Lots of People do not Understand Parties, Conventions, or Presidentialism

Mark Levin provides the latest example.

In referencing the convention rules change that James Joyner commented on earlier, Mark Levin states the following on his Facebook page:  Damn it, defeat this RINO power grab!

Conservatives of all stripes, especially Tea Party activists, this is an attempt to destroy your ability to influence the presidential and vice presidential nomination process in the Republican Party.  It is an attempt to eviscerate the input of state parties.  It is a brazen assault on the grassroots.  And it is sleazy to the core.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think Obama was behind it.  Instead, Romney’s operatives are orchestrating it.

One way to look at this is from the perspective of the ongoing purity-test mania in the GOP at the moment (where everything seems to be an Us v. Them dynamic), but I would prefer to focus on more basic analytical points.

1.  The Term itself is Problematic.  I really detest the appellation “RINO” and for one simple reason:  it doesn’t make sense.  The reason it doesn’t make sense is that party labels are “names only” and the meaning of that name varies over time (and even from person to person).  As I wrote almost two years ago:  All Republicans are RINOs (and all Democrats are DINOs).

2.  Levin’s Application is Especially Nonsensical.  The debate over the rules that has Levin all up in arms is one between the party’s nominee on behalf of future nominees versus some factional actors at the local level.  If there is one clear thing that defines an American political party at a given moment in time, it is the party’s presidential nominee.  So, if we are going to be accurate, Romney is the embodiment of the Republican Party until at least early November, so if anyone is actually deviating from the “true” party it is the people Levin thinks might be excluded from the convention.   The mainstream of the party is the faction that can generate a nominee, not those who seek to disrupt the celebration.

3.  The Tea Party is a Faction.  The Tea Party is a faction of the GOP, as are Ron Paul supporters.  They are not, however, a majority faction.  As such, it should not be a shock that they are not in control.  Further, Romney clearly does not come from that faction.

4.  The Chance to Influence the Process is Before the Convention.  Levin exclaims:  “this is an attempt to destroy your ability to influence the presidential and vice presidential nomination process in the Republican Party” but while it is true that he convention is the formal nominating body, the reality is that in the modern era (since the early 1970s) we always go into the convention knowing who the nominee will be.  Further, the delegates at that point in the process are no more than props who have a part to play in a pre-ordained drama.  Romney has been the nominee, for all practical purposes, for months and months and no amount of “input of state parties” will alter that fact at this stage of the game.

5.  The Convention is About the Nominee, not the Party.   Yes, it is called the “Republican National Convention” but it is really the “Mitt Romney Infomercial” or the “Romney Pep Rally.”  This is about the nominee and his campaign for the presidency.  It not, first and foremost about the party.  Just ask yourself this:  what is more important, Romney’s official positions or the Party’s platform?  There is a reason the platform committee meets early and is ignored thereafter.

6.  Parties in Presidential Systems are Shaped by Presidents and Nominees for President.  We do not have a parliamentary system wherein parties organize to capture majorities in the legislature and then form governments.  We have a presidential system wherein the main electoral prize is the presidency and the character of the parties are shaped by the persons chosen to run for that office (a topic I noted recently here).  As such, it is hardly shocking that the convention is really about the nominee or that the rules would be changed to empower that nominee.

And, by the way, all this is true of the Democratic convention as well—I am just GOP-focused here because they are current topic of discussion at the moment, for obvious reasons.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Conservatives of all stripes, especially Tea Party activists, this is an attempt to destroy your ability to influence the presidential and vice presidential nomination process in the Republican Party. It is an attempt to eviscerate the input of state parties. It is a brazen assault on the grassroots. And it is sleazy to the core.
    If I didn’t know better, I’d think Obama was behind it. Instead, Romney’s operatives are orchestrating it.

    The above is Mark in his Munich Beer Hall mode. Of course he’s going to say that. He’s too smart to not know how all of this works.

    Guys like Mark Levin are responsible for the toxic waste dump that characterizes our political environment today.

    Full Disclosure: My very conservative family loves his radio show.

  2. @al-Ameda:

    He’s too smart to not know how all of this works.

    As a general principle, I used to think so, too. However, I am at a point where I am not so sure. I think people like Levin ought to know better, but often a) buy into a a legendary version of the way things work, b) talk themselves into their version or reality, and/or c) really don’t give a wet slap about how any of it really works.

  3. I said in another thread that what motivates the GOP is a belief in minority rule.

    We can read Levin to be saying that if he believes a thing strong enough, it should come to pass.

  4. @john personna:

    I said in another thread that what motivates the GOP is a belief in minority rule.

    Actually, there is something to that.

  5. Scott says:

    Normally, I would agree that the convention is the nominee’s party. Nobody ever paid attention to platforms before; however, maybe it is the weakness of Romney that there is a lot of pushback by the grassroots. I’m wondering if this year is different. There has been moderating noises by Romney and his minions trying to get themselves out of the ideological trap they are in but I’m not sure he is strong enough to escape it without damage. It will be interesting to watch.

  6. MBunge says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “really don’t give a wet slap about how any of it really works.”

    I’m not sure how it works in other countries, but we here in America really don’t have the slightest idea of what to do with theoretically intelligent people who descend into crankery.

    Mike

  7. mattb says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    c) really don’t give a wet slap about how any of it really works.

    I vote C. The thing is that for people like Levin and Limbaugh, the key thing is not that they are cultivating a political audience, but rather that they are cultivating an audience that happens to be political.

    And while one can aruge that this has always been the case, the current mode of mass media political populism is different in the respect that this isn’t so much about wielding political power as it is wielding advertising power.

    The irony is that for Conservative Media, things are better (i.e. more profitable) when the Democrats are in power because it galvanizes their audiences. It’s not simply that outrage sells politically (see the Tea Party as a prime example). The fact is that directed outrage flat out sells everything — merch, books, subscriptions, etc.

    So what Levin is doing here has more to do with making sure he has an audience to market to than any real concern for either the overall “good” of the Republican part or the nation as a whole.

  8. OMG, via Balloon Juice, the Republicans know their base:

    “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” [Romney pollster Neil Newhous] said. The fact-checkers — whose institutional rise has been a feature of the cycle — have “jumped the shark,” he added after the panel.

    Will that sell in Florida? I know I expressed faith in fact check push-back earlier. Either I’m wrong, or Mr. Newhous just jumped the shark himself.

  9. (If we needed another reason this party must not win, there it is. Their position is that objective truth has jumped the shark.)

  10. Rob in CT says:

    If I’m not mistaken, JP, that quote was in reference to a fact checker noting that Romney’s welfare work rules ad is a lie (as a fact checker, of course, they used squishier language).

    Given that this is the same party as “that was not intended as a factual statement” I’m not surprised anymore.

  11. bk says:

    @MBunge:

    we here in America really don’t have the slightest idea of what to do with theoretically intelligent people who descend into crankery.

    I find that ignoring them helps.

  12. MBunge says:

    @bk: “I find that ignoring them helps.”

    That was the liberal approach to Rush Limbaugh for the first 10 to 15 years of his career. How’d that work out?

    Mike