The US Nomination Process: Candidate over Party

In the US, the candidate defines the party, not the other way around.

One of the key purposes of a political party is that it provides an identifiable label (Republican, Democrat, Green, etc.) which points voters to a general ideological and policy preference point of view. However, the American party system suffers from the fact that candidates drive this process more than do the parties themselves, and this is especially true of presidential politics.

Sure, there is a vague sense that each of the two major parties stand for some very general set of policy preferences on taxes, social spending, immigration, and abortion (to name four big areas) but we actually can’t know what the parties actually stand for until as such a time as the party has a leader, i.e., the party’s nominee for the presidency.

I really only need two words to illustrate my point: Donald Trump. The party of free trade is now the party of tariffs and trade wars not because of a substantial internal debate within the party, nor because voters en masse drove candidates to adopt such a position. No, the party likes trade wars now because Trump likes them. Republicans are now far more pro-Russia than in the past because of Trump. Social conservative Republicans are more willing to forgive infidelity because Trump is the leader of their party, and so forth. The line of causality is from the leader to those who identify with the party, not the other way around.

I have noted before the influence the president has over party, mostly in the context of separation of powers in previous posts, such as

The dynamic noted in those posts are about partisan behavior after a president is elected. What is striking me at the moment, for obvious reasons, is the way in which candidates are selected in the first place.

The US has a truly unique nomination process. While some parties in some countries use a version of what we would think of a primary election (usually a national election to select a candidate) no country consistently uses such a process cycle after cycle for all major parties. Further, even systems in which a nominating election is fairly common, although not universal (such as Colombia), there are no sub-national competition like our state-by-state delegate hunt.

If you are looking for real American exceptionalism, this is one that fits the bill.

Now, regardless of the candidate selection process, a presidential candidate is going to influence the party in such a system, but the US process amplifies this fact.

Consider: the Democratic Party is a vague set of notions (as noted above) without much form. Sure, the Democrats tend to favor universal health care, but we won’t know what the party really believes until a candidate is nominated. If Warren is the nominee it will mean one thing, if Biden is nomination, it will mean yet another. (And the nomination, and especially the election, of a given person will influence existing co-partisan office-holders’ positions on these matter).

This is true of any policy are you can think of. And note that the official party platform really doesn’t matter. Rather, what matters will be the policy positions put forward by the candidate once selected (and especially if elected).

The party doesn’t define itself–not in any formal way. A collection of candidates come forth each year and those people define the debate in that cycle and then through a labyrinth process, a candidate emerges who becomes the definer of the party for a set time.

Now, yes, the process requires appeals to a certain sub-section of voters, but in ways that does not actually promote an outcome that is necessarily representative of the party as a whole. To wit: candidates must prove themselves immediately in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are 85% and 90% white respectively (not to mention unrepresentative of the parties as a whole, let alone the county, in a myriad of ways).

Consider: to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, a party of urban and sub-urban voters, and for whom a key constituency is African-Americans, one has to play well in Iowa and New Hampshire–overwhelmingly white states that lack major urban centers.

This system has a veneer of democracy to it, but not only is it not especially representative in terms of the calendar, but the number of voters in the selectorate is low relative to the population. It also drives candidates to appeal to base voters during the nomination phase and then having to reconstitute their message for the general election campaign.

Beyond that, the US system does not require the parties to coherently define themselves and therefore to present to the voters clear policy visions. Instead, we get the vague notions defined and redefined based on candidates.

I would argue it is healthier for democracy for parties to be able to provide a clear message to voters and for the campaigns, and ultimately the election, to be about those messages.

Consider Bernie Sanders. Sanders is an independent in the Senate. He is not a Democrat. Yet, for two electoral cycles now, he has pursued the Democratic nomination because it is his only vehicle for a legitimate chance to win the presidency. He is free to enter the nomination process due to the weak control parties have over the process. He then has the ability to shape the debate of a party he is not a member of. This creates the need for others who are in the party to respond to him, and perhaps adapt to his positions in a way that might be ultimately detrimental to the party as a whole in the general election.

However, if the system of nomination was not so porous, Sanders would be forced to form his own party to run for president. Under different parameters we would have a more left-leaning party with Sanders as the nominee and a more centrist Democratic Party, for example. (And yes, the Electoral College would make such a fragmentation of voters unwise, but that is a different issue).

Of course, the porousness of the nomination process in 2016 resulted in Donald Trump being nominated. The GOP was not, going into 2016, a nationalist, populist party (although it had such a faction). An open process allowed Trump, who had not even been active in Republican Party politics prior to 2016, to capture the nomination with a plurality of support in the party (and to go on to win the presidency with less than a plurality of the national vote–have i ever mentioned that institutions matter?).

A short version of this discussion goes like this: if American parties were stronger institutions which had some real internal control over their nominations, then Bernie Sanders would not be allowed to participate as a non-member of the party. Ditto Donald Trump.

We have very weak parties.

Ultimately, it is striking the degree to which we, as voters, won’t know what the Democratic Party really and fully stands for until it nominates its candidate (as was true of both parties in 2016). Party doesn’t drive candidate, candidate drives party.

All of this matters, I would argue, as part of the broader representation problem we have in the US. The more ill-defined parties are, the less they can be vehicles of true representation. It is also problematic that in the US the rules largely channel our effective electoral choice into a binary one.

And, of course, as I have argued, the primaries (as linked to institutional features like single seat districts and the Electoral College, to name but two) are what keep us locked into this binary structure.

As such, instead of a robust debate among numerous positions, we end up a two-way debate defined by candidates, not by well-defined party positions.

The pathway shapes the debate more than does an actual debate.

A less open process for candidate nominations (dare I say, ye olde smoke filled rooms) could produce more coherent parties. Such a process would also force dissidents, whether they be someone like Sanders or someone like Trump, to seek new parties as vehicles for electoral competition and possible office-holding.

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. DrDaveT says:

    Ultimately, it is striking the degree to which we, as voters, won’t know what the Democratic Party really and fully stands for until it nominates its candidate (as was true of both parties in 2016).

    I would argue that this is not true, or at least not true of the Democratic nominee in the same way that it is true of the Republican nominee. Both sides don’t do this, either.

    We don’t know what specific implementation plans the Democratic nominee will have for expanding health coverage, or reducing wealth disparity, or rationalizing immigration policy, or trying to reduce gun violence, or making the criminal justice system less racist, or mitigating the effects of global warming, but we know that those will be goals.

