On the Issue of (d)emocratic Nominations

Primaries are not all they are cracked up to be.

James Joyner’s post on nomination processes leads me to the following point:  the frame of elites v. the people in choosing the candidate is not the main issue–at least not when I talk about it, nor do I think that it is for most political scientists.

By this, I mean, that discussion about the shortcomings of primaries (for all offices) is not about preferring party control because of a preference for the wisdom of elites versus the preferences of the masses.* It is about thinking seriously about the role parties could/should play in a representative system (i.e., providing clear options about governing to voters). There are good reasons to argue that primaries don’t go a good job of accomplishing this role because it makes parties candidate-centric rather than actually about a central message from the party as a collective organization. This muddles choice and it muddles governing and accountability.

After all: if voting Republican in election 1 means something different than in election 2 (because the candidates are very different in key ways), what does party mean?

We have been socialized into the notion that our candidate selection process is “democratic” (I put it in scare quotes on purpose) and that democracy is better than elites asserting power.  Anyone who reads my musings here know that, as a general principle, I am pro-democracy in terms of governing.  And, indeed, for many years I was in favor of primaries on the grounds that democratic processes are better than elite-driven ones. (In fact, somewhere, I think here at OTB, I have a post wherein I was speaking more favorably about the democratic nature of primaries—but I can’t find it). However, I have changed my mind.

I had a revelation of sorts some time ago, however, wherein I began to question the proposition that democratized candidate selection processes were actually beneficial to broader representative democracy, and it boils down to the issue of what function parties perform in such a system.

Parties are supposed to provide signaling devices to voters as to how the given candidate will behave once in office (and how the collection of persons holding the same label will behave).  They are supposed to govern in a way that is congruent with those signals.  Failing to do so should result in consequences for the party at ballot box.

Primaries complicate (if not upend) this equation.

Consider:

The Republican Party (and the presidency) under Trump is a very different thing than if, say, Jeb Bush or John Kasich had won the nomination.

Likewise, the Democratic Party will be a very different thing under a Sanders nomination than under a Bloomberg nomination (for example).

Further, three out of four of the above politicians I named (Trump, Sanders, and Bloomberg) are all persons who did not have any official affiliation with either party prior to running for its presidential nomination.  Arguably, Sanders and Bloomberg, as pre-candidates for office, are not yet “Democrats” (neither as nominees on a general election ballot, nor as office-holders).

The primary process allows them access to party labels that a more closed process would not provide.

If parties can be so radically shaped by individual politicians, to what degree does the party have a real, tangible existence? This is what I mean about it being a candidate-centric process.

More specifically, if the nomination process is so porous that politicians who have never had an official partisan identification (Trump) or who have been officially an independent (Sanders) or whose time in office was as a member of the other party (Bloomberg) then what does the party label mean?

An extreme illustration of my point is the top-two system as used in California.  It is called a primary, but it is really the first round of a two-round process wherein the top two vote-getters in the first round (the “primary”) go against one another in the second round (the general election) regardless of the relative differential in votes.  In the first round, there might be multiple Democrats and multiple Republicans running (as well as other third-party candidates).  This can mean, and often does, a D v. D or R v. R second round.  I would ask:  what meaningful role does party serve in that context?

Back to the question of what is more democratic, I would take the position that for representative democracy to function properly, voters have to have clear choices at the polls.  If the parties are candidate-centric vessels filled with the ever-evolving primary-steeped brew of the moment, then the parties tend to fail at that function.

So, when political scientists talk about the potential value of more closed, even “elite” (i.e., party leadership) level selections it is not because the goal is to take choice away from voters for the sake of keeping the teeming masses out of the process.  From persons such as myself, I think it would allow parties to be truer to themselves as organizations with clearer policy alternatives being consistently presented to the public.  I think, too, there is ample evidence globally to suggest that such a system of nomination would lead to the formation of more parties, which I think would be a long-term good thing for the representativeness of American democracy.

Others (and I think that the Azari column that James referenced) are aimed at trying to help the existing parties select candidates who truly are representative of their voters across the country than does our currently odd system wherein sequence can matter more than actual national preference. Fundamentally, just because voting is used in the caucus/primary process to nominate the presidential candidates does not mean that it is actually the best method to find a representative candidate. Again: sequence and media narrative (and attempts to make rules about debates with 12+ candidates, etc) have as much, if not more, influence than the voting. The system is a mess and suggestions to reform it are about trying to clean that mess up.

