I was wrong. A democracy component is included in new rules selecting West Virginia delegates to the Republican National Convention. However, these rules still have some committee members miffed because of a century-old struggle pitting presidential primaries against the historic convention method of selecting nominees.
Allow me to explain.
Besides a few party slots, the new rule awards all delegates to the candidate getting the most primary votes. That’s the democracy component. Then that candidate’s campaign selects delegates from Republicans who register for the job, which is the major change.
Under the old rules, we voted for a presidential nominee, but that was merely a preference and wasn’t binding. We also voted for convention delegates, who then voted for the presidential nominee. That was the binding part.
Problem was that selecting convention delegates created a long ballot for voters, especially in years when the presidency is an open seat. For instance, in 2016, we had 11 Republican presidential candidates, each of whom could generate about 25 convention candidates.
And this is the heart of the issue. Who should pick the convention delegate? Voters or the candidate who wins the state primary?
Before you decide, review this history. Nowhere does our constitution mention political parties, let alone how they should select a nominee. So, parties are left to chart their own course.
The historian Robert McNamara, not the former Defense secretary, reported that the first presidential candidates were nominated by congressional caucus. That turned sour in 1824, when the election was thrown into the House of Representatives because no candidate received enough electoral votes.
The House selected dour John Quincy Adams (113,122 popular votes, 84 Electoral votes) over the people’s choice, fiery Andrew Jackson (151,271 votes, 99 Electoral votes).
Well, Jackson roared back in the next election to decisively beat Adams, but seeds of dissent with the House and, thus, the caucus method were sown. The people wanted more input.
The answer was a convention.
It was common then for local and state candidates to be picked in local meetings or conventions, but not national ones. The Anti-Masonic Party was first to hold a national convention in 1831, not because of principal, but because they had no one in Congress to caucus.
However, that convention set the pattern for other national conventions that followed later that year. Locals in meetings chose delegates to state conventions, as well as nominees for local and state offices. The state convention delegates then chose delegates to the national convention and they, in turn, selected the presidential nominee. Remnants of this indirect method continue to this day.
That system, however, fostered “political bosses” and “political machines” as candidates focused on winning convention delegates first, then on voters in the general election.
In the early 1900s, a trend emerged choosing local and state candidates in primary elections, instead of local conventions, thus giving more power to individual voters.
But the primaries hadn’t impacted the presidential race yet. In 1912, Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft won the convention nomination over Theodore Roosevelt, although Roosevelt did much better in the 14 nonbinding presidential preference primaries held among the then 48 states.
However, most of the time, popular opinion and the convention process produced the same result. Then came the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention. That saw Vice President Hubert Humphrey win the nomination without winning a single primary.
Quickly, Democrats adopted new rules requiring delegates to be more closely bound to primary results, and Republicans soon followed.
Today, all states hold a presidential preference primary or caucus, but they vary as to how closely delegates are bound to match the will of the people. This rule change in West Virginia gives more weight to the primary vote and is a time-saver for voters.
However, the downside of the “all or nothing rule” is that challengers will no longer be represented in our convention delegation. And that part concerns me.