    It is simply not conceivable that the Democrats could nominate a candidate who opposes those goals openly — whereas the Republicans nominated a candidate who openly opposed free trade and publicly admired Vladimir Putin, either of which would have been the subject of endless attack ads had a Democrat done it. There really is no equivalence there.

    ReplyReply
    12
  2. Teve says:

    @DrDaveT: also the exact details of the candidates’ various plans won’t matter because Congress will be writing the legislation in the first place.

    ReplyReply
  3. This is something I’ve felt for a long time, that both major parties essentially have no real history to speak of, because their histories, historiographies and ideologies are re-written by each POTUS candidate they elect into office, for better and for worse.

    I think that, in the South, it’s been even more profound. How can the Democratic Party of Georgia go from a corrupt racist gangster like Eugene Talmadge to a liberal progressive like Stacey Abrams as gubernatorial standard bearers? Or NC Dems from Luther “Kissing Case” Hodges to Bev Perdue?

    A huge part of it is how the DNC’s POTUS candidates have shaped the state parties’ choices for governor and the state-level ideologies they’ve pursued for the last 50-60 years. But it also means that Democrats in the South have had to reset our history (as have, I assume, some Republicans in the North) so as not to include almost any governors prior to 1970 for sake of avoiding ideological embarrassment. We just don’t talk about them, and just say that we “evolved”. And the openness of the presidential cycle makes it easier for this ideological reset to happen at the state level.

    ReplyReply
  4. gVOR08 says:

    An aspect of this would seem to be that for the winning party the president remains the leader of the party, while the losing party is largely leaderless for three years until the next nominee emerges. Which does seem to be true.

    ReplyReply
  5. An Interested Party says:

    An aspect of this would seem to be that for the winning party the president remains the leader of the party, while the losing party is largely leaderless for three years until the next nominee emerges.

    Which begs the questions that should Trump lose next year, who will fill the vacuum created and lead the GOP? And where will this person take the party…

    ReplyReply
  6. @DrDaveT: I think you are missing my point.

    Trump is certainly a very specific case, and perhaps the GOP is more prone to that kind of specific case, but the basic dynamic remains in force. The parties are very much defined by their nominees.

    ReplyReply
  7. As I note in the post: Bernie instead of Hillary would have meant a very different Democratic Party.

    Warren instead of Biden will also.

    ReplyReply
  8. gVOR08 says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Which begs the questions that should Trump lose next year, who will fill the vacuum created and lead the GOP? And where will this person take the party…

    I have no idea who, although Little Willie Romney and Ted Cruz both think themselves. And Mike Pence thinks God wants him. (Which seems bloody unlikely.) But not until one of them is nominated in 2024. In the meantime, they’d be largely leaderless (except for Charles Koch) and hopefully wander thoroughly into the wilderness.

    ReplyReply
  9. Jax says:

    I agree with DrDave. I’ve known exactly what the Democratic party has stood for since Bill Clinton was President, and Hillary Clinton first pitched a healthcare plan as First Lady. Almost 30 years later and not much has changed in my view, just “who is delivering the message”. The Democratic party has had to fine tune and grow along the way, and I’m still fine with the way they are changing and including more issues under their version of the “big tent”.

    What I don’t understand is what’s happened to the Republican party. Even the blatant racists (in both parties) used to be able to work together with their counterparts for the good of the country. Instead of having a common enemy, the enemy has become each other. We will not survive this, if it continues.

    ReplyReply
    8
    1
  10. Ken_L says:

    Parties could do a lot more to develop coherent policy positions. For example, they could devote more resources to internal research and policy development instead of being captive to external organizations and lobbyists. They could hold annual conferences which gradually developed comprehensive platforms of goals and the preferred means to achieve them. They could require candidates for elective office to commit to these platforms as a condition for receiving party endorsement and funding. Congressional committees would have a solid foundation for developing legislation, instead of having to deal with endless proposals championed by special interest groups within a party’s caucus. Bills could routinely be sponsored by the chairs of the relevant committees on behalf of the party as a whole, instead of by random members.

    Voters would then have a much more informed basis for deciding which party to support, reducing the incidence of personality politics which exists at the moment.

    ReplyReply
  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @An Interested Party: Ted Cruz is tanned, rested and ready.

    ReplyReply
  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jax: In the absence of international enemies, a nation turns to domestic enemies, but the rules of the engagement don’t seem to change.

    ReplyReply
  13. JohnMcC says:

    You are so obviously correct in your original thought, Dr Taylor, that I am surprised that it’s drawn much in the way of comments. Back when I took PoliSci and we still chipped our class notes on stone tablets, it was a given that the US had a weak-party system in contrast with — say — the British who have a strongly controlling central party (back then there were no LibDems and such).

    It was kind of implied that a ‘compare and contrast’ essay/test answer done on an American campus was likely to find that the weak-party system is ‘more democratic’ and ‘responds to challenges’ better. I’ve waxed hot and cold on the Parliamentary governance/strong party method over the years.

    Having Boris Johnson ‘elected’ PM by some 90 thousand mostly-English Tories makes me think that I’ll choose the ‘weak party’ constitution; at least it required some 43 million Americans to lose their minds before we got the current administration.

    ReplyReply
  14. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Which begs the questions that should Trump lose next year, who will fill the vacuum created and lead the GOP? And where will this person take the party…

    @gVOR08:

    I have no idea who, although Little Willie Romney and Ted Cruz both think themselves. And Mike Pence thinks God wants him. (Which seems bloody unlikely.) But not until one of them is nominated in 2024. In the meantime, they’d be largely leaderless (except for Charles Koch) and hopefully wander thoroughly into the wilderness.

    Presuming it’s not such a blue wave that Mitch McConnell is defeated in his re-election bid, the answer is pretty clearly him. And he’ll lead them in the same way he did under Obama: making the defeat of the Democratic President in 2024 his top priority and defeating his/her legislation his vehicle towards that end.

    @Ken_L:

    They could hold annual conferences which gradually developed comprehensive platforms of goals and the preferred means to achieve them. They could require candidates for elective office to commit to these platforms as a condition for receiving party endorsement and funding.

    Theoretically, sure. But, first, our parties have historically been so diverse because the nation is so diverse. Alabama Democrats and Massachusetts Democrats simply can’t agree on a platform that both could viably run on within their states. Second, as Steven has hinted, Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders would sign those pledges and then do what they damned well pleased. Hell, Trump failed to get the endorsements of plenty of leading Republicans—including the party’s two most recent Presidents—against Hillary Freaking Clinton and still won. And Sanders won’t even agree to call himself a “Democrat.”

