GOP frontrunner Donald Trump continually proclaims that the GOP delegate-selection process is unfair. He has called it a “dirty system,” under which candidates can woo delegates to ignore millions of voters, and nominate any candidate they want. Trump was especially enraged that the Colorado delegation pledged all of its delegates to Ted Cruz, after cancelling the state’s primary.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus angrily disagrees, saying, “This is a very normal system that we’ve been using for many years. If anyone wants to reform the system, they can do so on the Rules Committee.”
Who’s right? Trump or Priebus? Priebus may be factually right, but Trump is right in principle.
Does the current system follow the US Constitution? No. James Madison wrote the Constitution, but he never mentioned a primary process. In 1785, with only thirteen states, no one envisioned today’s hodgepodge of primaries, invented by each state’s politicians. We currently have the following selection options by state:
(Author’s note. If you already agree that our primary process is a mess, please skip the next paragraph, and move on.)
Any state may choose to have a primary, a caucus, or a semi-secret delegate selection process with no voter input. Caucuses or primaries in any state may permit only registered party members to vote. Or they may accept independent voters. Or they may be open to any voter of any party. State rules can allocate all delegates to the primary winner. They may allocate delegates by district so that the losing candidate can still garner as many votes as the winner, depending on the voter turnout in each district. Or they can create a hybrid process in which individual districts allocate only a portion of the delegates.
The fundamental problem is that the entire process is upside-down. Currently, millions of voters go to the polls during primary season, to select candidates that they can only recommend to the selecting delegates. A more sensible process would be for the delegates to name a slate of candidates first, preferably limited to five or fewer names. And then permit voters to select the nominee, based on the total of votes received nationally from all of the states.
By this plan, we would never again see months of primaries with seventeen or more candidates. That situation fractured the GOP in 2016, effectively rewarding or punishing candidates, based on math, instead of candidate values. This plan could also provide the same number of delegates for every state, to ensure that delegates of all states could have a voice, regardless of size.
An additional process improvement might be to have all primary voting on the same day, to avoid the current chess game of selection dates. Most Americans would agree that less money spent on ads would drive some of the big money out of politics. However, media people would probably object if a one-day vote limited their revenues from political advertising.