As I was writing this I was reminded of a piece I wrote can in 2017: An Analogy on Hierarchy (and the Lack thereof) in Party Behavior.

From that post:

the idea of a political party is that it would be able to present to the electorate a shared vision for governance and that electorate would have the ability to select or reject that vision.  If a party is at odds with itself, it is more difficult to project that vision and it muddles the choices that voters have.  In most democracies, parties get to choose their own players, and field a team for the voters to accept, or reject.  In the US, the team is not selected by leadership, but is instead selected by outside forces (primary voters).  This is especially true when voters can, by supporting insurgents, reshape parts of the party (as is possible with primaries in the US). And, hence, the party can end up with a nominee like Roy Moore (or Sharon Angle or Christine O’Donnell or Todd Akin or Donald Trump) that it might not prefer to have, but nonetheless has to live with.  And there are those who are less dramatic examples that sit in Congress now.  This affects both governance and representation, and therefore is no small thing.

At any rate, more on this as time progresses.


*I have also noticed a lot of online vitriol from Sanders supporters in particular that all this talk about nomination processes is just because Bernie is doing well. I don’t have time to get further into that issue, but I can assure any reader that my views on this subject are not about Bernie, nor are they new.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. 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:

    Steven Taylor:
    *I have also noticed a lot of online vitriol from Sanders supporters in particular that all this talk about nomination processes is just because Bernie is doing well. I don’t have time to get further into that issue, but I can assure any reader that my views on this subject are not about Bernie, nor are they new.

    I honestly believe that the Sanders’ people and supporters will not accept losing the nomination to anyone. Since 2016 they’ve been primed to view the 2012 loss as theft by the Party establishment. There’s a long way to go, but I think there’s a less than even odds chance that Sanders’ supporters will unite behind the Party nominee and get out the vote. Many may well sit on their hands.

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  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Acknowledging that it’s strictly my opinion and an outlier, I still have difficulty discerning that Trump represents a meaningful departure from swamp standard GOP governance. I agree that the absence of a president announcing “what the f88k was that” about a foreign film winning best picture (as one example) would be a pleasant departure from the current situation, that is merely window dressing. A nation where wealth continues to be consolidated at the top, partisan hacks get appointed to the Federal bench, children and parents get separated and caged as an extension of a failed immigration policy perpetuated by the intransigence of one party’s isolationist, zero-sum economics based inclinations is not significantly enough improved by the fact that John Kasich is not as crass. Sorry.

    My take is probably also colored by my cynicism, the fact that I don’t see myself as a stakeholder to any particular degree, and that I have no particular concern about future generations as I am the last of my side of the family line. I do agree that with the overall point of the piece, though. It is only the idea of Trump being a dramatic departure from GOP (and conservative at large) status quo that is a touch hyperbolic for my taste. YMMV.

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  3. Kit says:

    I would imagine that a deeply ingrained two-party system complicates matters: it’s far more difficult to turn one’s back on one party if the remaining option is absolutely unacceptable. Perhaps weak parties are the inevitable resting place of our system.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    It also appears to me that the parties are somewhat rudderless without an incumbent president or nominee. Tom Perez and Ronna Romney McDaniel don’t seem to have much power as National Committee Chairs. The RNC decided they should cater to Hispanics, then Trump decided otherwise. We Ds are waiting for Bernie or Bloomberg to emerge and tell us whether we’re socialists or capitalists this year.

    These days I hate to look to the Brits for inspiration, but some way, while in opposition, to maintain a shadow cabinet and a presumptive presidential nominee might help maintain continuity. Pelosi is the closest thing we have to a D party leader, and she has few levers on most of the cats in the herd.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: That. A thousand times that. It ain’t just Trump. He’s a symptom, not the disease. Grover Norquist was uncharacteristically honest when he said all Rs need in a prez is a hand to sign bills.

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  6. DrDaveT says:

    I had a revelation of sorts some time ago, however, wherein I began to question the proposition that democratized candidate selection processes were actually beneficial to broader representative democracy, and it boils down to the issue of what function parties perform in such a system.

    Thanks for this excellent article, Steven. This distills some of your recent themes in a way that I found much more cogent and compelling. That’s probably my fault and not yours, but you seem to have found a way of framing the issue that makes sense to me.

    I will commit the hubris of proposing a rough analogy — the question of what form of elitism in the process best leads to representative democracy strikes me as being similar to the question of what form of government intervention leads to maximal individual freedom.

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  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:
    The Brits for better or worse have the benefit of electing a government. Essentially the voters are voting for their preferred party/platform rather than a candidate. Unless something gets F’ed up that government is in place for a fixed term. That is what makes the party powerful.

