Political Parties Belong to Their Members

Principled Republicans have been dismayed by the way this primary season has gone, rightly believing that their party has been hijacked by people having little or no connection with the party or its principles as articulated over the years in party platforms. In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel has a long interview with former Cato board member Eric O’Keefe, head of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, who puts his finger on the heart of the problem.

Pointing to “the party’s constitutional right to operate as a wholly private, autonomous political actor,” and looking ahead to the convention, O’Keefe asks, “Why should Republicans bow down to the results of state-mandated open primaries that allow liberal and independent voters to bum-rush what is supposed to be a private poll?” “There’s nothing that special or even good about the government-run primary process,” he adds, and this year’s process is Exhibit A. While the media focus on the anger in the country—which surely there is, and for good reason—still, no one can tell how much mischief has been done through cross-over, sometimes strategic voting in state-mandated open primaries. When that happens, a party—a private organization, not contemplated by the Constitution’s Framers—loses control of its message and its purpose: to put forward in the general election the candidates that best represent the views of its members.

The hijacking of the primary process is only part of the problem, of course. Campaign finance restrictions, about which O’Keefe has had bitter experience in Wisconsin in the last few years, are an equal or even greater burden on a party’s ability to conduct its affairs and get its message out, but that’s a subject for another day. For the present, O’Keefe is looking ahead to the July convention:

The delegates have been going to conventions for years and treating them like Super Bowl parties because there was nothing else to do. But this year they have the opportunity to practice a great national tradition, to exercise their legal, historical right to defeat a man who opposes most of what they believe in, and instead nominate a candidate who represents them.

If they succeed, and succeed in November as well, perhaps the first order of business should be to work with the states toward restoring the principle that political parties are private entities, not extensions of the government, and how they run their affairs are for their members alone to decide.