    ReplyReply
  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    And Mike Pence thinks God wants him.

    If God does I surely wish he’d hurry up and take him.

    ReplyReply
  16. @Ken_L:

    They could require candidates for elective office to commit to these platforms as a condition for receiving party endorsement and funding.

    This would require an entirely different nomination process, which is ultimately my point.

    ReplyReply
  17. @James Joyner:

    Presuming it’s not such a blue wave that Mitch McConnell is defeated in his re-election bid, the answer is pretty clearly him.

    Except that is the case now with Pelosi, McConnell would be the highest ranking elected Republican in such a scenario, but really isn’t the leader of the party–not anywhere near in the way that the president is (or even that the nominee is during election season).

    ReplyReply
  18. @Jax:

    I’ve known exactly what the Democratic party has stood for since Bill Clinton was President

    And the Democratic Party was reshaped by Clinton and his DLC wing of the party by his nomination. He was a change from Mondale and Dukakis and was part of reaction in the party to McGovern.

    Clinton actually illustrates my point. Note that noting in what I have said requires there to be drastic or dramatic changes, and certainly nothing that assumes Trump-like lurches.

    Still, to take two very possible outcomes: a Biden nomination would be largely a continuation of the Clinton era in the party. A Warren nomination would represent a not insignificant deviation.

    Right now we do not know if the we will have a Biden Democratic Party or a Warren Democratic Party (or some other version).

    ReplyReply
  19. @JohnMcC:

    Having Boris Johnson ‘elected’ PM by some 90 thousand mostly-English Tories makes me think that I’ll choose the ‘weak party’ constitution

    As I have noted: Johnson is PM because his party has (or, at least, had) a majority of seats in the House of Commons. That required substantial national support. And, really, the mess in the Commons is a result of a reflection of the mess that is public opinion on Brexit in the UK.

    (Also: the Brits suffer from one malady that we do as well: they elect their legislature via single seat plurality winners and the House is therefore not s representative as it should be, making the whole thing even worse).

    ReplyReply
  20. And the citizens of the UK are going to get a far more direct say over who their leader should be soon–so score one for their system that does at least allow for more timely consultation of the public than does ours.

    ReplyReply
  21. But, to be clear, I certainly understand how the ongoing mess in the UK would make some wonder about parliamentary government.

    ReplyReply
  22. Fortunato says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Which begs the questions that should Trump lose next year, who will fill the vacuum created and lead the GOP?

    Liz Cheney.
    Tom Cotton.

    Both spend every waking moment of their respective lives plotting their path, step by step, to the White House.
    Vulturous trolls, keenly attuned to exploiting the primitive ID that drives their mouth breather base.
    Both are kleptocrat-friendly masters of exploitation and subterfuge. Skilled practitioners of the industry of graft and grift required for one to rise to power on the right.

    And to your second question:

    And where will this person take the party…

    War(s).
    Oligarchy.

    ReplyReply
    5
    1
  23. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    Presuming it’s not such a blue wave that Mitch McConnell is defeated in his re-election bid, the answer is pretty clearly him.

    You really think so? I don’t think He is nearly so self deceiving. Like any Senate leader he’s earned the enmity and resentment from probably hundreds of powerful party members with the arm twisting and deal making necessary to the job. I can think of SMLs who were able to use their power to grab the nomination but none who was able to get the enthusiastic support of the party leaders necessary to win. As far as I know Johnson is the only one to actually win an election and that was pretty unique circumstances. And the Dem party leaders were quite willing to give him the shiv at the next cycle.

    In addition to his enemies list, McConnel is physically unattractive. Pre-TV that might have worked but I can’t see it now. And he has a mean streak that he doesn’t try to hide. You can argue that Trump has proven that an obviously cruel man can reach the top but I’m not so sure that black swan is a good indicator of anything. And finally, McConnell doesn’t appear to have any kind of a sense of humor aside from that associated with his meanness. (Ditto, comment about Trump above. )

    ReplyReply
  24. gVOR08 says:

    In a parliamentary system I believe it’s common to have a Shadow Cabinet. The Leader of the Opposition leads the shadow cabinet as the presumptive PM if they win the next election. Other members are presumptive cabinet members, expected to maintain contacts and expertise in their area, Exchequer, Foreign Office, whatever. We have committee chairs who maintain ties and expertise, but are hardly expected to form the next cabinet. And Mitch McConnell may exercise power and spread PAC money around, but there’s no way he, or anyone else, can be regarded as in line to become president. A shadow government might be a nice thing to have, but in our presidential system it’s hard to see any way it’s possible. To the extent they have leadership at all, at the national level our parties are led by the President, President Elect, or Presidential nominee.

    ReplyReply
  25. @gVOR08: That lack of a “Leader of the Opposition” in American-style presidential-oriented democratic republics is a flaw. IMO, parties in opposition at federal and state levels should have both a President and a Chair. The President of the Party would be the “Leader of the Opposition” who liaises with the public (including the partisan faithful), challenges the president or governor, raises the funds, leads voter registration drives and milks the bully pulpit, while the Chair handles the day-to-day internal operations of the party and chairs the Executive Committee (and managing the staffers including the Executive Director).

    Abrams, O’Rourke and Gillum would be good examples of Party Presidents in their states, but they don’t have to be the most recent unsuccessful nominees for statewide office. Nationally, I think the most influential “President” for the DNC right now is Eric Holder, given his role in creating and leading the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

    I’m assuming that this is how they do it in continental Europe, in which the Party President (sometimes known as Chair) is the Opposition Leader and the Secretary-General presides over the internal operations.

    ReplyReply
  26. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Harry Underwood: There is a difference between states like Georgia and Alabama. In Georgia, between Gene Talmadge and Stacey Abrams, you had Carl Sanders (1963-1967), Jimmy Carter (1971-1975), and Roy Barnes (2003-2007). In Alabama, by contrast, overt racism has never gone out of style.

    ReplyReply
  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Still, to take two very possible outcomes: a Biden nomination would be largely a continuation of the Clinton era in the party. A Warren nomination would represent a not insignificant deviation

    Biden and Warren do not differ significantly in their policy goals. They differ significantly in the means they prefer to achieve those goals. That’s the point I’m trying to make — that the Democratic Party has changed very little in its fundamental policy goals since the days of JFK, while the Republican Party now eagerly pursues outcomes that the GOP of Nixon or even Reagan would have rejected as undesirable. To me, that’s a very important distinction that you are attempting to minimize in your analysis.