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  8. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Since it seems to be human nature to vote based primarily on personalities and team history, not actual team positions, maybe we should move to the British model? Not the one today, but the one from Douglas Adams? The primary job of the President is not to wield power, but to distract from it.

    Beeblebrox 2020!

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  9. An Interested Party says:

    Likewise, the Democratic Party will be a very different thing under a Sanders nomination than under a Bloomberg nomination (for example).

    Indeed…and speaking of Sanders, can anyone refute this argument…

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  10. Moosebreath says:

    Interesting article. Five years ago at this time, the catchphrase was The Party Decides, as the institutions of the party would act to winnow out a challenger who was opposed to the party. This seems to have swung very fast.

    I also suspect that a share of the problem of candidate-centric elections is the growing presence of open primaries and a larger share of the electorate choosing to be independent of the party apparatus. These factors make it hard for the parties to assert any discipline on their candidates’ beliefs, as a significant share of primary voters are not tied to the party.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    A couple days ago I heard a talking head say the primary process would produce a stronger candidate. A few years ago I might have accepted that as more than a hollow platitude. Now it sounds like a bad joke.

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  12. wr says:

    @An Interested Party: “Indeed…and speaking of Sanders, can anyone refute this argument…”

    Sure. The Republicans THINK this will work. They also thought that calling Nancy Pelosi a socialist and turning every Democrat into her would work. They thought calling AOC a socialist and turning every Democrat into her would work. It’s the only play they’ve got, they’ve been using it for decades, and it assumes voters who don’t like Trump are morons.

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  13. An Interested Party says:

    @wr: I certainly hope you are right, but I would think that it will be easier to successfully paint a presidential candidate as a socialist because he actually calls himself a socialist and he’s running for the highest office in the land, a situation different than your two examples…

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  14. David S. says:

    I think the truth is that, at some point in the past fifty years, the Democrats became the only actual political party in America and the GOP exists mostly as a vehicle for disinformation and opposing them. I’d strongly suspect the Moral Majority was the turning point, but I’m not confident.

    And the GOP is, despite its hollowness, nevertheless strong enough that they refuse to fade away and the Democratic Party is thus unable to schism in the manner they desperately need to.

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  15. charon says:

    @David S.:

    the Democrats became the only actual political party in America and the GOP exists mostly as a vehicle for disinformation and opposing them.

    You could as easily say the GOP exists as a vehicle for advancing and hopefully installing a Christian theocratic form of fascism.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: @gVOR08: From a Democratic standpoint, the notion that Trump isn’t really different from Romney or Jeb or Kasich makes some sense, but it’s just nuts from a 30,000-foot view. But, of course, Republicans have been calling Democrats like Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc. “socialist” for decades. But, surely, there’s a massive difference between Sanders and even Warren, much less Buttigieg or Bloomberg.

    But, as Steven notes, if Sanders or Bloomberg become the Democratic nominee, they become the de facto face and platform of the party. Nancy Pelosi, presuming she’s still Speaker, will absolutely fall in line either way. Maybe AOC and some others won’t but most Democratic members of the House and Senate will go along for the same reasons Republicans who hate Trump have done: it’s the only way to survive politically.

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @David S.:

    I think the truth is that, at some point in the past fifty years, the Democrats became the only actual political party in America and the GOP exists mostly as a vehicle for disinformation and opposing them.

    That’s just absurd. As noted on a discussion thread on one of my recent posts, Richard Nixon passed into law the EPA, Clean Water Act, and all manner of policies that would be anathema to the modern GOP. Ronald Reagan signed a massive amnesty bill for illegal aliens. George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act shepherded through Congress by Bob Dole. George W. Bush championed the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Republicans until Trump not only governed but passed major pieces of legislation that helped millions. That’s just off the top of my head—and doesn’t include Republican Congressional support until fairly recently that helped pass signature pieces of legislation under Democratic Presidents.

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  18. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “From a Democratic standpoint, the notion that Trump isn’t really different from Romney or Jeb or Kasich makes some sense, but it’s just nuts from a 30,000-foot view.”

    James, as an entirely serious question, what do you see as the domestic policy differences between how Trump has governed and how Romney or Jeb or Kasich would have governed? The judges appointed would have been effectively the same. The tax cut would have been basically the same. The attempt to repeal Obamacare would have been the same. While another Republican administration would not be trying to build a wall, it likely would not have had the ability to pass any immigration legislation under a Republican House, though it may have occurred if the House changed to Democratic in 2018. What else substantively has Trump done in the way of domestic policy, and how would what he has done differ from a theoretical administration of another Republican?

