The Corner

On Conscience Rights for Delegates

If there is one basic tenet of representative democracy, it is that a vote not cast for somebody or something should not, cannot be counted as if it had been cast for that person or proposition.

But the Republican National Committee, in its infinite ethical confusion, threatens at the party’s national convention this month to count delegate abstentions as if they are votes for Donald Trump.

This is not just bizarre, but utterly fraudulent, wholly unethical and, were the party not technically a private organization, would be criminally punishable.

Now comes conservative stalwart Clint Cline, writing at The Pulse, to defend the right of delegates to vote their consciences or, as conscientious objectors, to abstain from voting.

“How can a Party so invested in protecting conscience rights in virtually every area of its platform deny those rights to duly elected delegates to its own convention?” Cline asks. “The message this sends clearly is that the RNC does not, in fact, respect those rights when conscience is inconvenient for its goal of crushing dissent.”

The word “delegate” has a meaning. By its very definition, it means someone to whom others have delegated some decision-making responsibility. Delegates are human beings, not bits of computer data (or, in old-fashioned parlance, not “rubber stamps”). Parties introduce the human element into the convention process for a reason — not just to make noise at a coronation, but to actually exercise judgment, based on all the latest information at hand.

The latest information at hand is that Donald Trump will be an almost certain loser in the fall. The latest information at hand is that Trump absolutely cannot “pivot” to a more “presidential” mien, any more than a leopard can change its spots or that a wolf can bleat like a sheep. The latest information — information that has come to light since Trump supposedly nailed down the nomination with his win in Indiana — is that Trump doesn’t just tend toward bigotry or seem strangely insensitive toward it, but foments it and bases statements and actions on it. The latest information is that Trump is an embarrassing skinflint when it comes to charity. And the latest information is that Trump still refuses to release his tax returns, thus failing to reassure his supposed party that he will not be subject in the fall campaign to a leak of information so embarrassing as to sink not just his own hopes but the campaigns of Republicans all the way down the ballot.

Delegates taking in all the latest information have every good reason to want to save their party from such a nominee.

It is understandable for state parties to want to “bind” their delegates on the first ballot of a convention so they don’t vote for candidates their constituents did not choose. But it is despicable to count votes not cast — abstentions — as if they had indeed been cast. A deliberate abstention is a vote of no confidence, a vote that the expected nominee is unfit to serve. In this case, it would be an abstention that is eminently reasonable, indeed wise. Any party that tries to strong-arm delegates or, worse, to literally override delegates’ votes of conscience, is a party not fit for a great republic.

Plus, as Cline writes, “If the RNC is so confident of Mr. Trump’s suitability and popularity among Republican faithful, then what do they have to fear from delegates voting their conscience?”

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