The Green Papers Commentary
 

THE TIES THAT BIND-- OR DO THEY?
or, Politicus Unbound

Saturday, March 19, 2016

by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
TheGreenPapers.com Staff


Curly Haugland responds to Richard E. Berg-Andersson

EDITOR's NOTE: Mr. Haugland's response to Mr. Berg-Andersson was received after this Commentary had originally been posted.


Given all the turmoil circling the Grand Old Party of late, itself stirred up by the very real possibility- where not even probability- that one Donald J. Trump could, indeed, emerge as the 2016 Republican Party nominee for President of the United States, the headlines coming at one from news-related websites on one's own computer screen the other night were certainly most alarming!

RNC member: 'Political Parties choose the nominee, not the general public'

'We choose the nominee, not the voters'

RNC Rules Committee Member: Every Delegate At GOP Convention Not Bound on First Ballot

GOP Delegate Reminds Voters: Technically, It's Not Your Choice

even RNC Rule Maker Says: 'The Media Has Created Perception That Voters Will Decide the Nomination' (which, I had to admit, was a real eyebrow-raiser!)...

um-- sorry [here assuming I'm also 'Media'] ;-)

At a time when there is much discussion about whether or not Donald Trump (or any other Republican presidential candidate) can even reach the "magic number" of 1237 delegate votes on Roll Call of the States at this year's Republican National Convention necessary to be nominated for President by the GOP, the very notion that how many delegates each GOP presidential contender already has might not even matter certainly seemed the proverbial "sinking breaking ball" pitched into the current political vortex swirling around the Republicans!

In truth, these headlines were the direct result of one Curly Haugland of North Dakota making the rounds of media appearances. Mr. Haugland is the male member of the Republican National Committee from his home State- he is, thus, also going to be an ex officio delegate from North Dakota to this year's Republican National Convention in Cleveland this coming July, one that is "unbound" (regardless of his own views on delegate binding, as will be described below- because North Dakota, uniquely [although Mr. Haugland would, or so I am sure, argue that his State's GOP should not be so unique in this regard], chooses its own Republican National Convention delegates via a State Republican Convention [scheduled for the first weekend of this coming April] that is permitted to [this from the North Dakota State GOP's own rules] to discuss voluntarily apportioning delegate representation on the first ballot. However, these same rules later go on to say, any such apportionment on the first ballot shall be strictly voluntary. The delegates remain free to vote their conscience on all balloting).

Mr. Haugland is also a member of the Republican Party's own Standing Committee on Rules (this last, by the way, is not to be at all confused [even though it all too often is of late] with this year's Republican National Convention's own Rules Committee- which itself will come into play within what I will be discussing later in this piece): thus, Mr. Haugland is (to here borrow from the above headlines) RNC member, GOP Delegate and RNC Rule Maker all in one and has two important credentials that cannot (and should not) be at all ignored or downplayed-- he is a Republican Party insider and he also has had much input into the rules of the Republican Party per se: thus, what Mr. Haugland might say about those rules simply must be taken most seriously, even though- or so it seems- most of his own Party are acting, if not also thinking, differently.

Before I go on, and by way of fullest disclosure here (that which those who read what I might write for The Green Papers [that's right-- both of you! ;-)] most deserve to know), The Green Papers (and myself in particular) had- albeit limited- contact with Curly Haugland early last year (2015). Mr. Haugland sent us an e-mail outlining, in summary, his views on the efficacy- or not- of the Republican Party "binding"- or not- its National Convention delegates to contenders for the GOP's presidential nomination along with some documentation justifying same (I want to make it most clear that it appears The Green Papers was not the only entity that received this and, or so we were told, it had also gone out to the members of the Republican National Committee itself [evidently, its intended primary audience]).

I myself took the time to read what Mr. Haugland had sent and found it most interesting (at one point, I even shot him a message telling him so) especially to one, such as I, who has long been interested in even the most arcane procedures ancillary to a Major Party National Convention (including, as should be obvious to anyone who has even perfunctorily perused The Green Papers, those involving delegate selection/pledging/binding) going all the way back to when I was still in high school (back in the early 1970s). It is all that I have learned about such things (not just in relation to all the presidential nominating contests I myself remember actually following in real time, but also the very history of same going back well before I was even born [some of that history will show up towards the end of this piece]) over the years and decades that I myself try my utmost to bring to bear to all that I might do here on The Green Papers, including these Commentaries of mine.

