The Virtues of Brokered Conventions

If the Republican convention of 2016 turns out to be a "brokered convention," will that be a bad thing?

We live in an odd world, in which everything is supposed to be "democratic" and victory comes at the end of long electioneering campaigns.  But while presidents should be elected, there is no reason why the presidential nominees of parties ought to be elected as well.

Primaries are a progressive institution intended to return power directly to the people, even down to the selection of a party's candidates for office.  Few of these progressive reforms turned out, in practice, to be good ideas. 

The direct election of United States Senate members, for example, made senators independent of state legislatures and utterly dependent upon voters.  The practical effect has been that state legislatures no longer can check the excesses of federal power by insuring that senators block laws and presidential appointments who do not respect the sovereign rights of state governments. 

Party conventions in states once chose candidates for various state elective offices as well.  Voters could always repudiate the party's nominee in a general election, but parties could screen candidates to make sure that good men were chosen to carry the party banner.  State government has not become more honest and efficient, because voters choose not only the winner in elections, but also the nominees in primaries.

The same is true of presidential conventions, which actively reviewed and decided on the party's nominee in the presidential election.  Nowadays, primary elections and polling data largely dictate who the party nominee will be, and conventions themselves have become nothing more than long, boring political advertisements that few people bother to watch.

It is hard to see any improvement in the quality of candidates since primaries rather than convention delegates started choosing presidential nominees.  The moral character of presidential nominees from 1860 to 1928 was very high, even when the candidates themselves either lost the election or had ordinary presidencies.  Forgotten nominees like Charles Evans Hughes and Alton Parker were both intelligent and honorable, though neither might have won his party's nomination today.

There are several sound reasons for returning to political conventions that actually choose candidates. 

Today politics is nonstop campaigning for votes and this campaigning seems to never end.  Jimmy Carter famously began campaigning for his party's 1976 nomination almost as soon as the 1972 election was over.  Few men who want to be president can afford to be any less committed to constant electioneering.  No one can ever win a presidential nomination today without lots and lots of money and the investment of lots and lots of time.  This is not healthy for our republic.

Conventions that actually decided things also returned power to the states in a similar way to how the direct election of senators did.  Conventioneers are typically not full-time politicians, but rather interested citizens who voluntarily invest time and money to come to a convention once every four years.  They come from small towns and have businesses other than lobbying, law, and politics. 

When these delegates gathered in a convention city from all over America, they were not Washington politicians, but rather true representatives of the sectional interests of their states and regions.  Collected together at one time, rather than scattered out with primaries and caucuses, these citizens have the power to exert a great restraint on federal power by rejecting any potential candidate who does not defend the sovereign power of states. 

Real conventions rather than the plastic silliness that passes as political conventions these days would also allow parties to deliberate issues and platforms that mean something.  No one any longer takes a party platform seriously because the presidential nominee dictates what will be in the platform, and the platform is not the result of any national debate at the convention.  When conventions mean something, platforms mean something, too.  These platforms were not, when conventions mattered, cast aside as so much political glitz.  Parties tried to fulfill the elements of the platform, and parties also stood for real things.

If the Republican convention is a "brokered convention," that is not necessarily a bad thing.  If it produces a genuine return to the practice of each state sending citizen-representatives to a nominating convention once every four years to place grievances and make changes, it might be the beginning of something good in government.

If the Republican convention of 2016 turns out to be a "brokered convention," will that be a bad thing?

We live in an odd world, in which everything is supposed to be "democratic" and victory comes at the end of long electioneering campaigns.  But while presidents should be elected, there is no reason why the presidential nominees of parties ought to be elected as well.

Primaries are a progressive institution intended to return power directly to the people, even down to the selection of a party's candidates for office.  Few of these progressive reforms turned out, in practice, to be good ideas. 

The direct election of United States Senate members, for example, made senators independent of state legislatures and utterly dependent upon voters.  The practical effect has been that state legislatures no longer can check the excesses of federal power by insuring that senators block laws and presidential appointments who do not respect the sovereign rights of state governments. 

Party conventions in states once chose candidates for various state elective offices as well.  Voters could always repudiate the party's nominee in a general election, but parties could screen candidates to make sure that good men were chosen to carry the party banner.  State government has not become more honest and efficient, because voters choose not only the winner in elections, but also the nominees in primaries.

The same is true of presidential conventions, which actively reviewed and decided on the party's nominee in the presidential election.  Nowadays, primary elections and polling data largely dictate who the party nominee will be, and conventions themselves have become nothing more than long, boring political advertisements that few people bother to watch.

It is hard to see any improvement in the quality of candidates since primaries rather than convention delegates started choosing presidential nominees.  The moral character of presidential nominees from 1860 to 1928 was very high, even when the candidates themselves either lost the election or had ordinary presidencies.  Forgotten nominees like Charles Evans Hughes and Alton Parker were both intelligent and honorable, though neither might have won his party's nomination today.

There are several sound reasons for returning to political conventions that actually choose candidates. 

Today politics is nonstop campaigning for votes and this campaigning seems to never end.  Jimmy Carter famously began campaigning for his party's 1976 nomination almost as soon as the 1972 election was over.  Few men who want to be president can afford to be any less committed to constant electioneering.  No one can ever win a presidential nomination today without lots and lots of money and the investment of lots and lots of time.  This is not healthy for our republic.

Conventions that actually decided things also returned power to the states in a similar way to how the direct election of senators did.  Conventioneers are typically not full-time politicians, but rather interested citizens who voluntarily invest time and money to come to a convention once every four years.  They come from small towns and have businesses other than lobbying, law, and politics. 

When these delegates gathered in a convention city from all over America, they were not Washington politicians, but rather true representatives of the sectional interests of their states and regions.  Collected together at one time, rather than scattered out with primaries and caucuses, these citizens have the power to exert a great restraint on federal power by rejecting any potential candidate who does not defend the sovereign power of states. 

Real conventions rather than the plastic silliness that passes as political conventions these days would also allow parties to deliberate issues and platforms that mean something.  No one any longer takes a party platform seriously because the presidential nominee dictates what will be in the platform, and the platform is not the result of any national debate at the convention.  When conventions mean something, platforms mean something, too.  These platforms were not, when conventions mattered, cast aside as so much political glitz.  Parties tried to fulfill the elements of the platform, and parties also stood for real things.

If the Republican convention is a "brokered convention," that is not necessarily a bad thing.  If it produces a genuine return to the practice of each state sending citizen-representatives to a nominating convention once every four years to place grievances and make changes, it might be the beginning of something good in government.