    I will stipulate that there would have been less overt racism and corruption. There would have been fewer attempts to flout the Constitution. There would be less attempts to attack governmental institutions. And there would be a massive difference in foreign policy.

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  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    James, your point is well taken that through G.W. Bush, Republicans have been a governing party, but that broke in the 2010 election with the rise of the Tea Party and Moscow Mitch’s promise that it was the Rethug job to make Obama fail. From that point on the party became more and more a nihilist scream than a political party. Of course, not everyone in the party, but a significant enough number that we have Tiny and the remaining sane Republicans in congress have been heading for the exits and members of the rank and file have been looking for new political homes.

    At the state an local level it is much different, with some notable exceptions, many Republican governors and legislatures are attempting to act as good stewards as defined by their governing philosophy.

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  20. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I think the post-Tea Party GOP is an easier case than the last half century. Trump is a normal Republican on taxes and judges. But I guarantee Jeb or Kasich would have kicked Kavanaugh to the curb and selected another Federalist Society approved judge. That may not matter from a policy standpoint but it’s huge in terms of democratic responsiveness and decency.

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  21. @Moosebreath: But the things that make Trump an authoritarian threat aren’t judges and tax cuts. I agree those things are fairly standard GOP (although I think that others might have pulled Kavanaugh).

    His overt white supremacy, his reckless disregard for the truth (even for a crude politician), his tearing down of the international order (and eschewing basic diplomacy), his embrace of autocrats, his subversion of DOJ, his truly awful cabinet picks, his overt attempt at getting foreign governments to interfere in our elections, his willingness to want to only hear what he wants to hear from US intel, etc (I could go on) are all deviations from what one could have reasonably expected from any of the other GOP candidates in 2016.

    I understand some of what he has done (judges, tax cuts, deregulation) were things most GOPers would have done. But let’s not pretend like most of the truly odious things he has done would have been replicated even by a Ted Cruz.

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  22. And look: Mitch McConnell deserves some serious criticism (as does the way the Senate GOP has behaved in terms of making procedural filibusters the norm–but the Dems are not blameless there).

    I am, by no means, stating that it is Trump and Trump alone (if it were, he’d be out by now). But if we can’t intelligently parse out what is truly objectionable about Trump versus whatever policy differences exist between Rs and Ds, then all you are doing to telling Rs that what matters to you is policy and not the odious stuff (so all they have to worry about is policy as well).

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  23. @Moosebreath:

    I will stipulate that there would have been less overt racism and corruption. There would have been fewer attempts to flout the Constitution. There would be less attempts to attack governmental institutions. And there would be a massive difference in foreign policy.

    All damn huge things, IMHO.

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  24. Also: we wouldn’t be talking about emoluments and self-dealing with any of the others.

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  25. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But, as Steven notes, if Sanders or Bloomberg become the Democratic nominee, they become the de facto face and platform of the party.

    That is his null hypothesis, yes. As I noted the other day, if (Sanders or) Bloomberg gets elected, we’ll have a beautiful natural experiment to test it against the alternative hypothesis that Democrats really are different from Republicans in more ways than the obvious ones.

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  26. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You did see that my question was: “James, as an entirely serious question, what do you see as the domestic policy differences between how Trump has governed and how Romney or Jeb or Kasich would have governed?” (emphasis added). Your answers don’t seem to be responsive to that.

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  27. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    One of the things I struggle with in regards to Trump is he basically just such a a-hole as a person, and that the most destructive things he’s done are generally fuzzy breakdowns of political norms that are long term corrosive to the country but that are easy to confuse in voters minds by playing the ‘both-siderism” game.

    Meanwhile Bush Jr is all but rehabilitated, despite the torture and the false pretenses war with Iraq and the utter wreckage of an economic policy that left us with the 2nd worst economic situation in 100 years. One of those two caused a lot more Americans to be poor, and has a LOT more blood on his hands, but has a nicer personality…

    A lot of the more intelligent Republicans today keep pointing to the bog-standard behavior on judges and tax cuts, and quietly figure the country will survive the way he’s rocketed us to despotism. They also think we can make nice with allies again, probably on the arrogant grounds of thinking that the combination of our economy and opponents (is Europe really ever going to ally with Russia or China?) will leave them little choice but to pretend to forget the last few years.

