By John F. Di Leo -
If a presumptive nominee for president or vice president was discovered – either before or after the party’s convention – to have gone through electro-shock therapy for mental problems, would the party be within its rights to swap out that candidate for someone else?
If the presumptive nominee for president or vice president was discovered – either before or after the convention – to have accepted bribes that influenced his decisions in a prior office – such as, for example, a state’s governor – would the party be within its rights to swap out that candidate for someone else?
If the presumptive nominee for president or vice president was discovered – either before or after the convention – to have murdered someone, or committed a bank robbery, or participated in a massive foreign tax dodge scheme – would the party be within its rights to swap out that candidate for someone else?
The answer, as you know is a resounding yes. President Nixon’s sitting vice president, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign when past bribery came to light. Senator Thomas Eagleton was forced off the Democratic presidential ticket in 1972 when his medical history was made known. And Richard Nixon himself was forced to resign due to a single coverup of a single minor burglary.
It was their respective parties that forced these choices, usually before or entirely separate from the law enforcement community. The party has considerable power in who it allows to be its public face at the presidential level. If only Democrats had called for Nixon and Agnew to go, or if only Republicans had called for Eagleton to go, they wouldn’t have left. It was the fact that their own parties made the decision to eject them, that forced them to “voluntarily” get out of Dodge.
In fact, you’ll note, only Vice Presidential candidate Eagleton was “just a candidate” when he was forced off the ticket. Nixon and Agnew were already elected, holding office, when forced to resign. The party does have some control over the public face it presents to the world, and there are crimes or issues of character that are considered severe enough to merit ejection from that role.
The Bar Room Analogy
You’ve probably already foreseen this one: A man approaches a beautiful woman in a bar, and asks if she’d sleep with him for a million dollars. She chuckles and says “Sure!” He then asks if she’d sleep with him for fifty bucks. She slaps his face and shouts “What do you take me for?” … to which he responds “That’s already been established; we’re just arguing about price.”
I realize that this is not a perfect analogy… but the concept of arguing about degree is indeed an appropriate one.
What we seek to determine in this ghastly presidential year is how completely we should be wedded to the strict delegate count in selecting nominees for president. What level of authority should the parties have over who presents their public face in November?
Each party has the job of selecting a presidential ticket – somehow – to place before the electorate in the fall. Minor parties tend to do this through caucuses and a national convention, while the major parties tend to do it through a mixture of caucuses and primaries, followed by a more complex national convention of elected, appointed, and standing delegates. In the end, the result is the same: they pick their candidates at the national convention.
Since moving gradually over the past century from a mostly-caucus format to a primary-and-caucus mixed format, Americans have tended to assume that the voters have ever more power to directly select their respective parties’ nominees, to the point that people watch the “committed delegate count” after every state speaks, and assume that the winner of the most delegates is – by law – the nominee. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the primaries and caucuses elect delegates, who may be committed to a certain candidate in theory, but they must still vote their conscience when they arrive at the convention hall. By convention time, both parties have delegates who are committed to a frontrunner or an also-ran or even an early casualty. When they arrive at the convention, what is their duty?
Frankly, their duty remains the same: to select the best possible public face for the party, factoring in the party’s issues, history, membership, philosophy, suitability for the job, and of course, electability. The delegate is not a rubber-stamp, his every move set in stone way back in March, or February, or even January. His role is to select the best possible public face for the party, which by convention time may be – or may NOT be – the person he and his district originally expected it to be.
The voters may have thought they were securing a 100% guaranteed vote… but they should have known all along that their candidate might drop out by the convention (which happens every cycle) or their candidate might have been assassinated or died of natural causes before the convention (which hasn't happened in a while, but has indeed happened), or something else might change, more news might have been discovered since then.
So the question in our bar room analogy is critical. At what point is the problem with the candidate so severe that the party needs to intervene, to step in and overrule the primary voting population? Certainly if he or she is discovered to be someone who has committed murder, or treason, or bribery, or grand larceny; these are obvious. Character issues are less so… but we do have recent precedent – 1972 in fact – of a party taking back a vice presidential nomination just because the candidate had endured electric shock therapy. He had kept it secret during the primaries. So the hurdle really doesn’t have to be as high as one might expect. How many secrets have Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton kept from their respective voting publics, this year, which the delegates know now, and the voters didn't then?
The fact is, the party has an obligation to try to nominate someone who represents them well and can win. If they discover in July that the person they thought right in March wasn’t right after all, they owe it to their membership to jettison the candidate and select someone good.
Where does a responsible political party draw that line? We can argue about that… but first, we must begin by acknowledging that, yes, somewhere, there IS such a line.
