The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s grousing over ‘crooked’ system is just sour grapes

According to Donald Trump and his bellicose advisers, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is running a “crooked” race, stealing delegates and undermining democracy. Well, if majority rule is sacred, then Trump shouldn’t be insisting that he should get the nomination with less than a majority. And if a delegate system must reflect the precise proportion of delegates received, then Trump is the one “stealing” delegates by virtue of his receiving 45 percent of the delegates for only about 37 percent of the popular votes cast in the primary.

Trump is just complaining because he is losing. What Cruz is doing is not crooked; it’s actually the essence of American self-governance.

Bloomberg News observes: “Cruz’s ability to outmaneuver the New York billionaire at district and state conventions has fed the narrative that the front-runner doesn’t have his act together and isn’t as big a winner as he proclaims. It could also embolden anti-Trump forces for other delegate contests even in states where he easily won primaries, such as Massachusetts and South Carolina, and in states yet to cast primary ballots like Indiana.”

Cruz is playing within the parameters of the rules, fair and square. Sometimes overlooked is how much this is a bottom-up process. Trump and his sycophants portray “elites” as grabbing delegates that should be his. In fact, the army of Cruz volunteers, over a quarter of a million nationwide, is the essence of grass-roots organizing. The volunteers and the delegates are citizen activists, and lobbyists and “secret money” play a minor role. Campaign finance reformers and people like Trump who hate super PACs should understand that this is the alternative to big donors buying candidates.

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The activists swarming conventions, the delegates signing up and the party faithful attending the caucuses and conventions are engaged in a participatory process driven by involved citizens, as American as New England town hall meetings. It is not a throwback to smoke-filled rooms, but to the era before big money and TV ads were the be-all and end-all of politics. As Bloomberg News described it:

The strength of Cruz’s grassroots effort [in Colorado] was on display as more than 5,000 of the party faithful gathered at the Broadmoor World Arena for a marathon session Saturday not far from Pikes Peak, the 14,000-foot summit that inspired “America the Beautiful.”
As Cruz neared the end of his 25-minute speech to the convention, he gestured to about 70 supporters furiously waving “TrusTed” placards at the base of the stage, while encouraging the crowd to vote for the slate of delegates backing him that was projected on a screen behind him.

At any rate, others have pointed out that America is not a direct democracy, and neither is the primary process. Our president is technically chosen by electors, while the party nominees are picked by delegates. It is simply because we have gotten used to a top-down nominating process (big donors give to candidates, who buy up airtime to pummel their opponents) that actual people spending a Saturday convincing their neighbors to put them on a slate to go to a convention seems “anti-democratic.” What we are getting is a reminder that “democracy” is not simply marking a ballot, but the process by which infectious enthusiasm spreads and gets translated into action.

Trump’s grousing is purely sour grapes, his default emotion when he has messed up. Had he hired a competent campaign manager instead of the thuggish Corey Lewandoswki, he would be competitive in the delegate selection process. Trump is to blame for not doing so. He is also to blame for losing another huge advantage, domination of free media.

Trump stayed off the Sunday talk shows and, we suspect, will be sheltered from newly aggressive interviewers. He has committed too many serious gaffes and is obviously ignorant of too many subjects. It is not safe to send him out on a routine basis. He refuses to debate. So Trump hides from debates and hides from interviewers. The only safe turf is mass rallies, where there is no one to challenge his inane ideas other than the occasional protesters. And those people get promptly ejected.

This does not sound, well, all that democratic.