The 2020 Republican Platform

Jared Kushner and others want one that fits on a index card.

Axios’ Jonathan Swan takes us “Inside the secret talks to overhaul the GOP platform.” Not surprisingly, they’re being overseen by Jared Kusher.

On the one hand, they’re rather comical:

  • The president’s son-in-law and top adviser has told confidants he wants to shrink the GOP’s extensive platform of policy beliefs and principles down to a single card that fits in people’s pockets. That’s a huge change. The 2016 platform runs 58 pages — the product of extensive debate and heated negotiations.
  • Kushner told colleagues he wanted “something like the 10 principles we believe in,” per two sources familiar with his comments. He asked Stepien to find historical examples of Republican platforms that look more like a “mission statement,” per a source familiar with one of their meetings.
  • Another source familiar with the discussions pointed to the GOP platform of 1856 as an example of a platform that is similarly short. The source used this example to argue that the idea of a one-page platform isn’t so new or radical after all.

On the other, they’re surprisingly shrewd:

  • From his seat at the center of a long table, Kushner told senior White House and campaign staff that more of their policies should be drawing people to the party, so they ought to eliminate alienating language.

As an example of language that would alienate voters, Kushner said that he didn’t want to see anything about “gay conversion therapy” in the 2020 Republican platform.

  • The 2016 Republican platform did not explicitly mention gay conversion therapy, but it included this line: “We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.”
  • Gay Republicans were furious because they viewed it, accurately, as a coded endorsement for the widely condemned practice that’s rejected by major medical associations and whose use on minors is banned in many states and some other countries.
  • Kushner also argued against rebranding “School Choice” as “Education Freedom Scholarships,” because he said the latter phrase doesn’t resonate with African Americans.
  • Two sources said they recalled Kushner making a more sweeping point — that they should rethink using the word “freedom” altogether in the GOP platform because polling showed it doesn’t appeal to African Americans. But another source familiar with the Dec. 19 meeting pushed back adamantly against this.
  • The source said the only context in which Kushner argued against using the word “freedom” was in the context of rebranding “school choice.” The source added that “freedom’s a great word” and “should be smartly utilized” in the 2020 Republican platform.
  • (The Trump administration had been using the phrase “Education Freedom Scholarships” since at least February 2019 — more than nine months before this meeting.)

While this process has been going on for six months, Swan reports that “the Trump team has kept the information flow to an extremely tight circle. It’s unclear who, if any, of the state party leaders — whose delegates will ultimately need to vote on the platform — have visibility of the discussions. And most White House officials have no idea these talks have been happening.”

That’s par for the course.

But that means Kushner and company aren’t building the buy-in necessary to change the platform. That’s important since, as Swan puts it, “Overhauling the platform is no easy feat. Representatives from disparate and well-funded factions of the Republican Party live for their quadrennial fights over what goes into it, language for everything from hot-button social issues to America’s relationships with allies and adversaries. And outside interest groups aggressively lobby to shape its contents.”

Henry Kissinger is reputed to have remarked, “Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” But, arguably, the stakes are even smaller here.

Sure, it makes sense to have a party platform that avoids alienating people who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for the party’s candidates. But I know of no evidence that people chose to vote for a party or its candidates based on the language in the platform.

One doubts that Donald Trump has ever read the 2016 platform, much less governs according to it. While it’s at least possible that Mitch McConnell has read it, it’s surely not a driving force in how he runs the Senate.

A ten-point “platform” may well be a better campaign vehicle than a traditional organized-by-committee treatise that attempts to satisfy all the delegates at the convention, assuring that everyone’s pet issue is at least tangentially covered.

Then again, a party could have a ten-point campaign plan independent of the party platform. While there’s little evidence that it was a major factor in the 1994 landslide that returned the House to GOP control for the first time in decades, the “Contract with America” was that sort of vehicle. I have no recollection of how it jibed with either the 1992 or 1996 convention platforms.

Beyond all that, the 2020 election will be a referendum of Donald J. Trump. He’ll have been President of the United States for nearly four years. I can scarcely imagine the voter who doesn’t currently like Trump or think he deserves a second term who will be swayed by an index card.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Slugger says:

    How about a five word platform: More Trump All the Time!