    I think and fear they are wrong, but at this point can only hope they are right. *IF* we survive his personality and what he has done to Constitutional norms, *THEN* his most lasting domestic impacts will be….judges and tax cuts. And a lot of Republicans are betting on that.

    PS: before the jokes start about “intelligent Republicans” being a contradiction in terms, there is a big difference between intelligence and morality. I think Mitch McConnell is one of the most vile and destructive individuals this country has ever produced, almost single-handedly responsible for breaking the Senate as a functional institution. But he’s not dumb.

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  28. @Moosebreath: I will admit to not reading your comment carefully, so fair point.

    But, on the other hand, things like DOJ and cabinet appointments are domestic policy. And foreign policy, at its core, has clearly been altered by Trump. This matters.

    So while one can find two areas (taxes and judges) that are clearly Republican through-and-through, one cannot simply say he is a run-of-the-mill Republican.

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  29. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think, after going off on me for 4 posts in 5 minutes based on an incorrect reading of my comment, “fair point” is a weak response. I would also disagree on whether executive branch appointments in and of themselves constitute policy at all.

    However, my comment was a continuation of an argument that went back to the second comment to this post from @Just nutha ignint cracker: which raised the issue by saying:

    “Acknowledging that it’s strictly my opinion and an outlier, I still have difficulty discerning that Trump represents a meaningful departure from swamp standard GOP governance. I agree that the absence of a president announcing “what the f88k was that” about a foreign film winning best picture (as one example) would be a pleasant departure from the current situation, that is merely window dressing. A nation where wealth continues to be consolidated at the top, partisan hacks get appointed to the Federal bench, children and parents get separated and caged as an extension of a failed immigration policy perpetuated by the intransigence of one party’s isolationist, zero-sum economics based inclinations is not significantly enough improved by the fact that John Kasich is not as crass. Sorry.”

    Both you and James seem to be taking the position that this is not the case, but not explaining your reasoning beyond pointing to Trump’s criminality and foreign policy differences, both of which I acknowledged. So when you say:

    “So while one can find two areas (taxes and judges) that are clearly Republican through-and-through, one cannot simply say he is a run-of-the-mill Republican.”

    My response is that I am not saying that Trump is a run of the mill Republican. I am saying, that with respect to domestic issues, he has governed as a run of the mill Republican, with actual policies and priorities no different than a hypothetical President Kasich or Rubio would have. They would have focused on the same issues (tax cuts aimed primarily at the rich, cutting safety net programs, trying to repeal Obamacare, loosening regulations, appointing Federalist Society approved judges, etc.).

    However, Trump campaigned as a different kind of Republican. One who would not cut Medicare. One who had a plan to replace Obamacare with something better. One whose tax cuts were aimed at the middle class, and would not help himself at all. So while Trump’s criminality matters, his policies also matter.

    And making the disconnect between Trump’s campaign rhetoric and how he actually governed clear is going to be critical in this year’s campaign.

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  30. @Moosebreath:

    I think, after going off on me for 4 posts in 5 minutes based on an incorrect reading of my comment, “fair point” is a weak response.

    Well, I was trying to acknowledge your point that I misread your point to a degree. I also don’t think that responding to your point was “going off on” you. If it came across that way, I apologize.

    Back to this:

    My response is that I am not saying that Trump is a run of the mill Republican. I am saying, that with respect to domestic issues, he has governed as a run of the mill Republican, with actual policies and priorities no different than a hypothetical President Kasich or Rubio would have. They would have focused on the same issues (tax cuts aimed primarily at the rich, cutting safety net programs, trying to repeal Obamacare, loosening regulations, appointing Federalist Society approved judges, etc.).

    I think it is important to underscore that the GOP majority in Congress passed the tax cut, so yes, that would have played out the same no matter who the GOP president was. Same with the basic approach to judges (which, honestly, I don’t think that Trump cares about those judges save he knows his base loves it).

    When it comes to immigration, I do think any other candidate would have approached it differently in very important ways.

    There would have been no Muslim ban under another GOP presidency.

    The way Trump has treated the DoJ is very much domestic policy, and quite different than what the others would have done.

    I think any other candidate would have engaged in the rhetorical presidency differently. They would note have attacked the press the way Trump does. They would not have domestic rallies to whip up the base. They would not have governed as if they were president of just their supporters.

    Look, if your point is that Trump is not 100% different than other Republicans in terms of outcomes, I agree. But the consequences of the differences are still huge.

