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July 14, 2016
The voices of the national delegates and their constituents were silenced today in Cleveland.
The Rules Committee for the 2016 Republican National Committee is meeting today. More than for any Republican National Convention in our lifetimes (that includes anyone over 40), knowledge of convention rules is vital. In recent conventions, the party members and delegates had coalesced behind a candidate, and the more nuanced rules were not at play. Not since 1976 has the Republican Party had a challenged nomination. In that year, Pres. Gerald Ford was the leading delegate winner, but Gov. Ronald Reagan presented a challenge to his nomination. Both honorable and admirable men, the convention’s direction was unknown. In order to protect his nomination, Pres. Ford’s team was able to pass a rule that specifically bound enough delegates to vote for him, contradicting a standing rule and principle since the party’s founding in 1854.
As early as 1860, the principle of unbound delegates was argued and established in the Republican Party. Each delegate was a political unit and free to vote according to his conscience. This debate was revived periodically throughout the past 156 years with each contested convention. The principle still stands.
However, because of much misinformation in this 2016 election cycle, a significant group of delegates is proposing a rule that would codify indubitably the freedom of each delegate to vote according to his or her conscience. This principle was established in the very beginning of the formation of American political parties in the early nineteenth century and reaffirmed with the Republican Party convention of 1860.
Delegates from every congressional district and state gather under one roof to shape the party for the next four years and to choose its two top political leaders. Contested political conventions are the norm when examining the entire history of American presidential politics. All major political parties, reaching back to the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, operated on the principle that rhetoric and persuasion were the tools of negotiation . When political parties formed and began holding conventions, they were regarded as advancing the democratic process and expanded the franchise to more Americans. At that time, the U.S. of A. was the most democratic nation on earth.
It is this democratic principle that undergirds the delegate system and provides representation for party members not present at the convention.
Under Republican National Committee leadership, Chairman Reince Priebus, and the Trump campaign, the Rules Committee passed a set of rules that limits the power and discretion of delegates. At the expense of the delegates’ power, the R.N.C. expanded its power and ability to shape the party for the next four years or indefinitely.