    ReplyReply
  28. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Bernie instead of Hillary would have meant a very different Democratic Party.

    Bernie instead of Hillary would have caused an open civil war in the Democratic Party, with the moderate wing staying home or voting for someone else… not Trump, but maybe a scramble for an independent bid.

    It would not have been the Democrats falling in line.

    ReplyReply
  29. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Oh, for sure. It’s more bulwark than leadership but still rather powerful.

    ReplyReply
  30. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I interpreted the question as ‘Who would lead the GOP in the event of a Trump loss?’not ‘Who will the GOP nominate in 2020 if Trump loses?’ McConnell seems the obvious answer to the first question but no way in hell he’s the answer to the second.

    ReplyReply
  31. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: But the GOP won’t have any of those until at least March of 2024 if it loses the White House next November.

    ReplyReply
  32. @DrDaveT:

    Biden and Warren do not differ significantly in their policy goals. They differ significantly in the means they prefer to achieve those goals.

    Continued Obamacare v. Medicare for All are significantly different policy positions. But that isn’t the point. The point is that the Democratic Party is not dictating which direction to go on health care policy, the nominee will.

    ReplyReply
  33. @Gustopher: I think you (and DrDaveT) are imbuing too much virtue and consistency to Democrats and likewise too much nefariousness to Reps (and I say that fully understanding the nefariousness of the current occupant of the WH).

    ReplyReply
  34. @James Joyner: Yes, but my point is about who really shapes the overall direction of the parties. In our system really only presidents can reshape their parties (a to some degree nominees).

    Speakers or Majority Leaders (or Minority Leaders) can be focal points for a party, but they simply do not have the ability to shape their parties like Presidents do.

    ReplyReply
  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Continued Obamacare v. Medicare for All are significantly different policy positions.

    But the policy outcome is the same: Healthcare for all (continued Obamacare is the ACA tweaked and fleshed out to cover more and more people, most notably expanding Medicaid to cover all the working poor).

    ReplyReply
  36. @OzarkHillbilly: They are actually substantially different policies.

    And one is more the goal of a centrist party (indeed, it has center-right origins) and the other is much more the domain a center-left party (or, in our politics, a left-leaning party).

    These are not insignificant differences.

    But again: the direction will be determined not by the party as an organization, it will be determined by the nominee.

    ReplyReply
  37. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    They are actually substantially different policies.

    …with the same goal. I’m not sure why you don’t think that matters.

    And one is more the goal of a centrist party (indeed, it has center-right origins) and the other is much more the domain a center-left party (or, in our politics, a left-leaning party).

    No, here you are simply wrong when you slide from saying ‘policy’ to saying ‘goal’. Neither Obamacare nor MFA is a goal of the Democratic Party, or of the particular candidates who advocate for them. The goal is to establish decent healthcare for everyone, and that goal is shared by all of the Democratic candidates. (And Sanders.) They differ regarding the best means to that goal.

    Conflating means and ends does not further the discussion. If you want to refute the point I made originally, you can argue that the Dem candidates don’t have shared goals either, or that the Republicans also only differ regarding means, or that differences regarding means are just as fundamental as differences in goals. It seems like you’re leaning toward that last one, which is the one I thought was most likely to be uncontroversial.

    ReplyReply
  38. @DrDaveT:

    The goal is to establish decent healthcare for everyone

    But Medicare for All v. Obamacare v. a National Health System v. any number of other policies are very different ways of getting there and treating them identically is simply incorrect.

    ReplyReply
  39. Indeed, Obamacare and Medicare for all isn’t even the same end (beyond the fact that it is a different means).

    None of which changes my point about weak parties and the effects of the nomination process.

    ReplyReply
  40. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But Medicare for All v. Obamacare v. a National Health System v. any number of other policies are very different ways of getting there

    Yes, they are. I don’t think anyone has disputed that.

    and treating them identically is simply incorrect. Indeed, Obamacare and Medicare for all isn’t even the same end (beyond the fact that it is a different means).

    I think that depends on what level of detail you require in stating goals. They are both ways to expand healthcare access, yes? Expanding healthcare access is a plank of the Democratic platform, yes? Differences in how much and where to expand healthcare are relatively minor, compared to differences over whether healthcare should be expanded at all.

    If you feel that the difference between [advocating for Obamacare] and [advocating for Medicare For All] is comparable to the difference between [considering Russia to be a dangerous adversary] and [trusting Vladimir Putin over US intelligence agencies], we’re going to just have to agree to disagree.

    ReplyReply
    4
    2
  41. @DrDaveT:

    If you feel that the difference between [advocating for Obamacare] and [advocating for Medicare For All] is comparable to the difference between [considering Russia to be a dangerous adversary] and [trusting Vladimir Putin over US intelligence agencies], we’re going to just have to agree to disagree.

    One is a rather mundane example (the health care one) and another an incredibly extreme example (the Russia one), but they are comparable in the sense that both are ways in which how the party pursues a policy is linked to whom their presidential nominees are/might be.

    Let me try it this way: if the GOP had a different nomination process, it would not have nominated Trump. If it had not nominated Trump, the shift on Russia might not have happened, since Trump himself has driven that shift.

    I feel like you are more invested in arguing about how the GOP example is far more extreme than anything you could imagine about the Democrats. All well and good, but that has nothing to do with my point.

    If you can tell me that we will know exactly what the Democratic nominee will stand for, and that they will be constrained by their party if elected, without knowing who that person will be, then my point in invalidated.

    That would mean that you think a Sanders candidacy, and therefore a Sanders-led Democratic Party would be essentially the same as a Biden candidacy/presidency, a Warren candidacy/presidency, or, if we want to get extreme, a Williamson candidacy/presidency.

    The point, to likely repeat myself, is that in our system the president shapes the party as an organization and that party has no way to constrain the president. (The only way to constrain him is via the Congress or Courts–see, again, Trump. The GOP has been remade by him, he has not been constrained or remade by the GOP. That Trump is an extreme example of what I am talking about does not invalidate the point–indeed, it should underscore it).

    Put another way: candidates choose the party, the party does not proactively choose the candidates (which gets to nomination process).

    Your argument (in no doubt overly simplistic terms, so my apologies if that is that case) is that the quality of person who chooses to compete in the Democratic contests is higher (and that they agree more, in a general sense) than is the case for the GOP. If I stipulate to that for the sake of argument, it does not change my basic point in the least.

    ReplyReply
  42. A counterexample: Theresa May was in favor of remaining in the EU prior to being PM. But as PM she worked on leaving. Why? Because the party’s position trumped her personal preference. Party has more influence in that system than does ours over the leader rather than the other way around.