  2. Kathy says:

    Ten points? Ten?

    Jeez, Jared, don’t you know El PITO pequeño?

    Here you go:

    All hail trump, all praise Trump.

    That will be $7 million. Cash.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m pretty sure that “tRUMP uber alles!!!” will fit on a 3×5 card.

  4. Barry says:

    Actually, it sounds like Jared is being smart there:

    1) Why shouldn’t the platform be basically a campaign slogan?
    It’s not like it’s binding.

    2) Use non-alienating language (i.e., use dog whistles).

  5. drj says:



    I think “Bellyfeel Trump doubleplusgood,” would be even more appropriate.

    I’m not even being facetious here.

  6. CSK says:

    What is Trump trying to convey with his expression in this picture? A stern resolve? Sorry, Fats. All I see is your usual surly, vindictive petulance.

  7. Kathy says:


    Doubleplusgood may be fine for minor beings like Lincoln or Jesus, but El PITO deserves a Doubleplusplusgood (because his mind can’t comprehend a triple).

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    Two thoughts.

    Newt’s Contract with America. Given that party platforms are usually ignored by the candidate, a short list of bumper sticker statements as the platform isn’t a bad idea.

    But that means Kushner and company aren’t building the buy-in…

    Memories of Hillary’s healthcare initiative during the Clinton administration. Produced in secret, dead on arrival.

  9. Moosebreath says:


    The expression brings to mind a line about an old-time actress whose expression of strained intensity would not be relieved by an easy death, but by Exlax.

  10. drj says:


    Gotta do something special for BB.

  11. CSK says:

    Good one.

  12. Michael Cain says:

    Two words: elevator pitch. You’ve got the voter’s attention for 60-90 seconds and you want them to be excited when they get off the elevator. “I can save you from whatever it is you’re scared of,” is the easiest. “I can give you that one thing that you think you want,” is harder, but still effective. Close with one sentence or phrase that sticks in their mind, for at least a while. It’s even better if in invokes some sort of visual image. It’s your money, just say no to tax hikes. I’m from the government and I’m here to help. Build the wall. Make America great again.

  13. drj says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Two words: elevator pitch.

    There is nothing wrong with an elevator pitch. But Kushner proposes that there should only be an elevator pitch. Nothing of substance behind it.

    Seems kind of fitting.

  14. Scott F. says:

    Kushner told colleagues he wanted “something like the 10 principles we believe in,” per two sources familiar with his comments.

    I think the Trumpkins will be disappointed when the Party can’t summon the courage to include “Must Own the Libtards” as one of the 10 core beliefs.

  15. Scott says:

    One, they can’t publish their real platform which is to loot America and Americans while avoiding prison.

    So they really one have three things they run on: guns, abortion, and grievance.

    That can fit on a postcard.

  16. Michael says:

    Here it is, in all its simplicity:
    Guns Good
    Taxes Bad
    Abortion Murder

  17. senyordave says:

    I have trouble believing that almost any voters pay attention to party platforms. Trump is a very known product at this point. If you like him you want more of the same, if you don’t you will not change you mind based on party platforms or campaign promises. In Trump’s case that is reinforced by the constant lying. People who don’t like him will not buy into him suddenly acting presidential since he has spent three and a half years acting anything but presidential.
    IMO this is the trouble that the Trump campaign will run into. What do they run on? I know what they will run against – the libs, the coastal elites. That will work great with his base, but now the rest of the people understand that he had his chance to show something with his first crisis, and he he totally screwed the pooch.
    I don’t see party platforms meaning very much these days, and they usually mean even less with an incumbent. Trump could be given a party platform of one sentence and I would bet anyone a million dollars and give two to one odds that ten minutes later he would not be able to even repeat the substance of that sentence coherently.

  18. Kathy says:


    What do they run on?

    The Scooby Doo: We would have had the bestest economy ever in all of history, if it wasn’t for this meddling virus!

    More to the point, what can trump run on that cannot be attacked as a manifest failure by Biden?

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @senyordave: Yeah. My reaction was, “Why bother?” The platform is meaningless. Whatever is in the platform they can write their own bumper stickers. The last time around somebody rewrote the Ukraine plank and that just caused trouble. What’s the point?