We at The Green Papers told Mr. Haugland that we would take what he had sent us more or less "under advisement" and again, by way of fullest disclosure, I myself have not had any direct contact (by e-mail or otherwise, prior to my writing this very piece) with Mr. Haugland since.

I did, however, watch Curly Haugland's television interview on MSNBC's All in with Chris Hayes this past Thursday evening with great interest (the same interest with which I had also- that same evening- read what was to be found online underneath the kinds of headlines posted in boldface above). Mr. Haugland's thesis is, in my own opinion, of much potential interest to more general users of TheGreenPapers.com as well as those who might read my Commentaries for this website (not necessarily the same people!): thus I present it here and I also hope that readers find my own opinions about it at least somewhat interesting, where not necessarily all that enlightening.

Mr. Haugland's principal argument, simply put, is that Republican National Convention delegates are not bound to presidential contenders, even on the First Ballot: furthermore, he goes on to opine that Republican National Convention delegates can never be bound in the first place! (Rather obviously, what he says- as a Republican Party official- has no bearing whatsoever on what the Democrats [or, for that matter, any other (so-called 'Third' Party)] might, or might not, do within their own presidential nominating process). As one media source has also noted: "[Mr. Haugland] also questions why presidential primaries and caucuses are even held in the first place"

Obviously, it might come as a great surprise- if not also a complete shock- to at least many of those who have already voted- or will yet vote- in either Republican Presidential Primaries or 'Presidential Polls' concurrent with Republican precinct caucuses and the like (regardless of which GOP presidential contender they might support) that there is an argument out there (one circulated by a Republican Party official with the credentials to back up his contentions) that, in essence, says 'Your vote, in the end, really doesn't mean all that much' (BZZZZZ: Thanks for playing-- but at least you get to take with you the "home version" of the game...)...

so, let us here break down the essentials of what Mr. Haugland is saying and look at them point by point.

Before I do so, let me just state here- if only for the record- that which is most obvious: Curly Haugland is, indeed, a Republican Party official and I, so obviously, am not. If the reader now wishes to argue that, in this sense, Mr. Haugland "outranks" me here, so be it: I can only respond with that which I wrote back on 1 September 2012 in the midst of my writing about the 2012 Republican National Convention "most recently completed" (as I, back then, put it) where I noted- in specific relation to my accounts of that Convention but this, of course, applies to anything I might write for The Green Papers more generally- that what you read under my own byline is merely how one 'John Q. American Citizen' (this 'John Q. American Citizen: Richard E. Berg-Andersson) has perceived things... and that is all!

Or, as I later declaimed (albeit in writing) in that same Commentary, in short, dear reader, I'm my own man! Sometimes, in my writings for (or even my posting of rather dreary data on) this website, I- indeed- march to the proverbial beat of Henry David Thoreau's "a different drummer"; at other times, however, I might well be found marching in step with the "crowd" (whatever the crowd of moment might be)... but know this, dear reader: it is always my drum!

One also has to please keep in mind here that which I only just wrote above: that [i]t is all that I have learned about [even the most arcane procedures ancillary to a Major Party National Convention] over the years and decades that I myself try my utmost to bring to bear here... and, with that as my caveat, I now press on:

Mr. Haugland is correct, at the start, about one thing: that political Parties nominate their own presidential (and vice-presidential) candidates and this is as true of the Democrats as it is of the Republicans (or, again, Third Parties for that matter) as well as of whatever method and means might to used to so nominate (whether a National Convention such as that held, every four years, by the Major Parties; a similar [much smaller in size, generally] National Convention used for the same purpose by a Third Party; a smaller Committee of [Third] Party members; even, perhaps, nominations made during a beer-soaked five-person night of Texas Hold 'em in someone's basement rec room [should that be what a 'political Party' made up of just such persons might, in fact, want to do: hey, it's America!])...

No question at all that the duly constituted Republican Party of the United States nominates its own presidential and vice-presidential candidates, every four years, through the device of a National Convention consisting of duly credentialed delegates to (whereby these persons are empowered to cast individual votes on the floor of) said Convention, said delegates representing the equally duly constituted Republican Parties of the 50 States of the American Union and 6 "equivalent jurisdictions" (the sole incorporated US territory, one that houses 'the Seat of the Government of the United States', the District of Columbia; the 3 unincorporated Territories: American Samoa, Guam and the US Virgin Islands; and the 2 'freely associated' Commonwealths of the Northern Mariana Islands and that of Puerto Rico)... Mr. Haugland certainly gets no argument from me here!

