To the long list of subjects about which Donald Trump knows nothing – super PACs, tariffs, and Christianity, to name just a few — can now be added presidential elections. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ted Cruz, despite losing Louisiana by four points earlier this month, is likely to walk away from the state with ten more delegates than the popular-vote victor, and that Cruz supporters also managed to secure five of Louisiana’s six slots on three key committees at the summer’s Republican National Convention. So, predictably, on Twitter Trump called the result “unfair” and warned: “Lawsuit coming.”
This is the latest in a sequence of complaints, by Trump and supporters, that anti-Trump Republicans are preparing to “steal” the nomination. What they really mean is that securing the Republican nomination is a complex process — and they don’t like that, because it’s working against them.
The Republican nomination is generally viewed as a matter of numbers — which it is, to a point. If Trump can acquire a majority of delegates before July, he’ll have secured the nomination under the Republican party’s rules, and there’s nothing feasible that convention delegates could do about it. However, if there is a contested convention, the nomination is not about numbers; it’s about people. Ironically, that is something Trump-loving populists have overlooked.
RELATED: Yes, the Delegates Can Decide
The Republican presidential-nomination process is, indeed, “arcane” (journalists’ go-to adjective). The Republican party grants state parties significant latitude to develop their own process for allocating delegates — hence the grab bag of proportional, winner-take-all, and hybrid states in which the candidates have been competing this year. And those delegates are chosen by a number of methods: elected in conventions, selected by the Republican state committee, and named and bound in a variety of other ways.
Consider Texas, which will send the second-largest delegation (155) to the national convention this year. Texas held its primary on March 1. Sometime in the two and a half weeks afterward, a convention was convened in each precinct. Qualified Republican voters elected delegates and alternates to the county and senatorial-district conventions held statewide on March 19. There, qualified voters elected another slate of delegates and alternates to the state convention, which will be held in early May — where the process will be repeated to determine which 155 people (plus alternates) go to Cleveland in July. Some variation of this filtering process will happen in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five territories, and out of it will come 2,472 Republican National Convention delegates.
That filtering process is a necessity: As a practical matter, not all of the 25 million–plus Republicans who cast a vote in this year’s primaries could fit into a convention hall. But it is also a safeguard.
#share#Writing in Federalist No. 68 about the method of electing the president established by the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton observed how electing the chief magistrate required balancing two competing desires: “It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided,” he wrote, making the case for a popular election; but “it was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice” — making the case for something to offset the ballot box. The result, the Electoral College, provided for a popular vote (the power of which would be dispersed by tying it to state representation) filtered through a small body of electors (numbering, today, 538). That system, for all the criticisms of it, has served admirably to temper both monarchical inclinations and democratic excesses.
Those suggesting that Donald Trump (or any candidate) should be awarded the Republican nomination with a mere plurality of delegates misunderstand, or are hostile to, what the Republican party has tried to do: namely, set up a system that tries to check the party’s worst impulses by tempering the “sense of the people” with delegates “capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station” and judiciously selecting the candidate best suited to that station. The party has sought to apply some version of the Constitution’s structural restraints to its own operations.
It becomes clear that populism of the Trumpian variety, then, is not simply anti-GOP; it is, at its worst, anti-constitutional. Where the Framers were deeply concerned with granting “the will of the People” an absolute claim to power, well aware that “the People” are prone to viciousness, impulsiveness, and the psychology of the mob, Trump’s populism inverts the constitutional presumption, endorsing the notion that “the People” are generally virtuous, reasonable, and sober.
That is nonsense. Millions of people have swelled the ranks of a habitual liar who traffics in misogyny and endorses thuggery. This is just the sort of occasion the complex mechanics of the Constitution and, in its own way, the party’s nomination process were designed to address.
If this year’s Republican convention is contested, the gathering in Cleveland will be bitterly divided among factions with competing — even fiercely opposed — interests. But the process by which delegates are selected, the tussles among chairmen and committees, the writing and adoption of rules, the credentialing of delegates, the composition of the party platform — all of these are arranged to mediate among those interests, to reap the most wheat and dispose of the most chaff.
#related#If, in that process, Donald Trump does not win, it’s not because the nomination was “stolen.” Delegates’ rebuffing a candidate with a plurality to select another candidate whom they believe would be better for the health of the party is not simply possible; it’s the right and duty entrusted to them as delegates.
Donald Trump cannot be expected to appreciate this. The last nine months have made unmistakably clear that he is a bully — and, like most bullies, a whiner. His opponent is outmaneuvering him, so now he is crying foul. The rules of the game are hurting him, so he wants the rules thrown out.
That’s a pathetic quality in a nominee — and a dangerous one in a president.