  20. EddieInCA says:

    GOP: Give Trimp 4 more years to finish what he started!

    US Citizens: Fvck No!

  21. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Why not: White Power!

  22. senyordave says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Hasn’t that been part of their platform since Reagan?

  23. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @senyordave: They can say the quiet part out loud now.

  24. On the one hand, yes an elevator speech kind of platform has some appeal, but on the other (to echo a key point from James above), the platform really isn’t a recruiting or campaign document. It really is an internal document masquerading as an outward-facing document that allows a bunch of internal constituencies to feel heard on their pet policy preferences.

    Indeed, instead of the grandiose sounding “Party Platform” it could easily be called the “Pet Policy Preferences Compendium (That Pretty Much Nobody Reads).”

  25. Sleeping Dog says:

    “Pet Policy Preferences Compendium (That Pretty Much Nobody Reads).”


  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Given that in a Trump administration policy has a half life of a minute or two, why would a platform even be necessary? The fact that Jared sees it as an advertising tool above all else may be the key tell here.

  27. gVOR08 says:


    Hasn’t that been part of their platform since Reagan?


  28. Pete S says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Yes, this. Whether it is 58 pages or an index card, it needs to be written in pencil depending on who sees Trump last or sucks up better.

  29. Fog says:

    He could borrow a motto from Italy. Trump ha sempre ragione! Trump is always right!

  30. Kathy says:

    Based on precedent, a resignation letter fits in a Twit. That’s a lot easier, too.

  31. Warren Peese says:

    Kushner need not worry about language that may not appeal to African Americans, because Trump will never appeal to African Americans, at least not more than single digits.
    The good thing is that a one-page summary with ten bullet points matches his kiddie-pool-depth intellect.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    …so they ought to eliminate alienating language.

    That’s hilarious, considering Trump himself does more to alienate people than anything that could possibly be written in the party platform…I guess the oblivious dauphin-in-law doesn’t realize that…

  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I think that it’s supposed to be the person sending them that’s the twit–at least in this case.

  34. Jc says:

    Got a hold of the list.
    We are against:
    3. Abortions
    6.deficits (lol, just say it, they will believe it)
    7.any social welfare (especially if used a lot by numbers 1. And 2.)
    We are for:
    2.anything for “our” god.
    3.aggresive reaction with military. Slow reaction to anything else, planning ahead? Meh… warming denialism

    Sigh…I am sure others could add a ton of others…gonna be tough to get all on one card

  35. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Still, he’s not wrong.

    Getting it down to 10 core items, items that are likely “Traditional American Values”TM would give the GOP a rally point as they come into a challenging election.

    With everything that has gone wrong in the past 3 1/2 years, it would take the focus off the President.

    The challenge is: what 10 values could be on that card, which then would not reflect poorly on the actions of the 2020 GOP candidate?

  36. Kingdaddy says:

    Kissinger was lifting that maxim from someone else. It has an older lineage:

  37. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Platform? We don’t need no stinkin’ platform!

  38. Christopher Osborne says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I think it’s unusually smart of Kusher to do this. It’s like Gingrich’s Contract on America, MAGA, Beethoven’s Ninth, or Hello Kitty in that it reinforces the personal interpretation of the viewer/hearer. I think this is what Stephen Taylor and Michael Caine are referring to in part below.

  39. JohnMcC says:

    The cumbersome documents called ‘platforms’ were considered a binding of many and varied small constituencies that once-upon-a-time made up an American political party. They would include planks designed to show that the Party was attentive to Croatian-Americans, Mothers of Autistic Children and Chocolate manufacturers (made up but not particularly exaggerated).

    Jared et al realize that there are no longer small constituencies in the R-party. They are united in a homogenous movement that has very few moving parts: Anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-intellectual.

    There is not too much to say when you have set yourself up as one pole of a ‘kulture kampf’ battling against modernity.

  40. dazedandconfused says:

    Reverse Roe v. Wade
    Cut taxes
    Trump Good. Biden bad.


  41. DA says:

    The Republican platform is very brief: it is to be as big an asshole as possible about every single thing all the time.