‘Platform’ makes GOP look foolish

Robert Service opened his popular poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee” with, “There are strange things done in the midnight sun ...”

We’re not under a midnight sun; far from it. But there are strange things done, too, in a pandemic. One of the strangest is the decision by the National Republican Convention not to write a 2020 platform for the party.

Instead, convention leaders, at the behest of the White House, simply re-endorsed the party’s 2016 platform. And President Trump’s campaign presented its own 50-point agenda on the first day of the conclave. 

It’s the first time in the party’s 166-year history that its national convention did not write a platform.

There are at least two reasons why this is strange.

For one, it insults the thousands of hours devoted by thousands of Republican activists across the nation at their local gatherings who wrestled with ideas and wording to finally settle on what the party represents to them. They faithfully forwarded those efforts to the August national convention. The response: “never mind.”

For many, many adherents of political parties in the United States, the platform drives their loyalty. I well remember bitter debates at state conventions over plank after plank, and close votes that kept the party faithful glued to their seats until well after dark.

The summer soldiers for whom party affairs ranked well down on their lists had left by mid-afternoon. But the true believers stuck it out, and generally were rewarded with a platform they could support when the final gavel fell.

Each state platform stands on its own, and represents a sort of consensus to which each candidate can refer during the election. Voters can check both documents to see where they’re most comfortable.

Because of the pandemic, Iowa Democrats did not adopt a platform at their online district and state conventions this year. Convention leaders are preparing a document to forward to the Iowa Democratic State Central Committee for its approval. That’s not standard procedure either, but it will provide a platform designed to represent the thinking of the Iowa party.

But the national Republican convention, unlike that of the Democrats, made no effort to weave the efforts of the state Republican parties into a national statement. 

There is no enforcement mechanism to require a candidate to endorse every plank in his or her party’s platform, of course. Candidates who do that are as rare as the drivers who obey the speed limit. 

Nevertheless, a platform serves as a guideline for voters to decide which party deserves their votes. 

That’s another reason a repeat of the GOP’s 2016 platform is strange. To simply re-enact it suggests that the Trump administration, and the party’s control of the U.S. Senate for the past several years, have failed to solve any of the problems they resolved to attack back in 2016.

A lot has happened in America in the past four years.

It seems strange to endorse 2016 planks like these as the party’s official positions, without amendment to account for the change in political control of the White House:

“Our national debt is a burden on our economy and families. The huge increase in the national debt demanded by and incurred during the current administration has placed a significant burden on future generations. We must place firm caps on future debt ...

“The current administration has exceeded its constitutional authority, brazenly and flagrantly violated the separation of powers, sought to divide Americans into groups and turn citizen against citizen. The president has refused to defend or enforce laws he does not like, used executive orders to enact policies constitutionally reserved solely to Congress, made unconstitutional ‘recess’ appointments to Senate-confirmed positions, directed regulatory agencies to overstep their statutory authority, and failed to consult Congress regarding military action overseas. He has changed what John Adams called ‘a government of laws and not of men’ into just the opposite.”

On Russia, condemning “The continuing erosion of personal liberty and fundamental rights under the current officials in the Kremlin. Repressive at home and reckless abroad, their policies imperil the nations which regained their self-determination upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will meet the return of Russian belligerence with the same resolve that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will not accept any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, in Ukraine, Georgia, or elsewhere, and will use all appropriate constitutional measures to bring to justice the practitioners of aggression and assassination.”

In 2016, of course, those planks referred to President Obama and the Democrats. 

To readopt them unchanged, when the administration is Republican, makes the party look foolish.

It would have been easy to rewrite them or eliminate them entirely, in order to give the party a fresh, up-to-date appearance. As it stands, the platform is an anachronism, and Republican candidates will do well to ignore it.

Democrats chose the harder road a week earlier. Despite the facts that it had to be done online, and that drafting a national platform would pit the progressive Bernie Sanders wing against the more moderate Joe Biden wing, the Democrats went through the process. 

Their platform controversies made for widespread media coverage and gave Republicans an opportunity to highlight breaches in Democratic Party unity. But the process batted out a document that accurately represents what the majority of Democrats stand for in 2020.

Republicans have what the president tells them to support.

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