    ReplyReply
  43. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Let me try it this way: if the GOP had a different nomination process, it would not have nominated Trump. If it had not nominated Trump, the shift on Russia might not have happened, since Trump himself has driven that shift.

    I think we can go farther, and say that the shift only happened because Trump was elected. What you have been saying about candidate determining the party line is clearly true for the GOP. We are quibbling over to what extent it is true of the Democratic Party. (I don’t think it’s true of the Libertarian Party or the Communist Party in America or the Green Party, for instance, but they don’t matter in the big picture and their dynamics don’t affect your thesis.)

    I feel like you are more invested in arguing about how the GOP example is far more extreme than anything you could imagine about the Democrats. All well and good, but that has nothing to do with my point.

    No, I am invested in arguing that the GOP example is different in kind from any true statement about the Dems, which does directly get at your point. (See below.)

    If you can tell me that we will know exactly what the Democratic nominee will stand for, and that they will be constrained by their party if elected, without knowing who that person will be, then my point in invalidated.

    I know that the Democratic nominee will in general be in favor of expanding health care access, increasing taxes on the wealthy, fighting racial inequities in the criminal justice system, increased benefits to the working poor, actions to mitigate global warming, actions to reduce the prevalence of gun violence, protected access to abortion services, improved public education… I could go on, but you get my point. It is not conceivable that the Democratic nominee would be directly opposed to any of these goals, though of course different candidates will have different priorities and different policy preferences for pursuing their high-priority goals. If an elected Dem publicly expressed support for relaxing restrictions on military weapon ownership or lowering the minimum wage, I would not expect Democratic congresspersons to fall in line behind that.

    Trump has shown us that the GOP can and did nominate (and elect, and continue to support) a candidate who stood directly opposed to long-time core planks of the GOP platform (and the other GOP candidates): free trade, opposition to Russia, a strong NATO and other traditional alliances, containment of North Korea, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. These are not differences over how to pursue the Party’s goals — these are differences over what the goals are, what the Party stands for. To me, that’s an important qualitative difference, not a difference merely of degree or an accident of who happens to be running.

    Sticking to your criterion above, if you can name one or two major traditional goals of the Democratic Party that might be repudiated or reversed by one of the feasible nominees, I will concede that your point is valid.

    ReplyReply
  44. @DrDaveT:

    I will concede that your point is valid.

    I suspect that I will not be able to persuade you, as you are stuck on the normative assessment of the outcomes and are especially hung up on the massive deviation that Trump represents.

    But, again, if you won’t concede that a Warren Democratic Party isn’t different from a Biden Democratic Party, then there are unlikely to be any concession to my point.

    You should consider the degree to which a Trump supporter could make the same vague case for Trump being a normal Rep because he lowered taxes, undid regulations, and appointed social conservatives to the courts, as one would expect an R to do. That is no different in kind than your general list above for what you would expect a Dem to do.

    ReplyReply
  45. I would continue to submit that you are looking at this more in terms of a normative critique of Trump’s policies than you are looking at my broader point about the role presidents and presidential nominees play in our system.

    Again: I noted how Bill Clinton helped change the Democrats. (For that matter, Reagan changed the GOP more in the Goldwater direction and way from the Eisenhower, or even Nixon direction–recall that Nixon created the EPA and instituted price controls at one point).

    It seems pretty clear that these changes are driven not by central parties, but by candidates once they capture the nomination and then the presidency.

    And I note how May was constrained in the UK as a contrast.

    To undermine my position you need to explain how those items fit.

    Are you really going to say that the DNC is more powerful in this regard than whomever the sitting president is in terms of setting the party’s agenda? (Especially given that a sitting president directly affects who the DNC chair will be?).

    ReplyReply
  46. How about this: who shapes the national conventions every four years? Are they functions wherein the party lays out it plans and directs its membership or is it basically a four-day campaign event for the nominee? Who actually controls the event?

    ReplyReply
  47. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Again: I noted how Bill Clinton helped change the Democrats.

    Which Democratic outcome goals did Bill Clinton change? As I said, if you can point to some of those, I’ll agree that both parties do it, and the President drives what the Party believes in.

    (For that matter, Reagan changed the GOP more in the Goldwater direction and way from the Eisenhower, or even Nixon direction–recall that Nixon created the EPA and instituted price controls at one point).

    Citing more GOP examples does not help make the case the Democrats do the same things.

    You are asking me to assume your conclusion, when it comes to whether the President determines what the Party believes in. I see lots of evidence that the President determines what policies the Party will pursue in trying to attain its goals, regardless of Party. I don’t see any evidence that the President necessarily determines what the Party’s goals will be — with the recent GOP as the lone exception.

    I am beginning to wonder whether the clear distinction I see between means and ends is not a feature of conservative politics, in that the preferred policies (e.g. lower taxes, less regulation, local autonomy) are actually goals in themselves, rather than being seen as means to a desired outcome.

    ReplyReply
  48. @DrDaveT:

    Citing more GOP examples does not help make the case the Democrats do the same things.

    Well, FWIW, I mentioned Democratic examples above (among other things) but you have not addressed those either.

    I have done my best to explain what I am trying to say, but at this point time to move on.

    ReplyReply
  49. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, FWIW, I mentioned Democratic examples above

    No, you didn’t. That’s why I’m getting snippier than is perhaps warranted.

    I just went back through this entire thread, to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, and nowhere do you cite any specific change that any Democratic president (or nominee) made in the party’s platform. You did assert, several times, that Bill Clinton had made such changes, but you did not name any actual goals (or policies, for that matter) that he changed, even when directly requested to do so. Perhaps they are so obvious to you as to not need mentioning, but not all of us are so deeply steeped in political history from 25 years ago.

    ReplyReply
  50. Andy says:

    Interesting discussion.

    I side with Dr. Taylor here while narrowly agreeing with DrDaveT when it comes to broad policy goals.

    The problem with DrDaveT’s argument, IMO, is that goals he (assuming “he” based on the name) are too broad. After all, most Americans share the same policy goals, including Republicans. The main political differences are actually found in differences in terms of relative priority between competing goals, scale, and the means to achieve those goals.

    Examples? Just compare the policies supported by the Bill Clinton administration compared to previous Democrats and today’s Democrats.

