By the time Donald J. Trump is sitting at his federal trial on charges of criminally conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, he may have already secured enough delegates to effectively clinch the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The former president’s trial is scheduled to start March 4, by which point five states are expected to have held nominating contests. The next day, March 5, is Super Tuesday, when 15 states, including delegate-rich California and Texas, plan to hold votes that will determine if any Trump challenger has enough political oxygen to remain a viable alternative.
Primaries in Florida, Ohio and Illinois come two weeks later. Florida and Ohio will be the first winner-take-all contests, in which the top vote-getter statewide seizes all of the delegates rather than splitting them proportionally. Winner-take-all primaries have historically turbocharged the front-runner’s path to the presidential nomination. Mr. Trump’s federal trial, if it proceeds on its current timeline, won’t be close to finished by then.
The collision course between the Republican Party’s calendar and Mr. Trump’s trial schedule is emblematic of one of the most unusual nominating contests in American history. It is a Trump-dominated clash that will define not only the course of the 2024 presidential primary but potentially the future direction of the party in an eventual post-Trump era.
But what change to pursue? For the vast majority of the public, the end goal is clear: we want a democracy that provides representation for all. To accomplish that, the US needs to adopt some form of proportional representation (PR). How PR is to be achieved, however, is an open question.
In recent months, a conversation has ensued among a group of political scientists and democracy advocates centered around the dichotomy of “party-centric” reform vs. “candidate-centric” reform. There are compelling reasons to believe this dichotomy is a false one, since a number of democracies around the world as well as US states have strong political parties even as voters select individual candidates. Even so, it is worthwhile to examine the political viability of the party-centric approach. Should this become a guiding philosophy for the reform movement, it ought to be one that allows us to seize this moment and make lasting change.
The Michigan Republican Party is starving for cash. A group of prominent activists — including a former statewide candidate — was hit this month with felony charges connected to a bizarre plot to hijack election machines. And in the face of these troubles, suspicion and infighting have been running high. A recent state committee meeting led to a fistfight, a spinal injury and a pair of shattered dentures.
This turmoil is one measure of the way Donald J. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election have rippled through his party. While Mr. Trump has just begun to wrestle with the consequences of his fictions — including two indictments related to his attempt to overturn the 2020 results — the vast machine of activists, donors and volunteers that power his party has been reckoning with the fallout for years.
As the party looks toward the presidential election next year, the strains are glaring.
Mr. Trump’s election lies spread like wildfire in Michigan, breaking the state party into ardent believers and pragmatists wanting to move on. Bitter disputes, power struggles and contentious primaries followed, leaving the Michigan Republican Party a husk of itself.
Politico: “Trump’s team has worked behind the scenes to ensure delegate selection rules play to their favor — or, in their rivals’ telling, to ‘rig’ the system.”
A new report released today by the American Political Science Association (APSA) and Protect Democracy, More than Red and Blue: Political Parties and American Democracy, identifies how today’s political parties are exacerbating many of the country’s central political problems. Skepticism of political parties is a central feature of American political culture and only about 11% of Americans express high confidence in political parties – igniting APSA’s desire to identify why. Ultimately, the research supports a surprising conclusion: there’s a near-consensus among scholars that healthy political parties are essential to a stable democracy, and without change our politics will likely continue to deteriorate.
The gravity of democracy challenges in the U.S. spurred APSA to establish a task force of 13 of America’s leading scholars on political parties and partisanship, chaired by David Lublin (American University) and Lilliana Mason (Johns Hopkins University). The task force’s report synthesizes decades of expert research on political parties: what they do in democracies, why American parties are failing to behave responsibly, and what evidence tells us about their future.
Key insights from the report include:
- Features of the current campaign environment, from campaign finance regulations to changes in media, have made it harder for political parties to fulfill their roles.
- American political parties are easy to join, opening them to new voices and interests but also leaving them vulnerable to capture by those with authoritarian objectives.
- Racial realignment between the major parties has been growing for decades, changing the way the parties see the political landscape and their incentives for action. In the 2016 presidential election, non-White voters comprised roughly 45% of the Democratic vote, compared with less than 15% of Republican voters.
- Political parties are vital to modern democracy and reform efforts should take their essential roles seriously.
Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses will be held on Jan. 15, state Republicans voted on Saturday, kicking off the 2024 presidential nomination process.
The vote by the Iowa Republican Party’s state central committee, which scheduled the contest on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day federal holiday, comes after top Democrats pushed to redraw the influential calendar and drop Iowa from its leading spot.
