The only question, then, is what exactly is the GOP’s goal?  

If that goal is to advance a stated set of conservative ideals then (IMHO) it’s apparent Trump does not align with the goal and should be usurped if possible.  Likewise if the goal is to maintain the party’s relevance longterm, and/or if it would like to maintain control of Congress.  If the goal is merely to see this election won by anyone with an R next to his name, regardless of the cost, then the party ought to decide if Trump gives them the best chance to do so and act accordingly.

To date, the only thing that has happened is that a lot of the people who voted in Republican primaries have chosen to vote for Donald Trump.  Those people do not wholly constitute the party, their opinion is not sacrosanct, and it is not incumbent on the party leadership to drive the whole apparatus off of a Trump-sized cliff just because a lot of people think it’d be a good idea.  However the instant the party chooses to legitimize Trump as their nominee they formalize the deal, they tie their fate inexorably to his, they announce to the world that Trump and the GOP are one in the same.  If/when that happens the extant GOP will cease to exist.

Thanks to all the readers on all sides of this question who took the time to share their analysis and opinions. It will be interesting to see what the RNC rules committee decides this week, and what Republican delegates do next week in Cleveland.