March 17, 2016
By George Friedman
Primary elections lend weight to political extremes.
The charm of democracy is the graciousness with which the loser accepts defeat. It is a pretty rare charm. It is particularly interesting to watch when some people, who support democracy absolutely, condemn the electorate for choosing someone who they believe would undermine democracy, or at least their understanding of it. They think: in a democratic society, all reasonable people will think like me. And if someone they detest is elected, then the election must have been corrupted in some way and the winner must be some kind of monster.
The taste in monsters varies. In the 1950s, whoever was disliked by Joseph McCarthy and his followers was a communist. General George W. Marshall, who commanded the U.S. Army during World War II and later served as secretary of state did things McCarthy disapproved of. Therefore, he was a communist. Today, the monster of choice is the fascists. Whomever liberals dislike is a fascist and his election would be a catastrophe. If such an individual was elected, it would prove that democracy is already lost beyond hope.
Donald Trump has won some primaries. He has not yet won the Republican nomination and is far from winning the presidency, but his behavior and values have so offended some people that he has already been declared a fascist. Please bear in mind that if given the chance I will not vote for him. But for me, a fascist is Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. To call Trump a fascist reduces the meaning of fascism’s horror to the level of farce. Fascism is a systematic theory of government. It is not clear that Trump has a theory of government, or that, his operatic style not withstanding, his understanding of government is all that peculiar. But it is clear that by any historical standard with meaning, whatever he is, he is not a fascist.
Trump offered himself as a candidate in the primary system that governs the election of most presidential candidates. He won a large number of delegates to this point. If he had lost, there is no evidence he would have attempted a putsch. John Boehner suggested today that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan should offer himself as a candidate for president and – without running in most, if any, of the primaries – go to the convention and try to cobble together enough deals to block Trump. Now, there is nothing at all illegal in this, but it runs counter to the hyper-democratic political culture that has dominated the United States since the progressives introduced the concept of primary elections early in the 20th century, which became the norm after the Watergate scandal.
Watergate drove the final nail into the coffin of the national convention as the arena where the party bosses – mostly elected governors and senators – selected the candidate. Dwight Eisenhower, FDR, Abraham Lincoln and the rest were all selected by this method. But there emerged a growing movement that held this to be anti-democratic. Although the political parties are never conceived of or mentioned in the Constitution (and a political party is really a private organization that can put forward whatever candidate it chooses by whatever means it likes), the reforms turned the Republican and Democratic parties into public institutions expected to choose their candidates by certain prescribed means. In most states this means an election, the primary, in which selected delegates to the convention pledge to vote for the winning candidate, at least on the first ballot, if multiple rounds of voting occur. In some states it means a caucus method, which is too odd to describe here, but serves the same purpose.