Donald Trump lost it on Fox News Monday after learning Ted Cruz has secured 34 of Colorado’s 37 delegates to the Republican National Convention. The Colorado GOP canceled its caucus vote last August, electing to choose its delegates at its state convention. The Centennial State is only the latest in which Cruz has won a larger percentage of the delegates than his percentage of the popular vote.
Trump called the process “a crooked deal,” adding, “That’s not the way democracy is supposed to work.”
Newsflash to Trump: This isn’t a democracy. It’s a republic and this is exactly how a republic is supposed to work. The whole reason Colorado and many other states don’t assign their delegates on a winner-take-all basis after the popular vote is they want their nominating process to be more republican (small “r”) than democratic.
If this sounds like déjà vu, it’s because Ron Paul employed the same strategy in 2012, winning the most delegates in eleven states, despite not winning a single primary or caucus popular vote (although he may have been robbed in Maine). Paul was the anti-establishment candidate that year and many of the same people who are now riding the Trump train were Paul supporters who defended the strategy vehemently.
But while it is widely accepted that Trump picked up a large portion of Paul’s 2012 supporters, he obviously hasn’t captured the contingent that mastered Robert’s Rules of Order and took over state conventions in 2012. That’s not surprising, given the difference between the candidates. Paul’s delegate core were highly principled libertarians who typically understood and believed Paul’s message of limited, constitutional government.
That’s what saw them through the long, tedious process of advancing through local, district, county and state conventions. It’s relatively painless to show up at your local polling place and pull a lever behind a curtain. It doesn’t cost anything in time or money. But when the “beauty contest” is over, the real political work has just begun. The months-long process requires would-be delegates to make their candidate’s arguments hundreds of times and hear their opponents’ arguments just as many. By the time they are elected at a state convention, they are fully informed and vetted.
These aren’t the type of people likely to respond to Trump’s largely emotional pitch. Yes, Paul’s supporters may have been “angry” with the status quo, but it was a much more deliberative anger. Unlike Trump’s supporters, Paul’s were always the victims of any violence that broke out at meetings and conventions. And these followers of Austrian economics would never support Trump’s spurious economic theories, although some of his statements on foreign policy may have caught their attention.
While it is true Trump’s support is much wider than merely white working class voters, as pundits initially described it, it is still largely a protest vote. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals can be just as justifiably fed up with Washington, D.C. and its connected interests. It’s not surprising an independent candidate like Trump, apparently impervious to the influence of the donor class, would appeal to voters over a wide demographic. But while their dissatisfaction with the status quo is legitimate, whether Trump is the solution is another story entirely.
The truth is Trump is the type of candidate the whole republic-not-a-democracy idea is supposed to prevent. The founders’ chief concern with democracy was its susceptibility to the “turbulence” resulting from “common passion,” as James Madison put it. That was the reason for the electoral college. They wanted to give the people a direct say in choosing their government’s leadership, but they also wanted a buffer between the multitude’s passions and the reins of power. They would have been horrified by Trump’s rhetoric, no matter how refreshing his destruction of “political correctness” might be.
Trump can rage all he wants about the nominating process being rigged, but the truth is he’ll have to inspire something besides fist-shaking in his supporters if he wants to be president. In many states, it takes more than a fifteen-minute commitment to pull a lever behind a curtain to get your candidate nominated. That’s not such a bad thing.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.