April 7, 2020

Is the Party Over?

By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 12, 2017

Robert Heghmann, a Trump campaign donor and former campaign volunteer from Virginia, has filed suit against the Republican National Committee (RNC), the Virginia Republican Party, and various officers of both organizations. He claims they are guilty of mail fraud and racketeering. 

Heghmann says the organizations raised money by claiming they would elect Republicans who would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), knowing full well they could not. His evidence? Comments from former Speaker of the House John Boehner, who declared in 2012 that Obamacare was the law of the land — proof, Heghmann claims, that the GOP knew by 2013 they could not repeal the ACA but continued claiming they would. (Boehner was even more direct later, when he said Republicans would never repeal the ACA.)

So Heghmann says they committed mail fraud with their repeal promises, and the entire phony fundraising operation was racketeering. He would like the defendants to return every penny they raised since 2013, a tidy $735 million. 

The courts have long given wide leeway to campaign promises made by individual politicians. Pretty much infinite leeway, in fact. A politician's campaign promise is not considered a contract no matter how earnestly made. Nor is a broken promise considered fraud since individual politicians can't actually guarantee anything. Then there's that pesky First Amendment that was created specifically for political speech. 

Heghmann has found a way around those obstacles by going after organizations. Interestingly, he claimed in an interview that the RNC should have “made” all Republicans vote for repeal.

(Republican senators Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Susan Collins, of Maine, both voted against the Senate repeal. They represent states with large numbers of low-income, uninsured residents, and neither could reasonably sell the wildly unpopular repeal bill to their constituents. Senator John McCain of Arizona was the decisive “no” vote, but his objections had more to do with the secretive process that created the repeal bill.)

That Heghmann believes party loyalty is paramount is symptomatic of a virus infecting both parties. Unfortunately, acting “for the good of party” rarely does any good for the rest of us. 

The problem here is that neither major party is the least bit cohesive. Republicans have their absolutists in the Freedom Caucus, a handful of moderates, and everybody else. Democrats have the Bernie Sanders wing, the Elizabeth Warren wing, the Hillary Clinton wing, and the we're-not-sure-but-we're-upset-about-something wing. 

All of them are pretty sure they best represent their party and grow increasingly intolerant of views other than their own. They all claim independence while moving in  lockstep with those who think exactly as they do.   

Real independence of the political sort, about which we Americans boast endlessly, is now in short supply. It has filtered down to voters, most of whom claim they “vote for the candidate, not the party” but mindlessly cast ballots based on whether there is an R or D after a candidate's name. It's fair to ask if they have any clue which kind of Republican or Democrat earned their vote.   

The belief that a political party should be able to force a politician to vote in a particular way leads us in precisely the wrong direction. Less influence from the parties, not more, is the better option.

Their party platforms are generally filled with laughable promises typically forgotten as soon as their nominating convention has ended. The Republicans' becomes narrower and narrower, created by the truest of the true believers, a treatise on undoing most of the government. The Democrats' looks like an amalgamated wish list of every person alive with the promise of helping them all by taxing the rich. Neither has the slightest connection to reality.

Our fealty to political parties tends to feed what would better be starved. If we really vote for the candidate and not the party, then there is no useful reason to include party affiliation on the ballot. Nor is there any reason to declare a party, or not, when registering to vote. It's really none of the state's business. 

The biennial feeding at the public trough we call primary elections should be paid for, in full, by the parties, not taxpayers. Those who so enjoy party politics should pay for the party they hold every couple of years. If you want us to pay, then make them open primaries. 

And we should include all candidates in debates. All of them. We can't exclude candidates for lack of support then refuse to give them exposure. It's yet another undeserved favor for some candidates that does no favors for voters.  

Mr. Heghmann's lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, but he has a point: The parties constantly want our money, make wild promises, and rarely, if ever, return real value. 

The largest segment of new voters register as unaffiliated or independent. Maybe it's time for the party to be over. 


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