Clinton included Maine’s convention delegates, while Trump ignored them
“As Maine goes,” the old saying has it, “so goes the nation.” And this year, that saying clearly seems wrong. After all, in Maine’s caucuses, Republican voters chose Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (at 46% to Donald Trump’s 33%), and Democratic voters gave Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont a commanding lead of 64% to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 36%. But the treatment of Maine’s delegates at the national party conventions over the last two weeks does, in fact, indicate that Maine’s fate may have something to tell us about the months, and years, ahead.
Before we get to the party conventions, however, we have to clarify what we are talking about when we talk about American political parties.
We have a tendency to see the parties as conglomerations of individuals, megaphones for individual opinion, and so individual voters feel an ethical compulsion to break with a party that doesn’t represent their policy preferences. But parties aren’t clubs of like-minded individuals; they are huge coalitions, composed of smaller (but still huge) coalitions of interest groups. Such a big collection of groups cover a broad array of interests and do not necessarily agree on much of the party platforms that they eventually endorse. But we have “winner-take-all” elections, when tiny fractions of the overall vote total can decide who will occupy the White House, and under those circumstances it only makes sense to combine as many votes as possible before election day, and thus millions of people, in thousands of interest groups, find themselves crowding into the two big tents with the nationwide, state-by-state, infrastructure necessary to mobilize the necessary number of voters.
Imagine that you are in a party with, let’s say, 30 interest groups with a lot of money and a lot of members and a big seat at the table for the platform committee, and a lot of influence with elected officials. You agree with, maybe, 10 of those groups; you’re more-or-less indifferent to another 10; and the last 10 shares some broad ideological abstractions with you (you all consider yourselves progressive or conservative or whatever), but basically, you hate their core issues. You support Senator Sanders and they are Wall Street donors; you’re libertarian and they’re evangelical.
Political parties, in other words, aren’t defined by one philosophical creed; they’re defined by multiplicity. And you’re not just worried about your party winning elections; you’re worried about your faction of your party winning elections. And sometimes you can lose while winning.
When Maine’s delegates arrived at the GOP convention in Cleveland, they had already lost a key battle. But they were also part of a coalition – the Cruz coalition – that should matter to the broader Republican Party. Senator Cruz was endorsed by Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, two former candidates for the presidential nomination who earned support from important GOP donors. He also won the support of a number of important interest groups within the Republican coalition, including the deep-pocketed, anti-government superPAC the Club for Growth; Gun Owners of America, which criticizes the NRA for compromising too much on gun control; and the National Organization for Marriage. Trump’s victories in the primaries mean that he was able to win a plurality of votes in the Republican contest, not that he has a majority of votes nationwide. He needs the support of as many parts of the GOP coalition as he can manage.
And yet the Cruz coalition, including the Maine delegates, was not wooed. The GOP platform, while not entirely in sync with Donald Trump’s ideas, is not shaped by the agenda of the Cruz people. The keynote address at the convention offered Republicans seats in the theater, not seats at the table; Trump described an apocalyptic nation and then assured the party that, “I alone can fix it.”
American politics assumes multiplicity – of institutions, factions, races, creeds, interests – but the GOP presidential nominee offered our nation uniformity under his leadership. To make that point even clearer, Mr. Trump devoted more of his first post-convention public event to attacking Senator Cruz than he did to criticizing Secretary Clinton.
When Maine’s delegates arrived at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, meanwhile, they too had already lost a key battle. But they were also a part of a coalition – the Sanders coalition – that should matter to the Democratic Party. Senator Sanders’ rallies drew enormous crowds, which translated into enormous energy; he was endorsed by thirty-nine Democratic National Committee members, including Maine’s own Troy Jackson; and a number of important interest groups within the Democratic coalition, including the progressive advocacy group and PAC MoveOn.org; Americans for Democratic Action; and many union locals. Hillary Clinton’s victories in the primaries mean that she was able to win a majority of votes in the Democratic contest, not that she has a majority of votes nationwide. She needs the support of as many parts of the Democratic coalition as possible.
And despite raw feelings, protests, chants and counter-chants, and intense differences about policy, the Sanders campaign, including Maine delegates, found representation within the Democratic convention. Sanders supporters, including Portland’s Diane Russell, spoke at the event. The Senator himself had several key appearances but, more importantly, the campaign’s ideas were represented on the DNC platform committee. Now, a platform is not a contract; the party is not bound to make its policies into law or resign from government. But it is a powerful political commitment to all of the interest groups that make up the Democratic coalition.
Secretary Clinton’s speech was not the best speech at the convention; there are at least five other contenders for that honor. But her speech did pull together all the disparate themes of the convention and, more importantly, recognized the central causes of the most powerful factions within the party.
Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Everytown for Gun Safety are just some of the powerful interest groups within the Democratic Party that have now committed to helping Hillary Clinton win November’s election in exchange for the representation of their policy priorities. And the Sanders campaign, and thus those who endorsed the Senator’s campaign, were represented among them. And Clinton made the acknowledgement of the multiplicity of Democratic groups and the multiplicity of Democratic interests – indeed, the multiplicity of Americans and American interests – the centerpiece of her speech.
For better and for worse, this does not mean that any of those groups – or any of those who have endorsed Donald Trump (like members of the Trump family, or various “white nationalist” organizations) – will be guaranteed a place in the endless meetings where policy is defined, compromises are made, and our nation is governed. But it does promise access to the process that President Obama characterized as the “hard, slow, and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-governing.”
So, yes, as Maine goes, so goes the nation. Mainers in the Democratic Party who worked tirelessly for a candidate who did not win their nomination are offered a chance to keep working, because, as the president said, “democracy isn’t a spectator sport.” Mainers in the Republican Party, meanwhile, are given a chance to watch their candidate “fix” our republic, largely by reducing our world of multiplicity and compromise to a false organic unity, reinforced by xenophobia and state repression.
Millions of Americans now find themselves faced with the same choice: the difficult world of compromise and persuasion that are at the heart of democracy, or the spectatorship at blood sport that is at the heart of tyranny.
It’s up to us.
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