Michael Ryan

Kansas GOP decision to forgo 2020 caucuses is not a precedent — and it’s not about Trump

Donald Trump announces 2020 presidential campaign

President Donald Trump announced his re-election campaign on June 18, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
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President Donald Trump announced his re-election campaign on June 18, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

Politico and CNN appear to think it’s scandalous — scandalous, I tell you! — that the Kansas Republican Party will have presidential nominating conventions and not caucuses or a primary next year.

Politico noted recently that Kansas is one of four states planning to cancel GOP presidential primaries and caucuses in 2020.

While bemoaning that the move “would cut off oxygen to Donald Trump’s long-shot primary challengers,” Politico hysterically harrumphs that it’s “the latest illustration of Trump’s takeover of the entire Republican Party apparatus.” Likewise, CNN howls that it “reflects Trump’s steel grip on the GOP establishment.”

Let’s see if you feel the same way after knowing the bare facts.

First off, let’s get this little detail out of the way: Kansas Republicans have canceled exactly zilch.

“We haven’t canceled a primary. There’s no primary to cancel,” explains Kansas GOP Chairman Mike Kuckelman. “There also is no caucus to cancel. There was no caucus scheduled.”

The state party decides, pretty much from scratch, how to select its presidential nominating delegates every four years. And when there’s a Republican incumbent president, it’s almost always been done through conventions.

Why the heck not? It’s the party’s nominee, after all. And it’s in the party’s interest to support an incumbent of that party.

If there’s an exception to precedent, it isn’t 2020 but 1992, when the Kansas Legislature held a beauty-pageant “presidential preference” primary. Even so, it was still up to the two parties to decide their nominees.

Moreover, why hold caucuses costing the party a quarter-million dollars when the outcome is preordained? Come on: Does anyone really think Republicans Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh or William Weld are going to unseat an incumbent president enjoying 80 to 90% approval among GOP voters?

And while it’s still a formality, the party’s five nominating conventions will nonetheless welcome any registered Republican as a self-nominating delegate hopeful, and can consider any of the FEC-filed presidential candidates.

Even Politico and CNN had to admit, in not so many words and well after their blaring about the process benefiting Trump, that it’s not really about the president after all. State party decisions to skip primaries and caucuses, Politico acknowledges, “aren’t without precedent. Some of the states forgoing Republican nomination contests have done so during the reelection bids of previous presidents.” South Carolina Republicans eschewed primaries in 1984 and 2004, for instance.

And, lo and behold, Democrats in South Carolina and Arizona passed up primaries in Democrat-friendly 1996 and 2012.

None of those past decisions by both parties had a whit to do with Donald Trump. And did any of these publications warn of Clinton’s or Obama’s “takeover” of their party’s apparatus, or their “steel grip” on their party’s establishment? Why now? Was democracy in danger, was the republic at stake, when either of these political parties in any of these states took steps to streamline their incumbent presidents’ renominations? Of course not.

Quite the contrary, what a beautiful statement it is about this American experiment that the various states and political parties can choose for themselves how to nominate presidential candidates — and to vary those methods when it suits their aims.

And I realize it may be heresy to suggest it, but looking back over history, have primaries honestly improved the product once churned out by conventions and caucuses?

The line to get into the Roedome for the Democrat Caucus goes around the building, across the parking lot and wraps around several city blocks.

The Star’s Michael Ryan, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning editorial writer and columnist and a veteran reporter, having covered law enforcement, courts, politics and more. His opinion writing has led him to conclude that freedom, civics, civility and individual responsibility are the most important issues of the day.
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