What can Republicans do to stop Donald Trump?

In our political system, the parties do not control party labels. Anyone can be a candidate for nomination under a given party and any candidate can, à la Trump, hold out the possibility of running as an independent.

Charlie Riedel/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets the crowd at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday in Des Moines.

I have been meaning to write a series of posts on what political science can tell us about Donald Trump. Time has constrained this goal, although I have made some passing comments on polling and Trump in the last several weeks. One of the factors that I think is interesting about the Trump candidacy is that it illustrates the candidate-centered nature of our political parties and especially underscores the weakness of those parties in terms of candidate selection. I do not, by the way, use the term weakness to make a negative assessment of the situation, per se (although one might normatively decide that the weakness in question is problematic, especially in this case or, depending on your views of Trump, one might think the situation to be perfectly awesome). Rather, the weakness in question is simply an empirical assessment of the institutional capacities of our parties to control their labels i.e., control who calls themselves a Republican or a Democrat – something I have written about before: "All Republicans are RINOs (and all Democrats are DINOs)."

In our system, the parties do not control the labels. Anyone can be a candidate for nomination under a given party and any candidate can, à la Trump during the first debate, hold out the possibility of running as an independent (or on a third-party ticket).

Further, the official conferral of the label for the purpose of being on the ballot belongs to primary voters, not party bosses. [This is wholly true for all partisan offices save the presidency. For the presidency, the technical conferral is via party convention, although the power to control the convention rests in the caucus and primary voters.]

My time to go into this in great detail remains limited, but one of the great things about the Internet is that if one waits around long enough, someone else is likely to write about the topic one lacks the time to address. As such, I recommend Boris Heersink’s post at the Monkey Cage:  "How does the Republican Party solve a problem like Donald Trump?", wherein he concludes:

Trump’s candidacy has perfectly exposed the inherent weaknesses in the design of modern American political parties. In earlier times, party bosses would have easily been able to sidetrack Trump at the national convention. But these bosses are long gone. The RNC, while it is more active now than was in the age of the party bosses, does not have the formal powers to exclude candidates from the party; it can only try to persuade Trump to tone it down. And party elites, while usually able to signal which candidates are acceptable and which are to be ignored, do not have the tools to constrain Trump.

A party system managed by relatively weak gatekeepers can be a good thing. After all, it means that voters have the freedom to select the representatives they want, even if their party’s leadership disagrees. But such weakness comes with inherent risks for the party: once in a while, you can end up getting Trumped.


Note that the answer to the headline question is: Nothing without radically restructuring its candidate selection process.

(I do still think, however, that time solves that problem).

The whole piece is worth a read and makes a number of points worth pondering.

Steven L. Taylor appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.