    However, Trump campaigned as a different kind of Republican. One who would not cut Medicare. One who had a plan to replace Obamacare with something better. One whose tax cuts were aimed at the middle class, and would not help himself at all. So while Trump’s criminality matters, his policies also matter.

    And making the disconnect between Trump’s campaign rhetoric and how he actually governed clear is going to be critical in this year’s campaign.

    Maybe this is where we are talking past one another and why I (and James) addressed your comment the way we did, as this kind of thing (how all this matters to the campaign), especially the last sentence, is a different conversation than the one I started in the OP.

    BTW: on this issue of how different of Republican Trump campaign as–apart from not cutting Medicare, that is all pretty standard rhetoric (and even that makes me think of “keep the government out of my Medicare” signs a Tea Party rallies). Trump gets most of his ideas about politics from TV.

    (I also don’t think you are going to dislodge Trump voters by showing them Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t match reality).

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  31. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do not think we have the same definition of what constitutes “domestic policy”.

    I cannot comprehend your claim that “The way Trump has treated the DoJ is very much domestic policy”, nor how “I think any other candidate would have engaged in the rhetorical presidency differently. They would note have attacked the press the way Trump does. They would not have domestic rallies to whip up the base. They would not have governed as if they were president of just their supporters.” is policy.

    The first strikes me as what I described above as “There would have been fewer attempts to flout the Constitution. There would be less attempts to attack governmental institutions.” However, that is not policy in my mind.

    The second is clearly rhetoric, not policy. I can imagine no definition of the word “policy” where that would fit.

    If you believe otherwise, please explain your reasoning.

    “Look, if your point is that Trump is not 100% different than other Republicans in terms of outcomes, I agree.”

    My point is that Trump and other Republicans are nearly identical on what their actual goals are and the laws they enact to achieve those goals. I will concede Trump is on the outer fringes of the Republicans spectrum in terms of immigration, though he has some company within Congress in that regard. But everywhere else, he has pushed for exactly the same goals as any mainstream Republican would have.

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  32. @Moosebreath:

    If you believe otherwise, please explain your reasoning.

    Policy, in the simplest of terms, is what the government does, or specifically chooses not to do. It is not just legislation (which is kind of the way you seem to be using the term. Although, by your approach, I am not sure how appointing judges fits).

    TBH, I am not even sure what we are arguing about.

    To me you are saying something akin to: “those two guys over there with colds are basically of identical health except for the cancer the one guys has” because you are narrowly defining health as being about if they have the same virus.

    You can’t put foreign policy and criminality aside in this conversation. You can’t ignore the rhetoric. You can’t reduce “policy” to tax cuts, judges, and deregulation.

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  33. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    TBH, I am not even sure what we are arguing about.

    You’re arguing about the same thing you were arguing with me about a week or two ago. The rest of the English-speaking world thinks that it isn’t “policy” unless it’s part of a plan, coordinated with other actions/statements to achieve a particular desired effect. If Trump decides to have a taco instead of a cheeseburger for lunch, that isn’t a policy action, domestic or otherwise.

    Your own sentence sort of gives away your point:

    Policy, in the simplest of terms, is what the government does, or specifically chooses not to do.

    The insertion of “chooses” there is telling — even you recognize that simply not doing something (as opposed to choosing not to do it) isn’t a policy action. Similarly, simply doing something (as opposed to choosing to do it, for reasons) is not a policy action.

    You are, quite literally, the first person I have ever met who uses the term “policy” in this way.

    ETA: On reflection, I can imagine that the word is used this way in Political Science circles, based on an unstated assumption that no administration would ever make a statement or take an action without consideration. Trump violates that assumption, though.

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  34. @DrDaveT:

    You are, quite literally, the first person I have ever met who uses the term “policy” in this way.

    Then you haven’t talked to a lot of political scientists. (Although I will allow that one suspects one could get a variety of definitions there as well).

    I am willing to try and figure out a different way of talking about this, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the guy who studies politics for a living is presumed to be wrong about the terminology. If I were a medical doctor using a term (say, “stomach flu” and pointing out that it isn’t the flu, even though people frequently use the term that way) would you tell me I was wrong?

    Beyond that: what are you going to call government action that isn’t a law or rule?

    If how Trump deals with DoJ isn’t policy, what is it?

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  35. @DrDaveT:

    The insertion of “chooses” there is telling — even you recognize that simply not doing something (as opposed to choosing not to do it) isn’t a policy action

    All I am getting at there is the when government chooses not to do something (e.g., choosing not to fund a particular project) that, too, is a policy choice.

