Do you want a party or a nominee? Choose.

On May 3, the New York Times editorial board published a piece with the title, “It’s Donald Trump’s Party Now.” They were referring to Trump’s convincing and unexpected win in the Indiana primary, so I know what they had in mind. But I think they went too far. What if the Republicans refuse to accept Trump as their candidate? What if Trump refused to accept “Republicanism” as his own platform?

It looks to me as if we are there; or nearly there.

Paul Ryan, who, as everyone knows, is Speaker of the House, is also chairman of the Republican convention. The conventimanning 1on that is going to choose Donald Trump as the nominee of “the Republican party.” Notice the quotation marks. Ryan is the highest ranking Republican. He is behind only Joe Biden as “our next President.” [1] He is as close to Mr. Republican as anyone can be.  He looks pensive, don’t you think?

I put “the Republican party” in quotes because there is a real question at the moment who or what that name refers to. Is it the long history that has led generations of voters to refer to “the Grand Old Party” (that’s what GOP stands for)? Is it the party that writes and adopts the platform on which its candidate will stand? [2] Is it the nominee’s ability to stand with other Republican leaders to protect the party from divisions and to do battle with its opponents?

If you have been reading the papers, you know it is not any of those things.

Standing on the Republican Platform

We can bring the first two questions within shouting distance of each other by imagining that the agenda Paul Ryan has written and failed, so far, to get anyone to accept is the real “Republican Platform.” When Speaker Paul Ryan said recently that he was “not ready to endorse” Trump as the Republican party’s candidate, Trump shot back that he was “not ready to endorse Speaker Ryan’s agenda.”

And I am sure he isn’t. I suspect he is not ready to endorse any agenda. I think just having an agenda would feel constraining to Mr. Trump. Trump sees himself as the leader of a cause. That is not “agenda-friendly.” He sees himself as a savvy negotiator. That is not “agenda-friendly” either. Nothing about Trump, public or private, long ago or recent, suggests that he could stick to an agenda—even an agenda constructed to gain advantages for himself.

manning 3I think of “agenda” and “Trump” in the way I think of the agenda of the Earp brothers at the OK Corral. If there is an agenda there, it is “get them before they have a chance to get you.” Grand Old Party? Really?

As a “negotiator,” Trump is used to cutting the best deal he can for himself at the moment. Apparently he is really good at it. But “cutting a deal” and “having a platform” are different kinds of things and are, in fact, opposing kinds of things. You really can’t “stand on a platform” and “cut a deal” at the same time.

And even worse, Trump would, as the party’s nominee, be charged with negotiating a deal that would be best for the group he is responsible to. The days of “the best deal he can cut for himself” are over if he is the nominee.

And the best deal “at the moment” might not be the best deal on down the road, particularly if you are playing with the faith and credit of the United States. That’s not the kind of thing you could lose in a crap game. You can’t get out of it by filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy—not for the United States.

So the whole “representing the Republican platform” thing looks moot. If he commits himself to any platform at all, it will be the first time I have ever heard of it. I don’t think he will and I wonder, really, if he could.

Standing with Republican Leaders

But standing “for” the Republican party doesn’t rally have to mean “standing on the platform.” In fact, in these days of candidate-led, rather than party-led, elections, there is often a good deal of variation between “what the party says” and “what the candidate says.” “Standing for” could mean “standing with” the other leaders of the party. Actually, that doesn’t look so good either. Here’s the way Alexander Burns put it in the New York Times for May 6:

Since a landslide victory in Indiana made him the presumptive Republican nominee, Mr. Trump has faced a shunning from party leaders that is unprecedented in modern politics.

I have never seen a collection of Republicans like this before. It includes all the Bushes—both former Presidents and the wannabe. It includes previous standard bearers John McCain and Mitt Romney. It includes columnist George Will, who is never short of a good quote. Should Trump get the nomination, he wrote, conservatives would have to:

“help him lose 50 states – condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation’s civic life.”

Glen Beck (!) a prominent conservative radio commentator is opposed to Trump. And Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, as conservative a writer as anyone would want. And Ken Mehlman, former head of the Republican National Committee. The list goes on and on. It includes Republican office holders and staffers from executive and legislative branches.

So it appears that Trump is not only not standing on the platform, he is also not standing with the other prominent members of his party. I think that “Donald Trump” and “Republican Party” are entirely separable entities. I’m pretty sure there is not room in the right lane for both of them.

manning 5[1] And if you can’t imagine what it would be like for a conservative Republican Speaker of the House to move seamlessly into the Oval Office and start “presidenting,” then you owe it to yourself to see John Goodman do it as Glen Alan Walken in Season 4 of The West Wing. I found it disconcerting.

[2] This is a metaphor that has gotten entirely out of hand. In the very old days, you stood up on a tree stump—so people could see you—and delivered your “stump speech.” A little forethought eventually produced a platform that you could stand on if there were not an adequate stump. The platform—the wooden stuff—came to be used to stand for “the platform,” i.e., the proposals the candidate was making, considered collectively. But, of course, we don’t always consider them collectively, so the programmatic platform was imagined to be made up of “planks,” just as the physical platform was. “Senator, we’d like to ask about the foreign policy plank in your platform.” That kind of thing.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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2 Responses to Do you want a party or a nominee? Choose.

  1. Bad Wolf says:

    Yet every one of those republican leaders will vote for Trump in November.

    • hessd says:

      That has nearly always been true in the past. This year, I don’t think it will. We’ll all see at the same time, right?

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