By Loren Haas
It’s easy to forget with the torrent of Democratic candidates – 19 potential nominees, with 7 having already dropped out – that this election is made of much more than a bunch of desperate Democrats trying to get under Joe Biden’s skin. However, as election year creeps closer and closer, the Republican party has been disturbingly silent in its nomination process. Perhaps for good reason, as states like South Carolina and Kansas opt against hosting primaries for the 2020 election – ensuring that, in these states, Trump earns his party’s nomination uncontested.
This move is not unprecedented; during the 1984 election, several states did not hold Republican primaries, in fully opting to back Ronald Reagan for reelection. Similarly, both the Republican and Democratic parties have cancelled primaries when they’re running the incumbent candidate. Perhaps it’s because an incumbent candidate seems like a guaranteed win; perhaps it’s because, when incumbent candidates like George H.W. Bush face primaries nowadays, their reelection campaigns end up hampered – and their candidates end up without second terms.
However, this time, circumstances are different. For example, when Republicans cancelled primaries in 10 states to support George W. Bush, he was the only candidate on the ballot. As primaries can prove costly, running a primary with a guaranteed result would have been little more than formality. Trump would be facing three candidates in his nomination campaign with 43 percent of his party base saying that they are open to primary challengers. Additionally, Trump’s approval is lower than his predecessors’; according to Gallup, Reagan, for example, had an average approval rating during his two terms of 52.8 percent. Trump has had 46 percent approval at his best.
But beyond the statistics of the elections – because there are always plenty – there is the matter of what the primary represents. Due to the two-party system in place in the United States and the structure of the electoral college, it is only feasible for two candidates even to win the presidency, either the Democrat or the Republican. Therefore, the primary process is crucial for the voting public to get a say in whom represents their interests and to influence the party platform for the coming election cycle. Voters get to directly communicate to their party what sort of ideology they are most interested in seeing their party express going forward. Removing the primary from the election process means that party members have no say in who is representing their interests or what interests are even necessarily being represented. It’s a symbolic gesture – but, in a representative democracy, an important one.
Democracy is, above all else, built upon rule by the people. Not hosting primaries picks away little by little at that base concept. And it could escalate from here; for example, members of the Republican National Committee have proposed that challengers to Trump’s nomination be blocked entirely, a rule change that was primarily prevented because it’s too late in the election cycle to change the rules for this election.
Cancelling primaries has disturbing implications for the election process. While the Democratic nominees battle it out for the candidate title, silently Trump will once again claim his party’s nomination despite other contenders and interest in viable other candidates. And what’s to stop the party from increasingly reducing access the people have to open expression within their party’s bounds? The United States is founded on representation; our election process ought to reflect that.