Mr. Haugland also gets no argument from me when he states (as he did in that MSNBC interview I watched) that the Republican National Convention is, in fact, "the highest authority" of, in and for the aforementioned duly constituted Republican Party of the United States (from which, or so *I* would add, there is no further appeal! In a very real sense, the Republican National Convention is- to the Republican Party US- the equivalent of a 'Court of Last Resort'). Indeed, many American political historians and political scientists alike opine that, in truth, a national Republican Party doesn't even really exist outside of those days, every four years, a GOP National Convention itself meets (the continual existence of the Republican National Committee- which, in this regard, is but something of a "steering committee" [although the analogy *I* would more prefer- after all, I was born (and attended college in) New England- is that of the RNC being the 'Board of Selectmen' to the Republican National Convention being a quadrennial 'representative Town Meeting']- notwithstanding). And, by the way, everything I have written in this paragraph- as well as in the two immediately preceding it- also applies equally to the Democrats (simply change the name of the Party from "Republican" in these paragraphs).

Where Mr. Haugland and I now part company in this regard is in relation to the following:

note well, gentle reader, that which I have already written above, where I wrote about National Convention delegates representing the equally [equally to the Republican Party of the United States as a whole] duly constituted Republican Parties of the 50 States of the American Union and 6 "equivalent jurisdictions".

I have quoted, at least a few times in the past, on this website what amounts to something of a warning against "total ideological victory" on the part of at least the Major American political Parties: in the second (1966) edition of his book- titled The Price of Union (and subtitled The Influence of the American Temper on the Course of History)- Herbert Agar, after noting that such "total ideological victory" is "more improbable" in the United States of America "than in any other nation", goes on to opine that a successful American political party must be... a true federation and thus a true accommodator of all the interests of a continent. Such parties should never allow themselves to feel, and preach, that the opposition is not only mistaken, but wicked. (Hard to come by in 2016, perhaps!)

I only bring that quote from Agar into this discussion in order to have noted his own take (which I will here repeat once more, if only for emphasis) that a Party- especially a Major Party- in the United States "must be... a true federation": for that is exactly what at least Major Parties here in America actually are-- federations (although, if only at times, the term "confederation" seems the more apt). The national Republican Party is itself a federation of all the State and Territorial Republican Parties which, in turn, are federations of all the (more usually) County (Parish in Louisiana, of course) Republican Parties which, in turn still, are governed by Republican Committees made up of committee members from each of the precincts (election districts) in that County (or equivalent)-- and the Democratic Party is similarly organized. And, even further still- as well as quite often- the precinct Party committeepersons in the same Municipality or Township or equivalent below the County level form a local Party Committee for that jurisdiction and, in addition, organize local Republican (or Democratic) clubs in order to promote political activities- as well as provide venues for such activities- for all those within the Party who might wish to more actively participate in the Party at at least the local level (after all, there are only so many precincts within a given local jurisdiction [my own town has but 6]: thus, they can't all be on the County and local Party Committee!)

In this kind of setup, the levels (or, if you will, tiers [the term more usually used when discussing the Caucus/Convention system of National Convention delegate selection]) within Party organization- again, Democrats as well as Republicans- are, to a greater or lesser extent (often depending on how strong, or not, the Party is within a given State or, in a large State, a given region of the State), autonomous- if not even outright independent- of one another (even while having an at least certain interdependence). Thus, the State Parties themselves maintain a large amount of actually being either the Republican or Democratic Party, even moreso than the national apparatus of said Parties (especially given that which I wrote earlier, in which the Major Party National Convention alone is, indeed, a combination 'national Party town meeting'/Court of Last Resort and given that a Party's National Convention only actually functions, as a whole, during but a few to several days out of 1,461!)

For Republicans and Democrats alike, it is the State Party, aided and abetted by its County and lower-tier counterparts, that oversees the mechanisms (where areas within these are not also specifically regulated by State Law) for nominating the Party's candidates all up and down the ballot (from United States Senator and Governor all the way down to "left-handed Dogcatcher in an obscure New Jersey Township" [not really an elective office, of course, yet one to which even *I* could never be elected!]) every two years, if not even annually (in a State- such as my own- in which important odd-numbered year elections take place at some level of governance).