The Republican Party of Iowa’s chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, said in a statement Saturday that party members were “proud to affirm that Iowa will continue to honor our half-century-old promises to the other carveout states.” The three other states that have historically gone first in the nominating contests are New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Sharing a chapter I have written for The Oxford Handbook of American Election Law (Eugene Mazo, ed.) (2023, forthcoming). The chapter, among other things, stresses the ways that the U.S. Supreme Court’s current approach to the associational freedom of political parties significantly constrains party reform strategies. Given the manifest need for party regulation in the interest of a healthy democracy and the recent buzz around Lee Drutman’s report and op ed arguing for more and better parties, this seems a good time to share.
Lee Drutman WaPo oped (adapted from his new report, “More Parties, Better Parties: The Case for Pro-Parties Democracy Reform.”)
It’s presidential campaign season, so pick your panic: The No Labels organization threatens to run a centrist such as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) as a third-party candidate, most likely only helping Donald Trump win. Philosopher Cornel West threatens to reenact the hopeless crusade of 2016 third-party candidate Jill Stein. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is threatening to use the open primary process to seize control of the Democratic Party the way the QAnon/MAGA crowd has taken over the GOP.
On their own, each of these efforts is a mix of quixotic and destructive. Collectively, they reflect the clear and present inadequacy of our two-party system to manage mounting frustration and anger with our dysfunctional politics. In our knife’s-edge system, just the slightest disturbance caused by foolhardy but well-funded vanity could make the whole thing fracture into chaos.
There’s a better way to represent the country’s diversity and offer more citizens a hopeful, engaging vision for the future: create more parties.
But real, vibrant, healthy parties. Not top-down one-shot presidential candidacies, built only on the passing winds of celebrity and whims of wealthy donors. Not parties whose completely open primaries leave them vulnerable to populist outsiders. We need parties that do the hard work of candidate-vetting and gatekeeping and organizing and coalition-building that political parties are uniquely able to do; parties that organize from the bottom up, giving disaffected voters a voice, a collective identity and a long-term institution for building real power.
New Hampshire is in open rebellion. Georgia is all but out.
South Carolina and Nevada are on board but face stiff Republican pushback. Michigan’s compliance may mean having to cut the state legislative session short, despite Democrats controlling both chambers and the governor’s mansion.
Then there’s Iowa, which is looking for ways to still go first without violating party rules.
Months after the Democratic Party approved President Joe Biden’s plan to overhaul its primary order to better reflect a deeply diverse voter base, implementing the revamped order has proven anything but simple. Party officials now expect the process to continue through the end of the year — even as the 2024 presidential race heats up all around it.
“Despite the fact that it looked like relatively smooth sailing for the president when he proposed it … the kind of backlash you’re hearing, the reactions, are exactly what we would have expected,” said David Redlawsk, chair of the political science department at the University of Delaware and co-author of the book “Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process.”
A Nevada news outlet has the details here, and the news release from the Nevada Republican Party is here. It took me a while to find the complaint, which was filed in state court last week in a state jurisdiction that does not have electronic access. That complaint is here.
The complaint argues that the First Amendment protects the right of the state party to run a presidential delegate selection process as it sees fit, and the Nevada Republican Party (apparently) desires to hold caucuses. But the Nevada legislature two years ago approved a switch to a primary process in AB126. The Nevada Republican Party is suing to stop that.
The Supreme Court in 1981 offered a succinct, if somewhat messy, statement of the legal framework (which I highlighted during last year’s DNC calendar shuffle) in Democratic Party of the United States v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette:
The State has a substantial interest in the manner in which its elections are conducted, and the National Party has a substantial interest in the manner in which the delegates to its National Convention are selected. But these interests are not incompatible, and to the limited extent they clash in this case, both interests can be preserved. The National Party rules do not forbid Wisconsin to conduct an open primary. But if Wisconsin does open its primary, it cannot require that Wisconsin delegates to the National Party Convention vote there in accordance with the primary results, if to do so would violate Party rules.
States can, essentially, hold whatever presidential primaries they like, whenever they like, however they like. But the national party is not obligated to recognize the results ahead of the presidential nominating convention.
Nevada Republicans, then, are free to hold a nominating caucus at the time and place they want. The State of Nevada, however, is also free to hold a presidential primary. Voters who participate in that primary may not affect the outcome of the selection of delegates–essentially, a “beauty contest.”
This is hardly novel. In 2016, for instance, Bernie Sanders won the Washington caucus–which was a step in sending delegates to the Democratic national convention–while Hillary Clinton later that year won the Washington presidential preference primaries–which were non-binding and had no formal outcome on the process.
