The RNC Won’t Even Pretend to Support a Fair Primary Process

Let’s remember what the Russian hacks of the DNC accomplished for Donald Trump and the Republican Party back in the summer of 2016. Here is how the New York Times reported on the immediate fallout once the pilfered emails were released to the world by Julian Assange:

Democrats arrived at their nominating convention on Sunday under a cloud of discord as Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, abruptly said she was resigning after a trove of leaked emails showed party officials conspiring to sabotage the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The revelation, along with sizable pro-Sanders protests here in the streets to greet arriving delegates, threatened to undermine the delicate healing process that followed the contentious fight between Mr. Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And it raised the prospect that a convention that was intended to showcase the Democratic Party’s optimism and unity, in contrast to the Republicans, could be marred by dissension and disorder.

Bernie Sanders was satisfied, but reminded folks that “The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.” Some of his supporters were gleeful:

Mr. Sanders’s supporters were elated by Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s decision, which they said had been long overdue.

“Thank God for WikiLeaks,” said Dan O’Neal, a delegate from Arizona who was wearing a “Bernie for President” T-shirt. “The party was stacked from the beginning with Debbie in charge.”

I’ve always believed that the story of impartiality was a bit overblown. It seemed less a matter of trying to game the system against Bernie than not taking his chances seriously and operating under the assumption that Clinton was already the nominee. Regardless, it was understood at the time that Schultz needed to resign because the process she had presided over had been flawed at best and unfair to Sanders at worst.

Now, I know that there’s a difference between a primary contest involving candidates who are vying to replace an incumbent president and a primary contest that involves an incumbent president. In theory, however, the same principles should apply. If a president receives a challenger or challengers from within his or her own party, those challengers should be allowed to operate on a level playing field.

The Republicans most definitely don’t see things that way.

When Trump ran in 2016, he was a political outsider regarded with thinly veiled contempt by much of the Republican establishment. Now that very same establishment — the leaders of the GOP in Washington and states across the country — has fallen in lockstep behind the president and begun marshaling efforts to ensure him a second term.

In January, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution of “undivided support” for the president after reaching an unprecedented agreement to merge the party and Trump’s reelection team into a single unit. Weeks later, the party’s chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, taunted any would-be contestant. “Have at it,” she said at the Conservative Political Action Conference put on by Schlapp’s organization. “Waste your money, waste your time and go ahead and lose.”

Imagine if then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had told Bernie Sanders to go ahead and challenge Hillary Clinton but he’d be wasting his time and money, and that he would surely lose. That would have been evidence of bias and a rigged system far beyond what actually occurred on the Democratic side in 2015 and 2016. Think about how silly it would sound if a Republican challenger to Donald Trump pleaded that “The party leadership must…always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process.”

Things don’t look much more inviting on the ground in Iowa.

Steve Scheffler, who represents Iowa on the Republican National Committee, has a warning for anyone in the party hoping to deny President Trump the 2020 GOP nomination.

“We want to protect the integrity of the caucuses and give people the ability to make their case,” he said, referring to the balloting that kicks off the election season next February. But, Scheffler went on, there will be zero tolerance for any Republican who comes to Iowa and “starts bashing the president and his policies.”

“That,” he said, “will be dealt with.”

This is just one more example that demonstrates that there are significant differences between the two major American political parties. Both of them are biased against outsiders and insurgent candidates and both of them will create significant hurdles for anyone trying to challenge the status quo. But only the Democrats recognize that the correct standard of behavior from their party apparatus is impartiality in their internal elections. The Republicans don’t even pretend that their primaries and caucuses will be administered fairly, and they certainly won’t be forcing Ronna Romney McDaniel to resign if evidence emerges that she put her fingers on the scale for Trump.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com