By contrast, we ordinary Americans only pay most careful attention to the operations of the national Major Parties (we're, of course, dealing here with the Party organization per se: it is, of course, different when dealing with the specific officeholders- such as members of either house of Congress- who happened to have already been elected after having been nominated by their own Parties) only once every four years. As in the very operation of American Law itself (in which the everyday citizen encounters State Law far more often than he/she encounters Federal authority directly), the State Party does most of the proverbial "heavy lifting" politically.

Historically, as well as in terms of institutional 'culture', the Republicans have tended to give their State Parties more leeway in how they might go about selecting National Convention delegates as compared to the Democrats (at least since the Dems' adoption and implementation of more "top down" rules going back to the McGovern/Fraser reforms of the 1970s that themselves flowed from a rather [if only in retrospect, given all else that was going on around it] offhand motion- approved in that otherwise tumultuous Democratic National Convention in Chicago during the final week of August 1968- made on the floor of that Convention by the Erie County, NY Democratic Party Chair of that time). Thus, as is usual every four years, the State Republican Parties- as well as their Territorial equivalents- have themselves crafted rules regarding National Convention delegate selection, including such things as whether or not to "bind" said delegates to contenders for the GOP presidential nomination and, if so, when (where the timing is not itself regulated by State Law) and how (a straight Presidential Preference Primary? Direct district delegate selection combined with a Presidential Preference Primary for the at-large delegates? A binding 'Presidential Poll' concurrent with Precinct Caucuses meeting to choose delegates to higher-tier Party Conventions? Party Conventions which do not force the State's National Convention delegates to be bound at all [as, again, in Curly Haugland's own North Dakota]?).

Yes, to be sure, the national Republican Party determines the total number of National Convention delegates each State (or equivalent jurisdiction) can even send to the next Republican National Convention (10 at-large delegates [minimum] from each State of the Union; 3 delegates for each Congressional District in the State; "bonus" at-large delegates for how much support the State's voters have most recently given to Republican candidates for President, both houses of Congress and Governor [in that such "bonus" delegates are only so granted where such GOP candidates have actually won] as well as "rewarding" those States with Republican control of at least one house- if not both houses- of the State's legislature and, of course, the 3 Republican 'Party Leaders' [including, in North Dakota, Mr. Haugland himself] who go to the Convention as delegates ex officio)-- but it is the State Republican Parties that turn these mathematical constructs known as 'National Convention delegate slots' into the reality of warm bodies occupying seats on the floor of the Convention!

When these delegates- whether bound by their State's own rules or not- first arrive in Cleveland this summer (whether they arrive ahead of most others because they might have been named to one of the Convention Committees [which I will come to shortly] that are scheduled to meet ahead of the Convention or, if not, only arrive going into the weekend immediately preceding the opening of the Convention the following Monday), their status as either bound or unbound delegates cannot have much changed from when they were first chosen through the delegate selection procedures in each State, mainly because- until the Republican National Convention is gaveled to order for the first time- the 2016 Republican National Convention does not yet actually exist!

Mr. Haugland is also, although only in part (and that part is technical in nature), correct when he points out that the Republican Convention's Rules Committee (again, not to be confused with the RNC's Committee on Standing Rules on which Mr. Haugland himself sits) has the inherent power to unbind the Republican National Convention delegates, should it wish to, even on the First Ballot (despite rules in almost all States or equivalent jurisdictions specifically binding delegates to presidential contenders- more often than not through, again, the results of voting in earlier Presidential Primaries, 'Presidential Poll's held at precinct caucuses, or similar- on at least that First Ballot) of Roll Call of the States on Presidential Nomination--

well... sort of!

The Convention Rules Committee consists of 112 members, one man and one woman from each of the 56 jurisdictions (again, 50 States plus the 6 non-State "equivalent jurisdictions" noted earlier in this piece), each of whom must be a National Convention delegate and chosen to serve on said Committee by the delegation of his/her State or equivalent jurisdiction itself. This Rules Committee has the power, in reality, merely to propose changes within the Temporary Rules for the Convention (these are Rules- numbered 26 through 42 [including the (in?)famous Rule 40 which requires that only those presidential candidates who have the support of a majority of the delegates in at least 8 States or equivalent jurisdictions can be formally nominated (and seconded) before the Convention]- adopted by the previous Republican National Convention in Tampa four years ago now): but such proposed rules changes must thereafter be formally adopted by the Convention as a whole!

