Last Saturday’s Clark County GOP convention fell woefully short of its goals, to say the least. But the myriad local problems are only symptomatic of a greater national problem: an inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable system of determining each party’s presidential candidate.It could be argued that this isn’t even a problem, and that individual states and counties have every right to act as rambunctious as they choose in selecting delegates to state and national conventions.
Still, what happened Saturday at the Hilton Vancouver Washington was distressing to many local Republicans and simultaneously amusing to local Democrats who reveled in their enemy’s dysfunction. Registration delayed the start by an hour.
Only 75 of 94 delegates to the state GOP convention were selected, even after the convention was extended by two hours. Especially agonizing to local Republicans was the fact that the traditional sharing of values and philosophies never materialized. Many attendees wanted to discuss the party platform. Indeed, 37 amendments to the party platform were submitted. That communal exchange of ideologies didn’t happen Saturday. No time for it.
Some blame the chaos on the rowdiness of the different candidate factions. Others blame convention officials for failing to prepare for a crowd of more than 1,000 people. Glass-half-full Republicans will accurately boast about what is believed to be their largest county convention ever. Meanwhile, glass-half-empty Republicans will accurately complain that the event was a disaster.
Accurately assessing blame is difficult, and we caution against a few premature conclusions:
Some will posit that Saturday’s bedlam could trigger systemic reform. We doubt that. Remember, political parties are in control of this system. We have editorialized that, in a dream world, Washington would join many other states in selecting convention delegates through a presidential primary. But the parties cannot be expected to abdicate any of their power and allow such a change. That’s unfortunate, because at least 10 times as many citizens would participate in a presidential primary as are getting involved in the current system.
Others might warn Democrats to just wait, you’ll suffer your own chaos, too. That’s not going to happen this year. Clark County Democrats — who have scheduled precinct caucuses for Sunday, April 15, and their county convention for Saturday, April 28 — already know who the Democratic presidential candidate will be.
Some Democrats might gaze upon the aftermath of last Saturday’s catastrophe and huff, “We would never act that way!” We’re not so sure. Democrats, too, can get pretty spirited when deciding a presidential candidate. Into such a competitive arena, toss a largest-ever crowd at a county convention, and there’s no telling what would happen.
As Saturday’s dust settles, the question remains: Was the local GOP convention (1) an embarrassing debacle or (2) a shining example that democracy is messy but still the greatest form of government, or (3) a reminder that, when spirited people flex their freedoms, don’t expect ’em to be shy about it. We suspect the convention was a blend of all three.