Now, AB126 provides, “Any rules or regulations of the party governing the election of delegates and alternates to the national convention of the party, or directing the votes of delegates at the national convention must reasonably reflect the results of the presidential preference primary election, if one has been held for the party.” That is clearly unenforceable against the Nevada Republican Party per Democratic Party v. Wisconsin. (UPDATE: It appears that this provision was then repealed by SB292 months after it was enacted, so it’s not clear that there’s much left to this suit….)
So, the complaint (which could be removed to federal court as it is a First Amendment issue, although perhaps the Secretary of State chooses not to do so) could succeed in seeking injunctive relief or a writ of prohibition. That is, under on-point Supreme Court precedent, the State of Nevada cannot force the party to accept the results of a presidential primary. (Now, that being said, the complaint is fairly imprecise and does not exactly identify what the party wants to see enjoined, speaking more abstractly elsewhere about being “force[d] . . . to use a state-run primary.” The state can still hold a primary per Democratic Party v. Wisconsin.)
On the declaratory relief front, the plaintiff may fare slightly better. The Nevada Republican Party wants a declaration that the party is free to use a caucus system or that primary results are not binding.
One wrinkle to any relief, however: the complaint does not say that the Nevada Republican Party has committed to any particular presidential delegate selection process for 2024. That may mean that the complaint is not ripe for adjudication, as it is possible that the party chooses to use the primary process, and there is no legal conflict if that happens. It seems to want a declaration that it is free to do what it wants without formally indicating that it does not want a primary.
Finally, there are some “conventional wisdom” political ideas floating about that suggesting an intra-party feud, too–the conventional wisdom being, Donald Trump may fare better a smaller event with the most “die hards” in attendance, whereas a (closed) primary election that brings more Republican voters into the selection process will be to his detriment. It’s not clear whether that’s the motivation, or whether that would be the actual effect. And even here, many Republicans in the Nevada legislature favored AB126–this bill was not along starkly partisan lines. But it also highlights potential internal divisions about what process should be used.
For the second consecutive parliamentary election, Cambodia has disqualified the country’s main opposition party, eliminating the only credible challenge to the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The country’s National Election Commission on Monday refused to register the party, the Candlelight Party, for a general election scheduled in July, saying it had failed to file required paperwork and was therefore ineligible to take part in the contest.
Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party currently holds all 125 seats in Parliament after government-controlled courts dissolved its main challenger, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, or C.N.R.P., before the 2018 election. The Candlelight Party, with many of the same members, took its place.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein reports this morning on efforts by the Georgia Republican Assembly, a conservative faction within the state GOP, to change the party’s rules to permit the state party to block candidates from qualifying to run as Republicans “if they’re deemed to be insufficiently conservative or a ‘traitor’ to the party.” The article is a caution for those who have been arguing that returning control of party nominations to the party and its leaders would moderate our politics as compared to the primary system. It all depends on who those party leaders are, doesn’t it? The Georgia Republic Assembly has been steadily working itself into positions of power within the party–not unlike the efforts of the Proud Boys to take over the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County. For now, the establishment GOP in Georgia is optimistic it will fend off the extremists.
Seth Masket, writing at Politico, shares results of his survey of GOP county chairs about their current leanings in the 2024 presidential primary.
“Overall, this survey suggests a group of party insiders that hasn’t made up its mind, but is growing more inclined to back Trump.”
This shift comes after “Trump sharpened his attacks against DeSantis” and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump. Masket analyzes trends in responses to periodic surveys designed “to track the ‘invisible primary’ for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.” The ultimate question is whether this is a representative sample of GOP county chairs or if those most likely to respond are also those furthest to the right. Of the 3,000 surveys sent to every county chair in the country, only 127 responded — compared to 187 in the earlier survey in which DeSantis was fairing better. 63 chairs answered both surveys.
These days when a partisan official chooses to break with the party to represent the interests of his constituents it really is news. Last week, Merv Riepe, a Republican State Senator in Nebraska cast the vote that blocked the passage of a near-total abortion ban in the state. According to the Washington Post, a recent poll of Nebraskans found “54 percent of people in Nebraska believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases” while “[j]ust 11 percent said all abortions should be banned.” The Washington Post suggests “Riepe’s vote reflects a growing realization among some Republicans that staking out extreme positions on abortion might be politically perilous.” It is possible, but it is more likely that it is a quirk, the remnants of a politics past–the vote of an 80-year legislator who keeps a small trinket “Do hard things” and represents a swing district in Nebraska.