    One obvious example is that Democrats were trade protectionists before Bill Clinton, fair-weather free traders afterward until Trump got elected, which correlated with a spike in popularity for free trade among Democrats. Last month in a poll Democrats supported free trade policies 73-20 percent. I don’t see that this big shift can be explained by appeals to first principles (nor is the GoP shift away from free trade about first principles).

    Immigration too. I’d love to hear an explanation of why the shift on immigration among Democrats is a consistent one based on first principles rather than coalitional psychology.

    Or an older example showing how partisan sorting on abortion in the 1980’s resulted in shifts in other political preferences unrelated to abortion that continue to this day.

    The long and short of it is that people, except for their core beliefs, tend to adopt the politics and preferences of their tribe.

    Anyway, getting back to the main point: I think it is pretty obvious there is a massive difference among the Democratic candidates that aren’t merely subtle shades of gray. Sure, one could say, based only in terms of vague policy objectives, that Warren or Sanders supports the same broad goals as Biden when it comes to “expanding health care coverage” – but that’s only if one believes that a health care system almost exclusively controlled by the federal government results in basically the same end as a more hybrid approach that expands on our current system rather than replacing it. I think most people would argue that those different approaches result in a difference in kind when it comes to health care.

    One could, after all, expand health care coverage by giving every citizen a voucher to buy private insurance. That would result in expanded health care coverage, but somehow I doubt Democrats would lend their support to it. Point being, Democrats support “expanding health care” only when done in ways that Democrats like and those ways are primarily driven by the elites and especially the leaders of the party. And this is the case with all policy actually – neither party on any policy measure will support ANY policy simply because it aims to solve some broad policy issue – support is always conditional. All of the above applies to the GoP as well – they are simply currently more vulnerable to hostile takeovers than the Democrats who, in my view, seem overly eager to follow the GoP down the path to increased factionalism.

    I don’t think it’s true of the Libertarian Party or the Communist Party in America or the Green Party, for instance, but they don’t matter in the big picture and their dynamics don’t affect your thesis.

    Unlike the Democrats and Republicans, parties like the Libertarians, Communists, and Greens actually adhere to first principles (or, rather, one or two core principles). That’s also why they will never really compete with the two major parties, which must accommodate more diverse views and therefore must sacrifice first principles in order to build a competitive coalition.

    ReplyReply
  51. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    After all, most Americans share the same policy goals, including Republicans.

    I disagree. I used to think this was true — and the GOP worked hard to reinforce that belief — but it’s no longer credible.

    Republican voters do not want racial or gender equality; they do not want any immigration (even if legal), they do not want to avoid environmental catastrophe; they do not want to address the root causes of drug addiction or gun violence; they do not want a society in which no religion gets legal preference. Republican policy-makers (as opposed to the people who vote for them) do not want better education, or a more productive society, or universal healthcare, or rational limits on financial markets, or restrictions on pollution, or actual democracy.

    80% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing. You can’t just hand-wave that away.

    ReplyReply
  52. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    Point being, Democrats support “expanding health care” only when done in ways that Democrats like

    Oh, please. If by that you mean “ways that actually expand health care”, then duh. If that’s not what you mean, what alternative way of expanding health care have the Democrats failed to support? (Hint: eliminating Obamacare without replacing it doesn’t count.)

    ReplyReply
  53. @DrDaveT:

    You did assert, several times, that Bill Clinton had made such changes, but you did not name any actual goals (or policies, for that matter)

    NAFTA. Clinton’s support for NAFTA (and the movement of the Democratic Party’s move toward neoliberal economic policies). This was not because the party changed, it was because Clinton was nominated.

    I think you really are missing my point, which is fundamentally about causality directions and which institutional actors influence whom.

    To undercut my position you need to demonstrate that the party elites (the DNC/RNC, party caucuses, etc.) shape nominee’s views and that they constrain and direct the candidate’s campaign and behavior in the office. However, the national committees very quickly become creatures of the candidate and congress hardly constrains the president, who typically drives the agenda (the whole State of the Union speech-from-the-throne is a good example of this).

    ReplyReply
  54. @DrDaveT:

    80% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing. You can’t just hand-wave that away.

    And if Ted Cruz was President, or Jeb Bush, or someone else, the odds are good that those numbers would be very similar, because they are a function of partisanship.

    This actually bolsters my point. In September of 2003, roughly the same time in his first term, Bush had an 86% approval rating from Republicans. He left office with a 75% approval from Reps–and that was in the middle of the global financial crisis and his overall approval was inly 34%. (Gallup)

    ReplyReply
  55. Let me try one more time.

    And, keep in mind, Trump really is an extreme example (which should go without saying).

    The Republican Party, as an institution, did not seek out to nominate someone who would hold talks with Kim Jung Un. They did not go out and seek a Muslim ban. They did not even go looking for a wall on the Southern border (even if there are GOP voters who might like those things, especially the ban and the wall).

    However, those have all become major policy objectives for the GOP in government because Trump was nominated, not because the institutional party sought those outcomes.

    Cruz would have not had those priorities. Nor Jeb. Nor a bunch of others. And, hence, “the American party system suffers from the fact that candidates drive this process more than do the parties themselves, and this is especially true of presidential politics.”

    ReplyReply
  56. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Well, you didn’t answer the broader points and I didn’t come here to debate the relative merits of Republicans vs Democrats, which are the only two things you picked out of my comment.

    The fundamental question is, “What drives a party’s ideology?”

    The point Steven made in many different ways throughout this thread is that, in our current system, it’s the leaders and particularly the President that drive party ideology.

    You list a bunch of things that you think Republicans believe, but the point is that “Republicans” writ large would likely have very different views if Trump wasn’t President. The only reason you can now claim that the GoP wants zero immigration is because Trump got elected. If Jeb was elected instead (or any other establishment Republican), that is not a claim that you could make. Republicans became anti-immigrant because of Trump, not the other way around.

    And the reason for that – well studied and understood in the literature on cognitive psychology – is that people tend to adapt to the views of the group. And, in our current system, unlike in other countries, there aren’t checks on that because the parties here are weak and cannot dictate the platform. Leaders, especially Presidents, have an outsized role in determining the group (ie partisan) identity. And it’s this that explains why parties have completely flip-flopped on various issues over the last 30 years, with Trump and the GoP being the most extreme and obvious example.

    The Democratic party is not immune to this and the party will change depending on who gets the nomination and especially if they beat Trump. A President Sanders would alter the party’s ideology in fundamental ways that a President Biden would not because the party apparatus has little power or desire to stop them.

    ReplyReply
  57. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    NAFTA.

    Thank you.