    I am not stating that simply not doing something is policy.

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  36. @DrDaveT:

    If Trump decides to have a taco instead of a cheeseburger for lunch, that isn’t a policy action, domestic or otherwise.

    Not to get too grumpy, but how is the world does that come anywhere close to any of the things I have mentioned in this thread?

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  37. Moosebreath says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “The rest of the English-speaking world thinks that it isn’t “policy” unless it’s part of a plan, coordinated with other actions/statements to achieve a particular desired effect.”

    Other than removing the word “statements”, I agree with this.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “You can’t put foreign policy and criminality aside in this conversation.”

    If your definition of “domestic policy” includes foreign policy, then something is very wrong with your definitions. And criminality says nothing about the policy goals one is pursuing, just that one is not willing to be constrained by laws in pursuing it.

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  38. Maybe this will help: choosing not to be in TPP is a policy choice.

    Obama choosing to not deport certain classes of undocumented immigrants was a policy choice.

    Not choosing to fund a specific weapons program is a policy choice.

    Choosing not to do something is a policy choice, by definition.

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  39. @Moosebreath:

    If your definition of “domestic policy” includes foreign policy, then something is very wrong with your definitions.

    That’s not what I said.

    Indeed, to quote what you quoted “You can’t put foreign policy and criminality aside in this conversation.”

    The bolded part is expansive, not limited to domestic policy.

    Can you tell me, specifically, what point you are really trying to make?

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  40. Perhaps the two of you could give me a specific definition of “policy.”

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  41. BTW, I would note again, the OP was not about policy. It was about the way the nomination process is porous and how a given candidate can substantially reshape the party.

    Yes, Trump has adhered to some expected-upon GOP policy actions. That doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t in others and, moreover, the general way he has conducted his presidency.

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  42. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Can you tell me, specifically, what point you are really trying to make?”

    The same point I have made many times, and which you seemed to have missed. My first contribution to this conversation was “James, as an entirely serious question, what do you see as the domestic policy differences between how Trump has governed and how Romney or Jeb or Kasich would have governed?” (emphasis added). I also said in my first comment “And there would be a massive difference in foreign policy.” So the topic being discussed (i.e., this conversation) is limited to domestic policy, and foreign policy is put aside. If you disagree with that, please explain.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think DrDaveT already did that, which I largely agreed with, when he said “The rest of the English-speaking world thinks that it isn’t “policy” unless it’s part of a plan, coordinated with other actions/statements to achieve a particular desired effect.” The concepts of having a plan, coordinating with other actions and having a goal seem to be totally missing from your definition of policy, leading to DrDaveT’s comment about whether the President’s lunch order is policy.

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  43. @Moosebreath: I stated above:

    Policy, in the simplest of terms, is what the government does, or specifically chooses not to do.

    You state:

    The concepts of having a plan, coordinating with other actions and having a goal seem to be totally missing from your definition of policy

    From my perspective the inclusion of the word “government” directly includes ” having a plan, coordinating with other actions and having a goal.”

    Also, how does the verb “to choose” as used in my definition not imply a plan or goal?

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  44. @Moosebreath:

    So the topic being discussed (i.e., this conversation) is limited to domestic policy, and foreign policy is put aside. If you disagree with that, please explain.

    No, you limited it to domestic policy (narrowly defined, in my opinion). There is a broader conversation here to which I was alluding (the original post and a total of over 40 comments).

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  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Choosing not to do something is a policy choice, by definition.

    Of course. But not doing something because you didn’t think of it is not a policy choice. Similarly, doing something without thinking is not a policy choice. It’s the thinking that matters.

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  46. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “From my perspective the inclusion of the word “government” directly includes ” having a plan, coordinating with other actions and having a goal.”

    Also, how does the verb “to choose” as used in my definition not imply a plan or goal?”

    So the head of government’s choice of what to have for lunch is a policy under your definition. Good to know.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “No, you limited it to domestic policy (narrowly defined, in my opinion).”

    Yes, I asked a question to someone else specifically limited to domestic policy, in response to a prior discussion also specifically limited to domestic policy. You jumped on that limited question to complain that my question ignored foreign policy, and have treated my question as thereby improper because it does not have the same scope as your question.

    And then each time I point out the limit in my question and the limit in the prior discussion, you get, in your words, grumpy.

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  47. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Perhaps the two of you could give me a specific definition of “policy.”

    From Etymology Online:
    policy (n.1)
    “way of management,” late 14c., policie, “study or practice of government; good government;” from Old French policie (14c.) “political organization, civil administration,” from Late Latin politia “the state, civil administration,” […] Meaning “plan of action, way of management” first recorded c. 1400.

