The Republican National Committee announced in advance of the start of its convention that Republicans would not adopt an official platform at the convention. In lieu of an official list of policy priorities, or even a statement of the political philosophical underpinnings that will be used to guide decision making, the Republican National Committee decided they would just use their platform to pledge
fealty to President Trump.
In other words, the official Republican position on any topic is whatever Donald J. Trump says it is. Now, in actuality, that isn’t really a big change. The party that holds the White House will always follow the President’s lead, as he is always the titular head of his party. Also, an official party platform in non-binding. There is nothing holding the President (or any elected official from that party) to strict adherence to the platform. But having a written set of principles, priorities, and policy goals is a useful roadmap for party members to follow and it helps communicate its goals to voters to help persuade them that the party is in touch with the voter’s priorities and that their goals are aligned.
The lack of a platform is particularly troublesome for the Republican National Committee because President Trump is likely the least philosophically grounded politician of our lifetime.
There is no evidence that he considers any guiding political philosophy or even any coherent decision making process when devising policy or in developing a national response to current events. He has stated he goes with his gut instinct and critics have accused that all decisions are ego driven. With that reality, a policy priority roadmap for supporters seems more important than ever.
Additionally, one of the biggest criticisms of the current Republican party is that it’s become a Trump cult of personality. Adopting a party platform that basically says Trump’s goals are our goals only throws fuel on that fire.
As a realist, I do not expect any politician—or their supporters—to be ideologically or philosophically pure in their positions. Compromises must be made to govern in a democracy. However, shouldn’t the conservative party be able to unabashedly proclaim its conservative values and make its case for the value and benefits of following the conservative ideology? What better way to put down a marker of what you believe to be the ideal conservative path than to create a platform that affirms policies firmly grounded in conservative political philosophy?
A platform is never going to be fully enacted or strictly followed. But at least you have stated overtly what your goals are and have provided your supporters with a clear message to communicate what you believe to be the best-case scenario.
When your stated goal is just “whatever he wants is cool by us” you’ve abandoned even any pretense that you are a party of ideas or that you have any guiding principles. That is a sad state of affairs.
While I know this will be seen as merely Trump-bashing and many will discount anything I’ve written by just writing me off as anti-Trump without giving any thought to the substance of my argument, I will state clearly that the Republican party isn’t the only party to have abandoned its ideology.
The Democratic National Committee did formally adopt a platform at its convention that had the temerity to state their actual goals. But in an effort to appear more moderate, the Democratic National Committee abandoned their progressive roots and omitted any discussion of Medicare for All (or any universal, single-payer health care proposal). They were also silent on the Green New Deal and didn’t highlight climate change as the most pressing public policy priority of our lifetime as many of their progressive members believe.
As I have stated, even if the Democratic National Committee acknowledges that Medicare for All or the Green New Deal don’t have any chance of passing in the Congress, shouldn’t they want to proclaim that they believe these policies are important to the progressive agenda? As a way to try to move the Overton Window, shouldn’t they endorse these ideas?
That’s how it used to work. For more than a decade before it became law, the Democratic party proclaimed their support for same-sex marriage—even though they knew it had zero chance at the time to pass into law. But they stood on principle in their party platform. They made their case and signaled their support for LGBTQ causes.
The sad reality is our political parties are severely weakened. They’ve ceded most of their power. Long gone are the days of smoke-filled back rooms where party bosses gave direction to the party. Now instead of party bosses we only have party cheerleaders (on both sides) enthusiastically clapping along as their party, philosophically unmoored, sails along on the whims and winds of populism.