Indeed, Mr. Haugland himself described this very well when he noted- in the course of that MSNBC interview the other night- that these Temporary Rules provide what he called a "template" upon which Permanent Rules for the upcoming National Convention can be built. I immediately thought about that which I wrote only a few days ago now where I mentioned how, at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the so-called 'Virginia Plan'... became- pretty much by default- the working draft around which, over the course of the ensuing Summer, the Federal Constitution would be built: a fairly good analogy to one of the two main purposes of these Temporary Convention Rules (the other being the having of rules already in place to thereby allow the newly convened National Convention to even function in the first place [of which more below]).

Unless and until at least 1237 delegates to (that is: a majority of) the 2016 Republican National Convention vote to approve any such changes as have been recommended by the Rules Committee (or, for that matter, any of the other Committees that meet before the Convention itself first meets: on Credentials, on the Party Platform, on Permanent Organization)- on a motion from the floor by a delegate, duly recognized as being in order by the Chair, and duly seconded (after which the Convention is then asked by the Chair to "put the question" [yes, indeed, perhaps 'voting for the motion before voting against it' ;-)])- such rules changes do not- indeed, cannot- take effect.

Yes, it is true that the immediately previous National Convention of a Major Party cannot bind (in this case, to following all rules adopted by that previous Convention for both itself and the next one four years later) a different National Convention so meeting four years later (for the next National Convention is an entirely new body- a newly convened 'Town Meeting'; a 'Court of Last Resort' of the Party convening anew). At the same time, however, there have be some rules- temporary in nature and thereby subject to change at the will and whim of the new Convention- already in place before that new Convention convenes, else the new Convention cannot even legally meet!(An analogy here would be the case where an outgoing two-year Congress, in the middle of a President's four-year term, passes legislation setting the specific date for the convening of the next Congress elected in the Midterm Federal Elections, even though the old Congress will soon after adopting that legislation adjourn sine die before the next Congress can even first meet: this is seen as perfectly acceptable within the constitutional provision- from the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution- allowing Congress to "by law appoint a different day" for "assembl[ing] at least once in every year" from the otherwise mandated "noon on the third day of January").

No, the new Convention is not required to use any or all of the rules set by the previous, now long ago Convention, but it must indicate its own unwillingness to do so proactively, as well as as a body. Therefore, if the new Convention's Rules Committee recommends completely unbinding the delegates from their presidential preference obligations under State Republican rules as already applied throughout the pre-Convention Primary/Caucus-Convention "season"- even on the First Ballot- and the new Convention (by majority vote) thereafter agrees, then (get out yer popcorn, folks!) the delegates are, indeed, as "unbound" on that First Ballot as Curly Haugland himself might wish (shame about all the potential political ramifications outside the Convention, however)-- but it is not automatic!

From where does antipathy within the Republican Party towards the binding of National Convention delegates to contenders for the GOP presidential nomination- or even the very influence of Presidential Primaries (and Caucuses as 'quasi-Primaries')- come? It is altogether too simplistic to here suggest that the Grand Old Party merely wants to avoid the "top down" bureaucracy engendered by the delegate selection rules in the Democratic Party which that Party has used- and strictly enforced (through that Party's own national rules)- since the aforementioned McGovern/Fraser reforms of the early 1970s (even through the later addition of such things as the so-called "superdelegates" [Unpledged Party Leader/Elected Officials (PLEOs)] who attend the Democratic National Convention ex officio): while it makes for a nice story- and, in addition, well fits the views of at least most Republicans who, most certainly, do not want their own Party to be too much like that of the Democrats- it is actually much the proverbial "false narrative".

Presidential Primaries were themselves largely the product of Turn of the Last Century on 'Progressive' political philosophy and originally, at least, had more of a home within the Republican Party than the Democratic. The idea was to take the choosing of National Convention delegates- as was also being done, at the same time, to try and free the nominations of Federal and State (and even County and City) elective officeholders through much the same procedure: a "Direct" Primary (that is: an actual Primary Election, as opposed to a Caucus)- from Party organizations (if not outright "political machines" replete with "ward heelers" answering to Party "bosses") and give it, as best as might be practicable, to the ordinary "rank and file" voter within the Party.

