Robert F. Jakubowicz: A major systemic failure


PITTSFIELD >> Political pundits, the media, moderate establishment Republicans, and the public in general are puzzled over the likely GOP nomination of Donald Trump for president. This is not that baffling. The nomination of a Trump-like candidate by one of the major political parties was a probable consequence of what American historians Samuel Morison and Henry Commager called the "clumsy system" in the Constitution to elect a president.

The Founding Fathers at the constitutional convention created a unique office for an executive head for the nation. But they had difficulty in deciding on how such a president should be elected. They had no government model then in existence to work from. They compromised on an Electoral College system.

According to Morison and Commager, the Founders thought that the electors in each state would vote for a favorite son from their state and that this made it likely that no presidential candidate would receive a majority of electors votes, which would throw the election to the House of Representatives. James Madison, one of the prime movers for adopting the Constitution, predicted this would happen "19 times out of 20." But it only has happened twice. The Founders failed to foresee the real consequences of their "clumsy system."

It did not take long for wannabe successors to our first president to figure out that their best chance to win the presidency was to form political factions or parties uniting the electors from the various states to vote for an agreed upon candidate. These forerunners of our two major political parties began forming while George Washington was still in office. He became disillusioned by this and according to American historian Gordon Wood, Washington "lost all hope for democracy (because) Members of one party or the other now could "set up a broomstick as (a) candidate" and the broomstick would 'command their votes'".

This observation is now a key issue in the Republican presidential nomination race. Will the party's nomination of Trump command the votes of party members in the general election?

A number of them — from current office holders like Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker to former GOP officials and leaders like Mickey Edwards, J.C. Watts, Mitt Romney and former Christine Todd Whitman — have publicly stated that they will not vote for Trump if he is what Washington called the party's "broomstick" in this presidential election. House Speaker Paul Ryan stated last week that "I'm just not ready to do that [support Trump] at this point," leaving the door open to support Trump later.

How this nation's presidential electoral system developed into what it is today is a matter of history now worth repeating.

After Washington left office, political parties took over the process of nominating presidential candidates. They are not mentioned in the Constitution as part of this process because the Founders feared parties as political entities that would disrupt or destroy the government they created.

Merits of party bosses

But the presidential nominating system they created regressed into a two-party system ruled by party bosses. These bosses came to presidential nominating conventions with their handpicked delegates to make political deals to set up nominees. They exercised control over the nominees and by supplying workers and funds for campaigns. They expected and received political favors in return from the nominees that were elected president.

This system, with its graft, political favoritism and political cronyism, eventually caused a public blowback to rid the system of these bosses. This led to the creation of the party primary system for the public rather than party bosses to choose the party nominees.

Today's inability of the Republican Party National Chairman Reince Priebus to exert control over the party's nominating process is a testament to how effectively the party boss system was done away with. But the abolition of the party boss system also meant the end of a tightly controlled party support system for nominees.

Without the vetting and control of candidates by party bosses and the availability of party funds and workers, candidates had to supply their own money and campaign workers. This opened the door for anyone with money and chutzpah to run for president.

Trump is a good example of such a candidate. Although the party nominating system remained in place, presidential nominations and elections became individual popularity contests. Even party platforms are no longer relevant. Few people know what is in them and party candidates act as if they are not bound by them.

In today's popularity presidential contests, it means a lot to have a popular image like Trump's, which is based on his former television show. This popularity was greatly enhanced by the media once he entered the presidential race, The press became attracted to his bombast, bragging, and crassness. He commanded top billing on prime time television news shows and political talk shows.

With all this popularity all he had to do was stand like a broomstick and proclaim that he will make "America great again." And all this publicity resonates very well today with voters who are greatly angered by the dysfunction of the federal government.

The Founders must be turning in their graves over what has gone wrong with their presidential election system.

Robert F. Jakubowicz is a regular contributor to the Eagle


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