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Rohit Joy

The RNC Picks the Nominee

On Wednesday, CNBC released this interview with North Dakota Republican National Committeeman Curly Haugland regarding the Republican presidential nomination process. The interview has been making the rounds on the Internet these last couple days.

A few have taken these comments as an indication of some sort of foul play on the part of the RNC or suggested a conspiracy is at work to steal the nomination from its legitimate winner. I feel compelled to address a few of these misconceptions and explain why Mr. Haugland’s comments describe the way that the nomination process was designed to work, well before the identities of the 2016 candidates for the nomination were known.

The Republican Party is a private organization that operates according to a set of rules adopted by its national committee and national convention. As the governing body of a political party, the RNC has the right under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution to choose its own process of determining party nominees for president, and no federal or state election laws can abrogate this right. The RNC also has an obligation to follow its own duly adopted rules, regardless of what “the voters” (many of whom are not affiliated with the Republican Party in states that do not hold closed primaries or caucuses) say on who the nominee should be.

Now, most state Republican parties have chosen to select delegates to the RNC based on the result of presidential preference votes (caucuses, primaries, or some other variation thereof) but they are not required to choose delegates using this method. Further, most state parties only bind their delegates to certain candidates based on the statewide vote on the first ballot (a few also bind on the second ballot or until released by the presidential candidates they declared a preference for). In subsequent ballots, the delegates are unbound and free to vote their conscience.

This process playing itself out may result in someone other than the person who receives a plurality of bound delegate votes, or the person who receives a plurality of total votes cast in presidential preference contests across the country, becoming the nominee. If this happens, it is not the result of some “establishment conspiracy” but the RNC recognizing the right of duly elected or appointed delegates to act according to their conscience, subject to any conditions attached to their selection. Further, unlike at some past contested conventions, state delegations will not be subject to unit rule so the individuals making up what we commonly think of as “the establishment” (governors, senators, congressmen, major donors, etc.) will have far less leverage than they used to.

Ultimately, the nominee will have to convince an absolute majority of individual delegates, representing a broad cross-section of the party, to back him. If the decision is made to nominate someone other than the plurality winner, it will have been made by a couple thousand delegates—coming from different wings of the Republican Party—collectively, not by one person or a small group of insiders.

This brings me to a larger philosophical point, which is that our party government, just like our federal and state governments, is meant to be republican, not democratic, in nature. Just as some democratic processes are used in our elections for the House of Representatives, our party caucuses and primary elections are intended to ensure that people’s voices are taken into account. On the other hand, just as the Electoral College is anti-democratic by design, some aspects of our party presidential nomination process are also explicitly anti-democratic because, as Alexander Hamilton so articulately wrote in Federalist No. 68, such an “election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” This is not something to be lamented but honored. I encourage all Republican activists interested in being part of the process to understand the rules, work to ensure that delegates you trust are selected to go to Cleveland, and appreciate our rules-based process and the outcome it produces.