The earliest Presidential Primaries, however, were either purely Advisory or merely involved direct Delegate Selection: in the former case, only a Presidential Preference Primary (in which the voter could choose- directly- the name of the person he wanted to be his Party's presidential nominee) was held-- the State's National Convention delegation was supposed to be "advised" by the result of the voting as to just who to support at the Convention (theoretically, the top vote-getter in the Primary): often as not, the voters' "advice" was ignored on the Convention floor. In the latter case, the voter was actually allowed to choose the National Convention delegates directly-- but, in many (if not most) cases, the State did not permit the presidential preferences of the delegate candidates to be indicated on the ballot (this is the same situation to be found in the upcoming Pennsylvania Republican Presidential Primary this year, as regards the Keystone State's district delegates) and, as a result, it was nearly impossible for the voter to know just who his own delegate selections might actually be supporting on the floor of the National Convention. Some States even used a combination of the two: a double-ballot with Advisory Primary above and a Delegate Selection Primary underneath (this was to be the very origin of the Loophole Primary).

Early on, a very few States began to use what was at first known as the "Mandatory" Primary (as it mandated that the State's National Convention delegation support- as a unit- the top vote-getter in what was otherwise a Presidential Preference Primary): nowadays, we know such a delegate selection event as a Winner Take All Presidential Primary. In most cases, however, National Convention delegates (as can be easily seen) were unbound to any specific presidential contenders- even where Presidential Primaries, of various types, were actually in use.

Nonetheless, 1912 was something of a very early "high water mark" for Presidential Primaries, especially on the Republican side. Former President Theodore Roosevelt ("TR") had decided he wanted a third term in the Presidency after nearly four years out of office: he justified this by opining that the incumbent Republican President (and TR's chosen successor)- William Howard Taft- had been a disappointment to him (Taft was seen, by TR [as well as many within the Progressive movement] as someone who had unleashed the forces of reaction against much of what TR himself had stood for while in office). TR determined that the most effective way to challenge Taft (since the "regular" Republicans supported the incumbent and, because most States still did their National Convention delegate selection through Caucus/Convention procedures, these would more likely control the 1912 Republican Convention) was to appeal to the ordinary Republican voter through the still new-fangled Presidential Primaries.

There were 13 Presidential Primaries in 1912 with at least no little effect (at least in terms of popular perception: as noted just above, they had little direct effect on the actual presidential preferences of the GOP delegates from most States that held them)-- Senator "Fighting Bob" LaFollette (a Progressive's Progressive) won two of the early contests (North Dakota and his own home State of Wisconsin) but, through most of them, it was TR vs. Taft (TR would win 9 Primaries, including that in Taft's home State of Ohio; Taft would win but 1- Massachusetts; TR's own home State of New York was a "wash": TR won district delegates in a Delegate Selection Primary but pro-Taft regulars actually controlled the New York delegation).

TR virtually demanded the Republican presidential nomination on grounds that the People (at least those within the Grand Old Party [as well as in rather few of the then-48 States of the American Union]) had spoken, but Taft- aided and abetted by the fact that the GOP did not yet "punish" States that did not well support the Party (solidly Democratic Louisiana had as many Republican National Convention delegates as rock-ribbed Republican Kansas, for example)- prevailed to win renomination. TR's supporters bolted the Republican Party to form the Progressive 'Bull Moose' Party and, as a result of this split in the GOP, Democrat Woodrow Wilson (himself a Progressive philosophically, but only to a point) was elected President that November.

The Grand Old Party would begin to "punish" States not so Republican by reducing their share of Republican National Convention delegates come 1916, but would also- at the same time- sour on Presidential Primaries (truth be told, allowing all too much input from the ordinary rank and file when it came to the GOP's presidential nomination was just not within the early 20th Century Republican Party's more conservative DNA). Democrats, despite their name, never really all that warmed up to them in the first place (besides, "bossism" was fairly rampant within the early to mid 20th Century 'Democracy' [as political beat writers often referred to the Democratic Party- it was what 'Grand Old Party' was, and still is, to the Republicans (a nickname) but Republicans began to retort with an affectation, still much heard within the GOP today, of calling the party of their opponents the 'Democrat' Party instead of by its actual name])-- until the New Deal era, of course, Progressivism in both Parties was quite "on the ropes".

