In light of the Ukraine saga, another, in never-Trump circles, controversial topic, has moved away from the spotlight. Republican state parties have cancelled their primaries for 2020. While Trump is almost locked in for becoming the party’s presidential nominee, the cancellations raise questions about democracy and how influential Donald Trump has become within the Grand Old Party.
With the 2020 elections on the horizon, both parties will decide on their presidential candidate. The Democrats’ field has somehow deflated into a three-person race amongst Biden, Warren and Sanders – though the latter’s recent heart surgery may or may not impact his candidacy.
On the other side of the political aisle, the Republican nominee had been somewhat of a lock. As the incumbent and carrying an exorbitant high approval rating within the party, anything but Trump’s nomination would create an epochal precedent. Nonetheless, the recent cancellations have made Trump’s nomination even more conceivable.
By the end of September, Alaska had become the 5th state that scrapped its primary. Besides Alaska, South Carolina, Kansas, Arizona and Nevada have made the same decision.
Instead of conducting an open race for the spot, all of the above states have now pledged to assign their delegates of the 2020 Republican National Convention, where the presidential candidate will be chosen, to Donald Trump.
South Carolina’s Republican Chairman Drew McKissick explained the party’s decision by stating there was “no rationale to hold a primary with an incumbent in the White House”. Legally, it is exclusively the state’s prerogative to not only set the primary parameter but also decide whether or not they should be held.
The Palmetto State is no stranger to this rationale. The same idea was applied in 1984 when President Reagan had been in office as well as in 2004 when President Bush had been the party’s incumbent and subsequently beat John Kerry in the general election.
A staggering nine states besides South Carolina also cancelled their primaries in 2004. The recent announcements and the outcry over these cancellations are thus not as big of a landmark decision as one might think, nor a carte blanche for President Trump.
However, there are dissimilarities to previous cases. These come by the names of Bill Weld, Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh. All three Republicans have stepped forward and declared to challenge Donald Trump for the nominee. While internal challenges are not uncommon, three serious contestants are somewhat of an anomaly and can be seen as evidence for the high jacking of traditional Republican values by the president.
Considering Trump’s approval rating of between 80-90 per cent, however, none of these candidates, who are polling around 3 per cent, stands a realistic chance to beat him – not unless a new controversy forces Republicans to cease their, so far, unconditional support.
With that in mind, another aspect must not be neglected. State parties, more often than not, can be cash strapped. For a chair to explain his members to hold an expensive primary for not only an incumbent but an incumbent that is certain to win, is a big ask.
Moreover, history has shown that incumbents, who faced a primary challenge, albeit securing the nominee handily, lost in the subsequent general elections. Primaries can have the effect of exposing deep rifts within the party and portray the president as weak. In this particular case, a primary would likely turn into an outright character assassination of Trump.
Nonetheless, and Joe Walsh has eluded on this, cancelling a vote to preserve a candidate’s pedigree and his momentum as well as potentially spare the party a monetary commitment, could be considered undemocratic. No poll nor an approval rating should substitute an actual voting process. Both are far from being an exact science – as the previous presidential election displayed.