In deciding to forego a presidential caucus or primary, Kansas Republicans act contrary to mainstream conservative thought.
After several states (including Kansas) decided to cancel or not schedule primary elections or caucuses, two noted conservative publications criticized these decisions. From the editors of National Review, founded by William F. Buckley:
The president says he has nothing to do with these decisions, but also that holding primaries he is sure to win would be a waste of money. The susceptibility of this argument to abuse by a ruler ought to preclude its being made.
The vast majority of Republicans approve of what Trump has done on taxes, judges, regulation, and most other issues, though they also support electoral competition. Trump would be likely to win the primaries handily, demonstrating his strength among Republicans while the Democrats tussle. His allies should want to see that, rather than make it seem as though he is too weak to face competition. But regardless of how it works out for him, Republican primary voters are capable of making the decision among Trump and the others — who so far include William Weld and Joe Walsh as well as Sanford. They deserve to be able to do so. 1
In its op-ed, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal concluded with this:
When Mr. Trump won the GOP nomination in 2016, he disrupted a long tradition of Republican leadership and policy. He rejected GOP positions on trade and entitlement reform. In chief respects he abandoned the party’s hawkish stance on foreign policy. On guns and health care he has taken multiple positions, sometimes in the same week.
And — how to put it delicately? — Mr. Trump has introduced a new standard of presidential behavior, by turns abrasive, funny and appalling. These and related matters are far from settled in Republican circles, and it seems unwise to prevent the rank-and-file from debating them. If Mr. Trump is as popular with Republicans as the polls say, he has nothing to fear from letting voters show it in primaries. 2
The arguments advanced by these two stalwarts of conservative thought and opinion aren’t welcomed by some Kansas Republicans, especially 150 that are in leadership positions and voted to abstain from holding a caucus. After I shared these articles on Facebook, the reaction was almost universally negative. The consensus is that I should leave the Republican Party and find somewhere else to call home so I can vote in a caucus or primary. That doesn’t seem conducive to winning elections, and Kansas Republicans need to be concerned with winning, having lost the governorship, one congressional district, and barely winning another.
I asked one person “And are you trying to attract people to the Republican Party, or drive them away?” The response was, “I would just as soon the Republican party would avoid attracting people such as yourself.”
Some expressed concern over the cost of a caucus or primary election, but I wasn’t aware that we should be so concerned about the cost of democracy and its elections. On this issue, I repeat the observation of the National Review editors: “The president says he has nothing to do with these decisions, but also that holding primaries he is sure to win would be a waste of money. The susceptibility of this argument to abuse by a ruler ought to preclude its being made.” (emphasis added)
There are some who, correctly, note that the Kansas Republican Party had not scheduled a caucus, so there was no caucus to cancel. Therefore, no harm. Lack of a caucus is a non-issue. This type of over-lawyerly reasoning might appeal to some, but it is a distinction without a difference and solidifies power in the hands of party insiders.
Some noted that the challengers to Trump for the Republican nomination don’t have any chance of winning. Well, we hold elections on a schedule, not based on the popularity of a candidate or incumbent.
Just as important, we don’t know who all the Republican challengers to Trump might be. And, something could change between now and March when a caucus or primary might be held. Just this week serious allegations have been made against the president and his conduct in office. Whether these are true or not, the chaotic and volatile nature of Trump and his administration means there is a very real risk that something seriously damaging could emerge before next year. Kansas Republicans ought to insist on having a voice in choosing an alternative nominee.
Of note: Next year Kansas Democrats plan to hold a presidential primary using ranked-choice voting. It is no small irony that as Kansas Democrats apply new methods to vote and choose candidates, Kansas Republicans regress to the smoke-filled room.
- Let Republican Voters Choose. September 12, 2019. Available at https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/09/republican-presidential-primaries-let-voters-choose/. ↩
- Don’t Cancel the GOP Primaries: Trump has nothing to fear if he’s as popular as the polls say. September 17, 2019. Available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-cancel-the-gop-primaries-11568753944. ↩