The Case Against Hillary Clinton
There is a strong case for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2016. She served eight years in the US Senate, followed by four as Secretary of State. She is universally known, has raised oodles of money, and won the most delegates in the primary season.
There is, however, also a strong case against Hillary Clinton. Her public opinion negatives are incredibly high (the only type of polling that’s really useful, several months out), and she has a track record of criminal accusations going back some forty years with hardly a break.
From her irresponsibility during the Watergate Committee hearings in the 70s, to her allegedly corrupt investments and law firm behavior in Arkansas in the 80s, to her dictatorial and illegal activities as First Lady (do the words “White .House Travel Office” and “HillaryCare” ring a bell?), to her incredible lapses of ethics (or allegedly worse by hundreds of orders of magnitude) as Secretary of State and afterward, through the alleged and apparent linkage between Clinton Foundation fundraising, government policy, and the email scandal… this candidate is the most ethic-challenged, handicapped candidate in Democratic Party history.
The Republican Party might have the sense to nominate someone who can beat her. The Democratic Party has to be concerned not only that she might lose, but that she might bring the rest of her ticket down with her.
The Case Against Donald Trump
Similarly, there is a strong case for Donald Trump to be the Republican Party’s nominee in 2016. He has never held office, at a time when anti-establishment fervor is at its highest point in memory, and he has apparently made billions of dollars as a businessman. He is also universally known, and won the most delegates in the primary season.
There is, however, also a strong case against Donald Trump. His public opinion negatives are also incredibly high – off-the-charts high, irrecoverably high – and his track record includes countless reasons for voters to disbelieve his promises. With an ordinary, experienced candidate, one can look at a voting record to see if he has been consistent throughout his career. With a private citizen, one only has his public pronouncements – and Donald Trump’s public pronouncements are all over the map.
In addition, Donald Trump has forty years in the public eye as a non-politician – not as a quiet, responsible businessman, but as a playboy, showman, radio guest and reality TV star. His antics as a serial dater of supermodels and operator of casinos and beauty pageants have provided a decidedly non-presidential portrait of the candidate, appealing to a share of the public, severely unappealing to the majority.
On top of this, Donald Trump is now associated with a type of candidate – fairly or unfairly – roughly known as a “nativist” populist. Other countries have seen such people run nationally – France’s Le Pen, Italy’s Berlusconi, America’s own George Wallace… but in the United States system, partially because of our electoral college, and partially because of our two-party system, such candidates are almost guaranteed to be relegated to third tier status.
Finally, Donald Trump does not, by objective measures, appear to be running seriously. His “campaign” – if it can be called that – has virtually no money in the bank, has purchased virtually no television ads, and has some 30 paid staff, as contrasted against Hillary Clinton’s 700.
If one didn’t know better, one might think that Donald Trump’s inaction is so intentional, he is actually hoping that the Republican convention will replace him with someone more serious, more electable, and more Republican.
Besides… The Democratic Party might take advantage of Hillary Clinton’s ethical challenges (including a massive ongoing federal investigation) and her obviously bad health to nominate someone who can beat him. The Republican Party also has to be concerned not only that he might lose, but that he might bring the rest of her ticket down with him.
If Donald Trump is as toxic a candidate as many are now convinced he is, his presence at the top of the ticket won’t just cause members of the Republican base to skip the presidential race, it might even so disgust members of the base that they stay home… and that means defeat for scores of Republican candidates downballot, not just in the Senate and House, but also at the state, county, and local levels.
This is an unusual year, for many reasons. After eight years of an Obama residency in the White House, it should be a natural year for a Republican landslide. But the nation has been invaded – our electorate transformed by massive immigration, both legal and illegal, and generations of people raised in a welfare state and a corrupt education system. Every election is harder for principled candidates than ever before.
An agreement to serve as a convention delegate, or even an agreement to hold a primary or caucus, is not a suicide pact. When delegates arrive at their respective conventions, they have one key obligation: to select the best possible nominee for their party. If primary voters voted with good information and made good choices, their selection may indeed be appropriate… but if the primary voters voted with bad information – due to a dearth of real information, thanks to an irresponsible mainstream media – then the delegates owe it to their party members and the country at large to rectify that error.
As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke once said, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” Burke was right; the convention delegates were not chosen to be a rubber stamp; they are empowered to think and act, in the best interest of their party and their country.
The delegates of both parties will have a chance at their convention to do the right thing, and to nominate an honest, experienced, freedom-loving, constitutional representative of their party to serve as their champion for the fall contest… instead of the errant choice who came out ahead in the combination of luck and science and trickery that constitutes the modern primary system.
It may be our nation’s only chance.
Copyright 2016 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a writer, actor, trade compliance trainer and recovering politician, based in Chicagoland. His columns are found regularly in Illinois Review.
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