by Rod D. Martin
July 14, 2016
Our #NeverTrump friends are plotting a coup here in Cleveland, whereby all delegates would be freed to vote however they wish not on the second ballot, but on the first.
I call this a coup – as they do – with reason: it would overturn the results of the entire primary and caucus season, even if Donald Trump were ultimately nominated. It would say – and mean – that elections just don’t matter, at least to conservatives and Republicans.
Speaking as a friend and supporter of the two Southern Baptist candidates in the Republican primary, and as someone who has still not endorsed Donald Trump, I simply cannot express to you how terrible an idea this is.
To restate the obvious, Donald Trump didn’t win the nomination by a little: he won it by a lot. Trump won 38 states, enough to amend the Constitution. None of us thought he could get to the requisite 1,237 delegates: he blew past that number and amassed a whopping 1,543. His nearest rival won a third of that. He also won the most primary votes of any candidate in the history of the Republican Party.
Some have suggested that this effort is no different from Ted Cruz’s attempt to win on a second ballot, by electing Cruz-friendly delegates to spots pledged to Trump. But the difference is daylight-and-dark. Everyone has always understood that delegates are free to vote as they wish on the second and subsequent ballots: that’s just playing (smartly) by the rules. What is contemplated now is to toss the rules entirely, and entirely because some don’t like the outcome.
#NeverTrump points out that Trump only won about 40% of that electorate, and that certainly doesn’t represent “the will of the American people” as Trump’s supporters claim. That’s true. But a handful of convention delegates represent it far less.
One of my dear friends, an expert on the Constitution, has made a great point of the Founders’ belief in representative government, and specifically the right of representatives (such as these delegates) to make up their own minds in the best interests of all. She is correct, in principle. But she and her #NeverTrump followers are horribly incorrect in their application of that principle to this case.
Since she asserts the Founders, we will begin with them also.
Before there was a Constitution, there was a Declaration, and a Revolution in pursuit of it. The Constitution was not something all of our Founders agreed upon, and certainly was not what they fought for. But they all agreed on the Declaration, and they all agreed to fight for its principles.
The foremost principle of the Declaration and of the Revolution they made was and is that government must be by consent of the governed.
Now no one is more sensitive to the concerns the Founders had about unbridled democracy than I; but the Founders certainly believed in a representative system which necessitated elections, and which was responsible to their outcomes. The House was directly elected. The Senate was elected by people who were themselves directly elected, and who (unlike our delegates) were capable of being directly questioned about their intentions regarding the United States Senate.
Likewise, whatever was intended initially regarding the Electoral College, almost immediately and within the founding generation it was elections which determined its outcomes. And if the Founders had intended for the Electoral College to be a deliberative body, they would not have required it to meet separately in the capitals of the several states, perhaps its most remarkable feature.
Political parties are subject to absolutely none of this. They are not part of our government, nor are they subject to the Constitution’s methodology, any more than are our state governments. Parties may select their candidates by any means they wish. If they choose tomorrow to select them by online survey or by drawing straws, they are at liberty to do so, and that will have no impact on the principles of the Constitution, however unwise such action may be.
However, we have in fact told people — told everyone — that these primaries we’ve held do matter, and that the person who wins 1,237 delegates through our process and on those terms will receive their votes on the first ballot. If we then change the rules in mid-game because we don’t like the way the game is going — something all Americans, sports fans nearly all, understand quite well — they will rightly cry foul.
Just because you can do a thing does not mean you ought to do it, or that it is right to do it. It would be a great theft, and seen as such. And my guess is that, aside from destroying the career of the poor sucker nominated to replace Trump, such action would result in the shattering of the Republican Party, the discrediting of all those involved for a generation, and the certainty that Justice Elizabeth Warren and her ilk shred the Constitution we cherish, more-or-less irrevocably.
As Sherri says, “you have to be more than right.” Of course the #NeverTrump forces can do this thing, assuming they can get enough delegates to go along. Of course it is technically correct. But the Stamp Act was technically correct. The quartering of soldiers was technically correct. The sovereignty of the King was technically correct. And yet government is by the consent of the governed. And the American people, however many indignities they have willingly suffered, will not gladly suffer this one.
Of that you may be certain.