    Clinton’s support for NAFTA (and the movement of the Democratic Party’s move toward neoliberal economic policies).

    Was the Democratic Party opposed to free trade agreements during the Carter presidency? (That’s a serious question — I don’t know the answer, and I assume you do.) If so, this is at least an example of the President driving a change in means. Free trade, of course, is not a goal in itself, at least not for liberals.

    I think you really are missing my point, which is fundamentally about causality directions and which institutional actors influence whom.

    No, I am *challenging* your point, which you asserted with very little support. You have asserted a causality direction; I’m asking you to show your work, which would involve demonstrating that this is a necessary feature of American politics and not just a Republican pathology.

    And if Ted Cruz was President, or Jeb Bush, or someone else, the odds are good that those numbers would be very similar [to 80% approval], because they are a function of partisanship.

    I’m reasonably sure that Jimmy Carter’s approval ratings among Democrats were nowhere near 80% at any time, and much lower most of the time. It’s not automatic.

    ReplyReply
  58. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    The fundamental question is, “What drives a party’s ideology?”

    That’s a good question, yes. The answer seems to be “It depends on which party you’re talking about”, from what evidence I can see.

    The point Steven made in many different ways throughout this thread is that, in our current system, it’s the leaders and particularly the President that drive party ideology.

    You seem to share the confusion between “making a point” and “making an assertion”. Steven has certainly asserted this thesis repeatedly. I’ve been asking for the evidence that led him to this conclusion — and in particular why he thinks it is equally true of both parties.

    Republicans became anti-immigrant because of Trump, not the other way around.

    This is so obviously false that it almost constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of the whole argument. Do you also assert that Republicans weren’t racists until Trump forced them to be?

    ReplyReply
    1
    1
  59. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Cruz would have not had those priorities. Nor Jeb. Nor a bunch of others. And, hence, “the American party system suffers from the fact that candidates drive this process more than do the parties themselves, and this is especially true of presidential politics.”

    Let me try one more time, as well.

    What evidence convinces you that this is a feature of “the American party system”, and not of “the Republican Party”? I know of no comparable instances in any other party of sudden policy reversal or mindless support (both Congressional and grass-roots) for whatever unexpected (and previously anathema) position the President might take. If there have been such instances, that would be powerful evidence in support of your claim.

    You have cited NAFTA. I don’t remember Democrats having any strong feelings one way or the other about regional free trade agreements in 1990 — certainly not anything that would make the Clinton policies look like an about-face. If I’m wrong about that, please correct me.

    ReplyReply
  60. @DrDaveT:

    Was the Democratic Party opposed to free trade agreements during the Carter presidency? (That’s a serious question — I don’t know the answer, and I assume you do.)

    The Democratic Party was largely opposed to NAFTA until Clinton pushed it through, which is more relevant than the Carter admin’s position. The precise position in the Carter administration to that exact type of deal, let alone that deal in particular.

    That Clinton was different from Mondale and Dukakis in a variety of ways, coming from the “third way” DLC isn’t an especially controversial position.

    I’m reasonably sure that Jimmy Carter’s approval ratings among Democrats were nowhere near 80% at any time, and much lower most of the time. It’s not automatic.

    All this is, especially since you don’t have the number, is a dodge of the point that I made about Bush.

    which you asserted with very little support.

    Apart from decades of studying this sort of thing. Not to mention actual evidence that you simply don’t want to accept, which is fine.

    ReplyReply
  61. @DrDaveT:

    I know of no comparable instances in any other party of sudden policy reversal or mindless support (both Congressional and grass-roots) for whatever unexpected (and previously anathema) position the President might take.

    This is the central problem. You have redefined my entire argument as Trump-like responses to a nominee. That is an extreme example and I in no way represented that as the norm.

    By defining the terms of the discussion in this way you make any example (such as NAFTA and Clinton) unacceptable to you.

    Worse, you are not addressing my actual argument, which is that parties do not dictate platforms and control over candidates, nor does the institutional party/party elites choose candidates who are constrained to adhere to a specific set of party policies. Instead, the party is shaped by its nominees. It is not always as dramatic as Trump.

    The shaping done by JFK, LBJ, Carter, and Obama nor by Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Bush was not as dramatic as Trunmp’s, but in none of those cases did the party dictate to them, rather they shaped the party. It is not a Dem or Rep thing, no matter how much you want it to be.

    ReplyReply
  62. @DrDaveT:

    I’ve been asking for the evidence that led him to this conclusion

    The problem is what you want is for me to cite Trump-like examples. Your standard of evidence is for me to conjure that which does not exist, given Trump’s uniqueness. Further, if I offer a Republican example, you reject it because you think that proves your point that only the GOP has this phenomenon. So, you’ve cut out over half of a limited number of cases.

    When I do provide an example, such as NAFTA, you doubt its significance, or you state that you know that numbers about the Carter admin would back your point, but you don’t have the number.

    It is as if no matter what I say, not matter what logic I provide, no matter what evidence I do or do not conjure, nor whatever long-term study I have done on these kinds of issues will persuade you.

    So, I look forward to watching the DNC and formal the Democratic Party apparatus dictate the platform to whomever the Democratic nominee is next summer. And I look forward to that nominee, regardless of who it is, sticking the DNC’s strategy/view of how the Democratic nominee should behave and campaign. And, I am glad to know that all this hand-wringing over whether the party will nominate a too-left candidate or that it should nominate a centrist, really doesn’t matter because the party will regulate the behavior of whomever is nominated, even if it is Sanders. The campaign is no doubt already planned. And the leadership of the party will be selected by party elites and careerists, and the nominee will have no influence.

    ReplyReply
  63. Andy says:

    Well said Steven, I don’t have anything to add.

    ReplyReply
  64. @Steven L. Taylor:

    The shaping done by JFK, LBJ, Carter, and Obama nor by Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush

    For the sake of accuracy, I really should note that only 1972-onward fully fits my argument, since that is when the current nomination structure was put into place. As such, JFK and LBJ don’t work as exact examples of what I am discussing. Arguably, Nixon doesn’t work, either, since he was originally nominated in 1968. Ford is a problem, being the accidental president.

    So, really, the pure examples are Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump. And with 4 Rs and 3 Ds, there are, by mathematical definition, more examples of R presidents, and hence a somewhat higher likelihood that I would have cited Rs in the discussion above).

    The general point about presidentialism shaping parties is still relevant prior to 1972, but the post-1972 process further deepens it.

