Published on TheHill.com on March 22, 2016
2016 has seen the advent of two serious threats to our democratic process of choosing a president. One is from the right, as Republican Party bosses seek to reassert their ability to overrule the voters — and the other from the left, with demonstrators seeking to shout out Donald Trump and goad his all-too-susceptible followers into violence.
The nexus of these twin threats is the same: fear of Trump.
As he marches on toward the presidential nomination, he is sweeping aside the best the Republican Party has to offer. John Kasich hangs on by a thread. And only Ted Cruz stands in his way.
But the fear he engenders has catalyzed the least democratic of our impulses: mob rule by the left and boss rule by the right. While Americans have fought and died for the right to select their leaders in elections, thousands more have been clubbed, gassed, exiled and imprisoned in the fight to get the right to nominate candidates in direct primaries.
Before 1964, party bosses routinely selected the candidates. Primaries were for candidates who had something to prove, a form of auditioning for the party bosses. In 1952 and 1956, Adlai Stevenson won the Democratic nomination without competing in a single primary. In 1960, Kennedy fought in the primaries to prove that a Catholic could win and so he could persuade — but could not compel — the bosses to nominate him.
But in 1964, Barry Goldwater turned the Republican establishment on its head by defeating Nelson Rockefeller in the primaries, leaving in the dust the old Eastern party establishment.
When the left wing of the Democratic Party, animated by opposition to the Vietnam War, tried the trick in 1968, its candidates — Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern — won all the primaries, but the party bosses nominated Hubert Humphrey nonetheless. Chicago, the scene of the convention, was gripped by days of rioting, police brutality, tear gas, billy clubs and arrests. So rent was the Democratic Party that it succumbed to Richard Nixon in the fall.
Stung by the events of Chicago, Democrats — followed by Republicans — changed the rules and required that the delegates who chose the candidates be elected in primaries after making binding and public pledges of support for a candidate.
Now the leaders of the Republican Party, terrified by the prospect of a nominee they cannot control and convinced they will not defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall, are mapping out a strategy to ignore the will of their voters and derail Trump at the convention. Nobody challenges the primary voting or alleges that the billionaire stole his victories. But the bosses would nonetheless have us turn away the candidate that got the most votes and instead nominate someone more to their liking.
This strategy is obscene and a violation of the spirit of our nation and our democracy. Even if a candidate should fall just short of a majority but win the overwhelming plurality, he should not be stymied but must be nominated.
On the left, noisy demonstrators try to disrupt Trump’s rallies. In the spirit of the communist “agents provocateur” of years past, they shove their signs in the face of Trump supporters, challenging them to physical combat. When Trump’s backers respond, they film it and broadcast it throughout the nation, piously decrying Trump’s authoritarian predilections.
Meanwhile, the left-wing mob blocks traffic to stop people from exercising their First Amendment right of peaceful assembly.
These threats to our democratic way of choosing a president must not be allowed to block the path of popular selection of the nominee — especially not when hundreds of thousands of voters are participating in the Republican primaries for the first time. We dare not make them more cynical by showing that their votes didn’t count.
This election is not a question of whether or not you are for Donald Trump. It’s about whether or not you are for democracy.
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