Unfortunately for supporters of Donald Trump, the answer is: It isn’t. The GOP can’t steal the nomination from itself any more than you can steal your own wallet from your pocket.
When I was a young man, I met one of the most interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a thin, older gentleman who owned a local hardware store, and I sold him a computer. His name was Herb Philbrick, and he was a Communist, and a spy. But he was really an FBI counterspy and informant. His autobiographical book, “I Led 3 Lives,” is out of print, but I have a well-worn copy. Sadly, Herb passed away in 1993, the relic of a bygone era.
One of the main themes Philbrick wrote about was how the Communists would take over real citizen organizations and turn them into false fronts.
When the issue was brought before the four of us for action, the Solomon brothers and Beecher all made their positions plain. They were in agreement, and they were directly opposed to my view. They rejected all programs of any kind to give military aid to Britain. I was in the opposite camp. I believed aid to Britain and her allies was urgently necessary.
“Look,” I said, thinking now of the job-training leaflet, “I appreciate how you feel, and you are entitled to your opinions. But there was a meeting of the Council ten days ago–remember?–and the opinion of the majority then was–”
“You’re crazy!” Stan Beecher seemed ready to use his usual battering-ram technique, but I was in no mood to temporize. I got on my feet to face him down.
“As chairman of the Council I can see no choice but to–”
“Sit down!” Beecher leaned forward and punctuated the order with a light but firm push against my chest which caught me off balance, and I plopped back into my chair. “Look,” he said, before I could recover myself, “the National Board of the American Youth Congress has already decided to go ahead. We got no choice but to send in our hundred-per-cent approval.”
“You’re confusing the issue,” I retorted. “We’re not formally affiliated with the Youth Congress.”
“We send delegates to it, don’t we?”
“Sure, we’ve voted to send delegates to it, but I don’t see that ties us to what they do. Besides, this isn’t democratic. Our members vote one way, we vote another. How can we–“¹
This exchange really happened, as a Cambridge, Mass. organization was first infiltrated, then taken over by Communists. A page later, after some argument, Philbrick wrote this:
His line of reasoning flashed on a light in a far corner of my brain. What was it called, this method of thinking? The Communists had a word for it–democratic centralism? The top policy makers establish the “line” on a particular issue and pass it down through channels to the mob. They agree with it, rubber-stamp it, and pass it back. The policy makers than call it “the will of the people.” Democratic centralism, that was it. Communist democracy.
My mind was suddenly clear–bitterly clear. The answer to all my doubts and questions became apparent. I had walked into a cleverly laid trap. One of the founders and the first chairman of the Cambridge Youth Council–in fact the Council itself–was nothing but a front for the plans and programs of a few behind-the-scenes operators.²
If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ll see the GOP “Establishment” as the “top policy makers” subverting the “will of the people” to their aims. But the GOP, as much as its top dogs might want to influence policy and candidates, is truly a political party where the grassroots ultimately hold the power.
When I say “ultimately,” I mean that seismic shifts in the Republican Party don’t happen in one election cycle, or one flip of a more centrist incumbent to a more right-wing conservative. When I say “ultimately,” I mean we go through wildernesses with John McCains and Mitt Romneys as the expression of our party’s hopes, only to see them dashed at the polls because we held our noses to select these men.
But over time, candidates like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz make their way into the power structure where they are able to mount real campaigns on real issues. Even Jeb Bush did his yeoman’s work in the GOP, as well as Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and even Lindsey Graham. There may be a vast conspiracy to place candidates on the ballot against the grassroots, but if it exists, it’s monumentally incompetent–or we’d be seeing Jeb Bush leading right now.
Raw outsiders are to be viewed with suspicion. It’s supposed to work that way. The party’s job is to protect the integrity and platform of its members. It’s not the GOP that’s stealing the nomination from Donald Trump, it’s Donald Trump is who attempting to use the GOP as a front organization for his own “democratic centralism.”
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court held that California’s Proposition 198, to create a “blanket primary,” violated the parties’ First Amendment right of free association. In California Democratic Party v. Jones, Justice Scalia wrote the opinion in the 7-2 ruling.
In no area is the political association’s right to exclude more important than in the process of selecting its nominee. That process often determines the party’s positions on the most significant public policy issues of the day, and even when those positions are predetermined it is the nominee who becomes the party’s ambassador to the general electorate in winning it over to the party’s views.
When a Donald Trump–an outsider with zero party affiliation–seeks the nomination of the GOP, coming with his own brand of voters, who agree with his policies, his opinions, and his way to “Make America Great Again™,” those voters don’t necessarily represent the views, platform, or policy of the Republican Party. The party has its own leadership, members and activists (they’re called “members”) at the local, state and national level. Not everything endorsed by the RNC in Washington needs to be affirmed by the local and state parties. The GOP does not operate like the Communist Party and does not practice “democratic centralism.”
The politburo in Washington doesn’t anoint a candidate for rubber-stamping by delegates in Houston County, Georgia. No, it doesn’t work that way at all.
Local delegates come from all walks of life. They show up at precinct meetings. They show up at monthly local party meetings. Even if they don’t, they make an effort and offer themselves as delegates. Delegates are not selected by local “party bosses.” The county party meets and selects delegates, by nomination and election (democratic processes), to send to the district conventions. This happens in every state, except for states where delegates are voted in directly (like Pennsylvania and Michigan).
There’s no “master list” of delegates approved by Chairman Priebus and some star chamber in Washington. It doesn’t work that way. But Trump would like voters to believe it does. The reality is that Trump has benefited from GOP delegate rules, and his delegate allocation exceeds the proportional primary votes cast for him. You don’t hear Trump complaining about that.
The GOP has a right and a responsibility as a national political party to vet its candidates against “the most significant public policy issues of the day.” Donald Trump and his supporters, conversely, have no right to overthrow the party’s right of association and self-determination by imposing its own brand of “democratic centralism.”
When Trump threatens that the Republican National Convention in July will “be rough” if he is not the nominee, or tweets absolute falsehoods like this:
Lyin' Ted Cruz can't get votes (I am millions ahead of him) so he has to get his delegates from the Republican bosses. It won't work!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2016
He is not advancing the cause of real democracy and republicanism as practiced in the United States. It’s more reminiscent of the old Soviet Union, to be honest.
The GOP should properly reject an outsider who seeks to hijack the party and make it his personal front group. If Trump wants to win the hearts and minds of America, he needs to start by winning the hearts and minds of the party he chose to run under. If he never intended to do that, he has no business demanding the nomination, or anything else, from the GOP.
¹Herbert A. Philbrick, I Led 3 Lives, (McGraw Hill, 1952), 23.