The Party Abides
On the eve of the 2020 Republican National Convention, the party and the Trump-Pence reelection campaign have released two rather remarkable documents highlighting the rare and bizarre situation in which the party finds itself.
The first document is a resolution adopted by the Republican National Committee on Sunday. This resolution makes official what had been apparent for several months, that the Republican Party would not be producing a platform for 2020. But there are a few clauses in there I'd like to highlight here, such as:
All platforms are snapshots of the historical contexts in which they are born, and parties abide by their policy priorities, rather than their political rhetoric
In the above clause, after several passages saying, quite fairly, that the circumstances of 2020 make crafting a platform challenging, here they essentially say that platforms don't matter. Platform planks are dismissed as "political rhetoric," even though those are exactly how we determine what a party's policy priorities are. Here's another one:
The media has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020
Here the RNC concedes that it has done what, as far as I can tell, no mass national party has done since they were invented in the early 1800s by declining to adopt a platform, but they're angry that the media have reported that.
Then it has four resolved clauses:
The Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.
The 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.
The 2020 Republican National Convention calls on the media to engage in accurate and unbiased reporting, especially as it relates to the strong support of the RNC for President Trump and his Administration.
Any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.
Here the party has committed itself to two main things: enthusiastic support for President Trump, and absolute refusal to consider any new party platform.
Okay! So the party is committed to whatever President Trump's agenda is. What is it? Well, that's the subject of the second document. The Trump reelection team on Sunday evening released a fifty-point platform that includes such goals as:
10 million jobs in ten months
A Covid vaccine by the end of 2020
"Return to normal in 2021"
Teach American exceptionalism
Pass congressional term limits
"Expose Washington’s money trail and delegate powers back to people and states"
A permanent Moon base and the first manned mission to Mars
"Build the world's greatest infrastructure system"
This is really a remarkable set of goals. Some of these are most likely impossible (10 million jobs in ten months, a mission to Mars by 2024, a Covid vaccine within the next four months), some are politically unobtainable (a term limits amendment, the control of the nation's education system), and some are hopelessly vague (A return to normal? The world's greatest infrastructure system?). To be fair, there are a few platform planks in there that, while vague or ambitious, do seem something like what parties have called for in the past. But just a few.
Now, there's some context for all this. The 2020 Republican Party is hardly the first major party to hand over a ton of power to its incumbent president. Party chairs often complain about how little discretion they have over the direction of their party when it is in control of the White House. Julia Azari wrote here last year that the major parties have become increasingly president-centered -- and weaker as a result -- with time.
And this Republican Party is hardly the first to not really know what it stands for besides support of its nominee. Some early and mid-20th century major parties were famously vague on many policies. The 1952 GOP recruited Dwight Eisenhower as a presidential candidate without even knowing what party he was a member of, no less what he stood for. The Democrats of 1912 didn't really understand Woodrow Wilson's mishmash of policies but thought that they could win with them anyway, and simply determined that the candidate was the platform.
But none of this should numb us to just how striking these documents are. The public often associates a party with its incumbent president; a national convention gives a party a chance to show what it stands for besides just that candidate. This seems like a particularly wise thing to do when that candidate is unpopular and trailing his opponent by nearly ten points, and when there are candidates for Senate, House, governor, and state legislature in tight races who may well lose because of their association with the President.
Nevertheless, we are at a moment when the Republican Party -- whose first platform set out the party's commitment to destroying slavery, the most substantial policy change the nation has ever experienced -- has handed over all its policy generation efforts to Donald Trump. They are conceding to being an organization that exists, at this point, for no other purpose than his reelection.
This should be an interesting convention.