The threat Cruz and Trump pose to the GOP establishment

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Trump, Cruz



Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for the New Yorker.

... The Trump and Cruz campaigns are approaching the G.O.P. primary, especially in Iowa, from sharply different angles, but both candidates are benefitting from a dramatic development: the Republican Party is no longer able to control its nominating contest. Into the middle of last century, the nominee was selected by party bosses at the quadrennial convention, on the premise that the professionals in the party knew who was most qualified and electable. “The parties do not need laws to make them sensitive to the wishes of the voters any more than we need laws compelling merchants to please their customers,” the political scientist E. E. Schattschneider argued in 1942, countering criticism that the process was undemocratic. “Democracy is not found in the parties but between the parties.”

In the nineteen-seventies, both parties changed their rules, transferring the decision-making power to voters in newly mandated state primaries and caucuses. Suddenly, almost anyone had a shot at the nomination, and political outsiders—George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980—flourished. Although voters felt empowered, some critics were concerned. In the early eighties, the political scientist Nelson W. Polsby warned that the quality and popularity of government would suffer if “persons unable to pass muster with their peers occasionally prove to be popularly attractive” and win their party’s nomination.

By the nineteen-eighties and nineties, party élites had managed to regain control over the process, and party insiders began crushing insurgent candidacies. The key to victory was the “invisible primary”—winning over major donors, interest groups, and elected officials in the year before the actual voting began. To many observers, the invisible primary resembled the old system. In “The Party Decides,” published in 2008, the political scientist Hans Noel and three co-authors showed that, since 1980, the best predictor of the Democratic and Republican nominee has been endorsements by elected officials.

Trump—a media-created populist who has no such endorsements and is despised by Party insiders—defies that theory. “If Trump wins, he’d be forcing himself on the Party,” Noel told me. Cruz, too, represents the kind of hostile takeover that Polsby warned about. He is the consummate political insider—a U.S. Senator from Texas with a long history of activism in the G.O.P.—but he is hated by Republican élites, and none of his Senate colleagues are backing him. The two candidates offer visions for the future of the Republican Party that are starkly different from one another and from what the Party seems to envisage for itself....




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