With the Nevada caucuses behind us, there’s another debate going on about the outcome of those caucuses. The caucuses were the first step in the process of selecting the 43 Democratic and 30 Republican delegates from our state to their national conventions, where they will decide who to choose as their candidates for president. And some folks want those national convention delegates bound.
Our caucuses are in February. The Republican National Convention will be held in mid-July in Cleveland. The Democrats will meet the next week in Philadelphia. (The party in the White House traditionally goes last.) From February to July, things change, candidates fall by the wayside, people learn more about those who survive. The Republicans are already down from 12 to five, the Democrats from three to two.
The national convention delegates are usually PLEDGED to certain candidates – that is, they are informally committed to vote for those candidates. But some people think they should be BOUND – that is, required to vote for the candidates they represent, in line with the votes in their state primaries or caucuses.
A fellow named Bob Buehler, identified only as a Zephyr Cove resident, has sent an essay to newspapers around the state that calls for binding of delegates and demands to know why the Nevada Republican Party platform says, “We are against binding of delegates.” He sent a message to party officials who replied, “The platform is a statement of political principles. It is not an administrative document with any parliamentary force on the operations or management of the party.” He doesn’t say who sent this reply.
He then writes, “I will decipher that for you: The entire NVGOP platform is merely general ideas on issues that probably concern some of the voters once in a while from time to time every so often, but don’t hold us to them.”
I’ve been dealing with political party platforms as a reporter for half a century, and the reply he got sounds closer to the truth than his interpretation of it. He’s also seeking from individual party officials an explanation of a platform plank adopted by hundreds of delegates two years ago. What really blows me away is that in a platform opposing armed force by the federal government if Nevada secedes from the union (I’m not making this up), what he found objectionable is this six-word sentence on an obscure party practice.
Even more interesting is the fact that he never mentions that Nevada Republican delegates ARE bound. He neglected to quote the sentence that immediately precedes those six words in the platform: “We strongly oppose the current RNC rules mandating delegate selection by presidential nominees, circumventing delegates being elected at state conventions.”
Delegates to the Democratic National Convention are not bound, but they once were. Except for a couple of oddball states, all the delegates to the Republican National Convention ARE bound to their candidates on the first ballot. If the tide in the GOP is moving, it is probably against binding. In fact, Colorado this year eliminated surveys to find out who Republicans want for president. That way, there are no winners of presidential caucuses, so there are no candidates to whom to bind the delegates.
But what about Mr. Buehler’s basic point—that delegates should be bound to their candidates? He writes, “Nevada’s delegates to the Republican National Convention are supposed to be proportionally representative of the statewide caucus votes for the various presidential candidates.”
No, they’re not. That would make them seismographs of opinion, there to cast a vote and shut up, not think. What they are actually supposed to do is use their best judgment to select the best candidate the party can offer. The opinion of voters back in their states is one consideration.
Suppose, for example, a delegate is pledged to a candidate who was relatively popular when the state’s caucus or primary was held in the spring but is unelectable by summer because of later reckless or bigoted public statements. Should the delegate still vote for that candidate?
Here’s another example. The Nevada caucus exit poll conducted last weekend by CBS News gave us a new piece of news about Hillary Clinton. It was pretty well known that the public is suspicious of her, but now we know how deeply rooted it is. One CBS question to caucus-goers found that among voters to whom trustworthiness and honesty is important, Clinton was supported by only 11 percent. And this was among an entirely Democratic Party sample, remember.
Should a delegate to the Democratic National Convention who is charged with choosing the best possible candidate for the party consider such a factor?
Delegates are usually the people who work on campaigns in their home states. They’re the experts, the pros. Telling them not to use their judgment is foolish.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.