Even after FDR had become, and then was re-elected three times, President, actual Presidential Primaries remained relatively few in number (held in no more than roughly 1/3 of the States, if even that) and rarely featured a true contest between leading rivals for a Party's presidential nomination (many Primary contests between those having a real shot at the Presidency- and which one might find within a list of Presidential Primaries in a given Presidential Election year from the Interwar Period- were, in truth, the accidental result of write-in voting). Presidential Primaries, instead, became known as an election in which a viable presidential contender could not really win his Party's nomination, but in which he could certainly lose it! Best to remain safe by only running in Primaries in your own section of the country (and, if it held one, your own home State) and never running in the home State (or even region) of one of your main rivals (unless you really had nothing left to lose or were a weaker candidate hoping to make a big splash in the presidential nominating process via pulling off an upset victory).

In this regard, 1952 was something of a turning point: Dwight Eisenhower was put on the ballot in New Hampshire's already 'First in the Nation' Republican Presidential Primary on the Republican side and won it over presumptive nomination favorite Senator Robert Taft while, on the Democratic side in the Granite State, Senator Estes Kefauver pretty much knocked incumbent President Harry Truman out of the race (though it didn't, in the end, help Kefauver wrest that year's nomination from Adlai Stevenson)-- mixed messages about Presidential Primaries, to be sure.

But it would be 1960 that would truly revive the Presidential Primary in its potential importance: among the Democrats, Senator John F. Kennedy defeated liberal favorite Senator Hubert Humphrey in both Wisconsin (close enough to Humphrey's Minnesota to demonstrate JFK's appeal outside of New England) and West Virginia (where JFK showed that a Catholic could win the votes of Bible Belt Protestants). In 1964, it would be the Republican Presidential Primaries that would prove the undoing of moderate Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller and, at the same time, legitimize the conservative insurgency of Senator Barry Goldwater-- and, of course, the Democratic Presidential Primaries in 1968 were legendary (even *I* once wrote about them!).

But, after the 1960s, the two Major Parties were already more following their own eponyms: for the Democrats more willingly embraced Presidential Primaries while the Republicans still tried to resist them (to many of both Parties in the political middle, however, Presidential Primaries only rewarded political extremes- not just Goldwater in the GOP, but Democrat George McGovern in 1972). The McGovern/Fraser reforms pretty much demanded the Democrats use more Presidential Primaries and, once the Democrats (thanks to the veritable implosion of the Republican Party electorally in the mid-1970s due to voter reaction to 'Watergate') had taken control of most State Governorships and legislatures, much of this found itself enshrined in Law: the Grand Old Party was dragged into more and more Presidential Primaries "kicking and screaming".

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter proved that- given the still new rules in his own Party- a candidate could enter just about every Presidential Primary and, because his opponents ended up still "picking and choosing" their best electoral forums, come out of them- in the end- with the lion's share of National Convention delegates. By 1980, even Republican presidential contenders risked much by skipping a Presidential Primary in which one's chief rivals were still willing to compete (even if it happened to be in the "wrong" part of the country or even held in an opponent's home State).

As a result, we have the presidential nominating system (although I here use that term most advisedly!) we currently have in both Major Parties: one that has seemingly always determined each Major Party's presidential nominee before that Party's National Convention even first meets. It is this that makes the current situation, in which the Republican Party leadership is now talking openly about a possible contested GOP Convention, seem so abnormal (even though, once upon a time, it was perfectly normal!).

Yet the fact remains that the Republican Party institutional 'culture' seems most ambivalent here: a Curly Haugland- who, as he said in that MSNBC interview the other night, does not much like forcing people to do things against their will- can thereby still hope to get his own Party to recognize that a National Convention delegate is actually delegated authority on behalf of the Party faithful without those same Party faithful at all hamstringing that same delegate's own discretion or even his/her conscience. Even those rules on the State level binding delegates through a Primary or Caucus- or Republican national rules seeking at least some oversight over the GOP presidential nominating process (such as requiring those Rule 16(f) filings from State Republican Parties in the first place)- can all too often be read as being rather halfhearted.

As I've already noted- over the last few to several months- on this website, as well as in print and radio interviews (so there is a public record out there of my own views in this regard): I remain skeptical about an open or contested 2016 Republican National Convention even taking place...

but if, somehow, Curly Haugland can get his way------------------!

 


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