    ReplyReply
  65. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem is what you want is for me to cite Trump-like examples. Your standard of evidence is for me to conjure that which does not exist, given Trump’s uniqueness. Further, if I offer a Republican example, you reject it because you think that proves your point that only the GOP has this phenomenon. So, you’ve cut out over half of a limited number of cases.

    If the question is “is this an American system issue, or a GOP issue?”, then of course GOP examples don’t illuminate anything. “Trump’s uniqueness” only works as an argument if nothing like this happened in other Republican administrations — and yet you keep citing instances from other GOP administrations. You see the problem?

    When I do provide an example, such as NAFTA, you doubt its significance, or you state that you know that numbers about the Carter admin would back your point, but you don’t have the number.

    I know it’s hard for you to believe that any request for information is made in good faith, but it’s true. Your (previously withheld) note that the Democratic Party was opposed to NAFTA prior to Clinton’s election is actually useful information.

    It is as if no matter what I say, not matter what logic I provide, no matter what evidence I do or do not conjure, nor whatever long-term study I have done on these kinds of issues will persuade you.

    Sorry, no. You do not get credit for “long-term studies you have done” if you don’t actually provide (or at least summarize) the content of those studies in your comments. That’s the standard in academia — you can’t just say “trust me, I’ve studied this and the data support my conclusion”. You have to cite facts.

    Facts work for me. I am perfectly willing to accept your conclusion, once you actually show the evidence behind it. I am disappointed that you don’t seem to understand that you had not done that.

    So, really, the pure examples are Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump. And with 4 Rs and 3 Ds, there are, by mathematical definition, more examples of R presidents, and hence a somewhat higher likelihood that I would have cited Rs in the discussion above).

    I am not aware of any instances you have provided of the Democratic Party reversing its previous platform to conform with the new positions staked out by President Carter or Obama. I’m not saying there aren’t any — I’m saying you have not yet cited any such examples.

    ReplyReply
  66. @DrDaveT:

    Your (previously withheld) note that the Democratic Party was opposed to NAFTA prior to Clinton’s election is actually useful information.

    I did not withhold it. I thought it was common knowledge.

    Which leads to this:

    That’s the standard in academia — you can’t just say “trust me, I’ve studied this and the data support my conclusion”. You have to cite facts.

    There has to be some point in this kind of interchange wherein yes, you do have to trust me. Why read what I write otherwise? And since this is a blog post, not a book wherein I am going to break down every point in case the reader wishes to double-check my evidence, I can’t run down every fact and carefully build the evidence.

    More importantly: these comments are quick responses wherein I do not have time to fully explain why a passing example fully conforms to my point–I am answering this as I finish breakfast on the way out the door to work. I am honestly trying to engage, but I think you are both expecting too much and also ignoring the fact that yes, this is the kind of thing I have given an awful lot of thought to.

    Surely, I should get some credit for having studied all of this for quite some time. I am not saying that makes me correct or that I am free of error in either logic or facts, but come on, if you expect me to fully explain the entirety of why I think what I think and to detail every example, then I might as well write a book. Further, instead of addressing the logic of my argument, it becomes a game of whack-a-mole as it pertain to this example or that.

    ReplyReply
  67. @DrDaveT:

    “Trump’s uniqueness” only works as an argument if nothing like this happened in other Republican administrations

    The reason I point out Trump’s uniqueness is because you appear to setting Trump’s specific behavior as if it is a standard example.

    You are the one that keeps reasoning as if Trump is a normal example no different that Reagan, Bush, and Bush and that they are all, as a group, different from Carter, Clinton Obama.

    You appear to be so stuck on this that you reject anything else I say.

    ReplyReply
  68. @DrDaveT:

    I am not aware of any instances you have provided of the Democratic Party reversing its previous platform to conform with the new positions staked out by President Carter or Obama.

    (emphasis added)

    My argument has never been predicated on reversals. The Trump example (and why I keep talking about his extremeness) contains some actual reversals, which helps illustrate the point, but they are not the point in and of themselves. I could have written this post if Ted Cruz was currently president, but I would have less extreme recent examples to choose from (but, again, the fact that this post would have been different with a President Cruz underscores my basis thesis).

    From the original post:

    Consider: the Democratic Party is a vague set of notions (as noted above) without much form. Sure, the Democrats tend to favor universal health care, but we won’t know what the party really believes until a candidate is nominated. If Warren is the nominee it will mean one thing, if Biden is nomination, it will mean yet another.

    That’s not about reversals, not at all. (Nor is it an especially controversial thing to note).

    From the original post:

    Consider Bernie Sanders. Sanders is an independent in the Senate. He is not a Democrat. Yet, for two electoral cycles now, he has pursued the Democratic nomination because it is his only vehicle for a legitimate chance to win the presidency. He is free to enter the nomination process due to the weak control parties have over the process. He then has the ability to shape the debate of a party he is not a member of. This creates the need for others who are in the party to respond to him, and perhaps adapt to his positions in a way that might be ultimately detrimental to the party as a whole in the general election.

    Also not about reversals.

    My ultimate argument has been about the way this process affects party formation or the lack thereof. From my conclusion of the original post:

    A less open process for candidate nominations (dare I say, ye olde smoke filled rooms) could produce more coherent parties. Such a process would also force dissidents, whether they be someone like Sanders or someone like Trump, to seek new parties as vehicles for electoral competition and possible office-holding.

    Open nomination processes allow for individual candidates to have oversized influence over their parties, rather than the parties themselves dictating who will represent them.

    I emphasized party coherence as it pertains to electoral competition, not radical reversals of policy positions.

    I don’t need to cite a litany of examples to make this point (especially if I have to explain in detail each example since I am not sure if you know all the details of said example). NAFTA and the movement of the Democratic Party in a neoliberal direction absolutely fits my thesis. If Jerry Brown had gotten the nomination in 1992, and then won the presidency, NAFTA likely would not have been passed, given that Brown opposed the deal.

    In that clear instance the Democratic Party was guided down a very specific policy pathway because of the nominee and winner of the election not because the institutional party dictated that pathway. Same Democratic Party, but a President Clinton did X and a President Brown would have done Not X.

    ReplyReply
  69. @DrDaveT:

    I know it’s hard for you to believe that any request for information is made in good faith, but it’s true.

    One last response: I do not consider your requests to be in bad faith. I do, however, think you are ignoring huge chunks of what I wrote and you are also ignoring my attempts to direct the conversation back to the original thesis. While I hold no authority to keep you on point, if you are going to argue about what I said to me, it is only fair to stick to what I have actually argued.

    ReplyReply

Speak Your Mind

*