    All of those imply system, not just action.

    From my perspective the inclusion of the word “government” directly includes ” having a plan, coordinating with other actions and having a goal.”

    As I speculated in my edit to the earlier comment, which you perhaps did not see. That might have been a reasonable axiom prior to Trump. For Trump tweeting at 2:00 AM or speaking at one of his rallies, it is not. The standard model of government is inadequate to describe an impulsive child as President.

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  48. @Moosebreath:

    So the head of government’s choice of what to have for lunch is a policy under your definition. Good to know.

    Ya got me. That is obviously exactly what I mean.

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  49. @Moosebreath: Let me try this: I agree with you that if you stick solely to tax policy and judges, Trump is a standard Republican.

    I simply disagree that one should limit the discussion thusly.

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  50. @DrDaveT:

    For Trump tweeting at 2:00 AM or speaking at one of his rallies, it is not. The standard model of government is inadequate to describe an impulsive child as President.

    But, of course, that was part of my original point when I stated that Trump’s nomination changes the party.

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  51. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I also disagree that it should be limited to taxes and judges. In fact, I started off by asking James what he saw were the differences between Trump and a standard Republican within the confines of domestic policy as a whole (“James, as an entirely serious question, what do you see as the domestic policy differences between how Trump has governed and how Romney or Jeb or Kasich would have governed?”). After listing some areas of similarity, including but not limited to taxes and judges, I then asked “What else substantively has Trump done in the way of domestic policy, and how would what he has done differ from a theoretical administration of another Republican?”

    If limiting the response to domestic policy is a direction you do not want to go, and instead you want to talk about differences in areas which are not policy or are not domestic, then further discussion between us is pointless. However, it was a serious question, not merely in my mind, but as asked by others earlier in the discussion.

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  52. @Moosebreath: I tried above to provide some additional areas of domestic policy.

    ReplyReply
  53. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And other than immigration, which I conceded Trump is on the extreme side on, I did not accept that most of them were policy matters. Do we need to go around that circle again?

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  54. @Moosebreath: All I can say is this: if all we could say about Trump was based on signing that tax cut, judicial nominations, and his general approach to deregulation, then yes, we would be talking about Trump as a more normal Republican.

    I find this to be pointlessly reductive and an utterly unhelpful frame for discussion this presidency.

    I have attempted (apparently unsuccessfully) to explain why.

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  55. BTW, we can add election security to my list of examples wherein choosing not to do something is a clear policy choice.

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  56. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am sorry that my question strikes you as an unhelpful frame for a discussion. Perhaps Kevin Drum’s comments along the same lines will help.

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  57. @Moosebreath: If your point is that most Republicans will vote for Trump in 2020, I agree with you. The polling figures showing substantial GOP support demonstrate that without making lists of policy one way or the other.

    In that sense, it doesn’t help me understand your goal in this back and forth.

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  58. @Moosebreath: Look, we are clearly talking past one another. I have honestly tried to explain myself, but I also know we annoying one another. You are are a thoughtful contributor to the site, which I appreciate.

    I acknowledge that Trump has engaged in a number of standard GOP policies. I agree that most long-term GOP voters will see that as sufficient a reason to vote for him (indeed, I will go a step farther that just have the R by his name will be enough for the vast majority of voters).

    Perhaps we should move on from this death-spiral of a comment thread?

    ReplyReply
  59. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am going to leave it here, with my goal of getting an answer to my initial question largely unfulfilled. Thanks.

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  60. @Moosebreath: I attempted to answer it. I really, truly did.

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  61. Indeed, I even tried to acknowledge points of basic agreement in the last several comments and attempted to de-escalate by being sincerely complimentary. I do not understand why that results in what comes across as snark.

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  62. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    ” I attempted to answer it. I really, truly did.”

    It does not look that way to me. Even after your initial 4 posts in 5 minutes which really looked like you were rage-posting after reading half of a question not addressed to you, you then had several posts which largely did not treat my response as worthy of an answer, but instead continued to argue that Trump’s foreign policy and rhetoric were so different that whether there was any difference in domestic policy is irrelevant.

    When you finally got around to speaking about solely domestic policy, you gave the same dismissive answer multiple times that Trump had standard Republican positions on a few items, still not answering my question on where the differences are.

    ReplyReply
  63. @Moosebreath:

    rage-posting

    Sigh. Ok.

    ReplyReply

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