America Needs ‘Open’ Conventions

Some Republicans are calling for an “open” convention in Cleveland whereby the delegates could nominate anyone. Part of the resistance to this movement might be optics: appearances. You see, national party nomination conventions are supposed to be extravaganzas, joyous occasions with plenty of applause and even tears. Primetime speakers are carefully scheduled for certain evenings. An “open” convention throws that all overboard. Conventions are supposed to have an arc, and end with a climax. An “open” convention might not end on time. Also, party conventions are supposed to be displays of party unity. How would it look if there were contention, rancor, arguments, threats, and other “negatives” as delegates wrangled to get their guy nominated? Party elders might not want to televise such a thing, just like they might not want to televise the Rules Committee confabs. In any event, the show must go on.

A party in “disarray,” however, with floor fights aplenty, might make for some terrific TV ratings. But why should “unseemly” floor fights doom a nominee? Voters would see that Republican delegates care enough to fight for the best while Democrat delegates coronate “crooked Hillary.” If a modicum of unity emerged at the end of the convention, and the delegates had nominated a real Republican, a contentious convention might just be a plus.

“Open” is what all presidential nominating conventions should be. Which means conventions would be work, not hoopla. Conventions would be deliberative bodies and delegates would be very serious and independent people. “Open” conventions means that the identity of a party’s presidential nominee, the person carrying the party’s banner into the general election, would be unknown until the convention. “Open” conventions would also doom the primary election system.

In his July 5 press conference, FBI Director James Comey recited a damning list of Hillary Clinton’s offenses. Though Comey declined to recommend prosecution, it’s clear that Mrs. Clinton is guilty as sin and has repeatedly lied about these matters. So here’s the question: If we didn’t have primaries and therefore had no presumptive nominees and we instead relied on “open” conventions, would Democrat delegates, given the FBI’s findings, still nominate Clinton?

If Democrat delegates were to do so (nominate Hillary despite the FBI findings), what should decent Americans think? If Americans vote for Hillary in the general, they will be putting their stamp of approval on a “rigged,” two-tiered judicial system; one for the ruling class and one for the rest of us.

But as it is now, Democrat delegates can hide behind the primary voters, “the people have spoken,” even though it was a tiny minority of eligible voters who voted for Clinton. Given the FBI’s report, Democrats are now in greater need of an “intervention” in an “open” convention than are Republicans. Delegates need to reject Mrs. Clinton and find someone decent.

If Democrat delegates do nominate Mrs. Clinton, it should serve as the final nail in the coffin of our putrid primary system. Presidential politics in America is held hostage by the primary system. Where is the “democracy” in dictating to anyone, especially a convention delegate, how they must vote? If you had to do away with one or the other, would you abolish the primaries or the parties’ nominating conventions? If you think it should be nominating conventions that should go away, then you probably don’t think we should have parties.

Donald Trump repeatedly says that the system is “rigged.” But the rigged system has allowed him, perhaps the most unlikely of Republicans, to be the party’s presumptive nominee and perhaps its standard bearer. If the primary system is in fact rigged, it’s rigged for the Donald. Before he announced his candidacy, would many Republicans think of Mr. Trump, given his past support of Democrats, as a natural fit for being even a delegate to their convention? (Perhaps the Republican Party’s system isn’t rigged enough.)

On July 8, Yahoo News ran “Unconventional #33: How Paul Ryan could decide whether Trump is dumped in Cleveland (and more!)” by Andrew Romano, who reported on Eric O’Keefe and his group Delegates Unbound. It turns out that unbinding delegates by the Rules Committee is not the only means by which Trump could be trumped … delegates could simply abstain from voting.

If 306 Trump delegates don’t vote on the first ballot, Trump would probably be denied the nomination. But it would be nice if Trump delegates who are “bound” by state laws to vote for him voted for someone else. Such “faithless” voters would set up cases to test the constitutionality of the state laws that “bind” how a delegate votes. Has a state ever sued a “faithless” delegate? If states think they can regulate parties in such a highhanded fashion, let the lawsuits fly.

On July 10, National Review ran “What’s Next for the Never Trump Camp?” by John Fund, who begins by comparing the Never Trump movement to Britain’s Brexit vote, noting that the “smart money” is against the insurgents, just as it had been in jolly old England on Brexit. He quotes Eric O’Keefe:

“Delegates must decide whether they are coming to Cleveland to choose the future course of the Republican party, or to follow orders,” O’Keefe says. “The delegates in convention are the supreme governing body of the Republican party, and they have the authority and duty to guide the Republican party toward the best rules, the best platform, and the best presidential ticket possible.”

We recently saw the end of a rather interesting primary season. For more than a year, America has been marinating in politics, and still is. If we didn’t have presidential primaries and instead had “open” conventions, the nation wouldn’t have had to undergo the campaigns of the last year. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Many Americans surely tune out of the perpetual politicking, the permanent campaign.

This primary season the parties were invaded by “outsiders.” It would have been healthy for American politics if Bernie Sanders had won the Democrat primaries, for then we would have had two invaders taking over both major parties. If Sanders had won the primaries, Democrat delegates probably wouldn’t have nominated him. That would have taught Republicans how delegates can take control of their party’s destiny by overriding the primary voters.

Unfortunately, that lesson would have been taught too late, as the Democrats’ convention comes after the Republicans’. In having their convention first, the GOP is put at a distinct disadvantage. So smart GOP delegates should assume that the Democrats might be of a mind to dump Hillary and draft someone less divisive and polarizing. If the Dems did so, Republicans could be left with their own divisive, polarizing nominee. How do you “un-nominate” Trump? The missile would have been launched, and there may be no SDI to shoot it down.

Republican delegates should assume that the Dems are going to dump Hillary; “Never Been Indicted” isn’t much of a bumper sticker. In anticipation of that possibility, GOP delegates should ignore the primaries and draft the best nominee they can find. (One year ago, I chimed in on who that could be.)

For America’s sake, the parties must do better. Regardless of the optics, this July both of the major parties need to conduct “open” conventions.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

If you experience technical problems, please write to