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Parties Refuse to Learn the Painful Lesson of Trump: More Super Delegates (Forbes.com) August 1, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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A primary reason that Donald Trump was able to hijack the Republican party and win its nomination is that Republicans had let down their defenses, essentially eliminating super delegates. So what are the parties doing now going forward? Reducing super delegates even further, leaving their parties more vulnerable to hostile takeovers.

As a starting point, we should recognize that parties need not follow the rules of democracy. The purpose of parties is to win elections and they are free to set their own rules. A heavy element of democracy—winning delegates through primaries—is not a bad idea, since ultimately the nominee will need to campaign and win states. But an even better idea, and one promoted by the founders of our democracy, is to construct a blended system, with some role for the people but also a key role for the established institutions in order to make certain that a vocal or well-funded faction cannot come in and disrupt the process–a la Donald Trump.

If the present convention rules allow for too much democracy, there was a day when the balance of power tipped too far the other way. There were no presidential primaries early in the last century, with political bosses controlling brokered conventions in smoke-filled rooms. It was not until the 1970s that party primaries really began to have the major say in presidential selection. But once parties learned the painful lesson that an extreme candidate could garner a lot of support in the heat of a particular moment—think George McGovern during the Vietnam War in 1972 who carried one state and the District of Columbia—the idea of balancing delegates chosen by primary votes with other delegates committed to the institutions of the party became more important.

In 2016, the Democrats allocated 15% of the convention votes to super delegates, who were not generally bound by primary results and could vote for whomever they wanted. But these were not secret people working in the shadows—they were members of Congress, former presidents, and the like. If all of them banded together and voted for the same candidate, they might control up to 30% of the votes — not enough to win, but enough to prevent the convention from doing something crazy. Bernie Sanders criticized the super delegate process for being undemocratic and it is. But let’s call it insurance, or a reasonable defense, against a hostile takeover. Corporations construct such defenses. Even the founders made sure the republic had them—the more deliberate U.S. Senate or the Electoral College for example.

Amazingly, the Republicans did not have true super delegates in 2016. There were some party officials chosen as delegates—3 from each state’s national committee, comprising 7% of the delegates—but they were bound to vote as their state’s primary had voted. These were hardly “super” delegates since they had no power other than what ordinary delegates had. In that sense, the Republican party was defenseless against Trump mania and unable to stop his takeover. Imagine how different the Cleveland convention might have been with Trump bringing only 40% of the delegates (the percentage he won overall) to the dance, and having to persuade officeholders and party regulars?

So what are the parties doing now? Unbelievably, in light of the Trump takeover, the Democrats are likely reducing the role of super delegates. They are forming a commission to review reforms to the super delegate process, the kind of reform that reduced the number and influence of super delegates in 2008 and probably will again. There is considerable pressure from Bernie Sanders and his enthusiastic supporters to eliminate super delegates altogether. Meanwhile, Republicans have their heads in the sand, wondering what just happened, rather than reviewing and strengthening the role of super delegates.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much democracy, especially in political parties whose purpose is to win. If nothing else, the Trump takeover of the Republican Party should have taught that painful lesson.

To view the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/08/01/parties-refuse-to-learn-the-painful-lesson-of-trump-more-super-delegates/#22e5d9912ae0

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