The Constitution Party’s National Convention kicks off tomorrow in Salt Lake City, Utah. There the CP will chose its 2016 nominee for President. More interestingly to many observers of third part dynamics, however, is how the CP will handle the Trump phenomenon.
First some background on this year’s Convention for those who do not follow CP internal politics closely. This year there is significantly less intrigue headed into the convention than there was in the past two Presidential election cycles.
In 2008 there was a hotly contested struggle for the nomination between former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes and conservative columnist and pastor Chuck Baldwin. For many, Keyes represented a chance for the CP to land a “big name” and potentially reach a broader audience of disillusioned conservatives, but for some party stalwarts, Keyes was seen as too much of an interventionist on foreign policy. Baldwin ended up winning the nomination, but not without some significant hurt feelings and fall out.
The 2012 nomination battle was less contentious, but not without some drama. Former Congressman Virgil Goode declared his intention to seek the nomination ahead of the Convention and entered as the prohibitive favorite. He was challenged at the last minute by 2008 Vice Presidential nominee, lawyer Darrell Castle. Some CP members viewed Goode as insufficiently doctrinaire on certain issues dear to the heart of constitutionalists, especially the non-interventionist foreign policy issue that felled Keyes, and Castle primarily represented this faction. Goode won on the first ballot, but it was closer than many expected, especially for a last minute challenge.
This cycle the CP failed to attract a big name of the likes of Keyes or Goode. It was widely expected that Darrell Castle would be the 2016 nominee in the absence of a big name. While Castle is not a big name, he was generally considered a satisfactory placeholder candidate who would represent the party and its positions well. This expectation was derailed when Castle withdrew from the contest due to health concerns.
This left the CP with a battle for the nomination between relatively minor candidates, primarily Pastor Scott Copeland, long time CP activist J.R. Myers and Alan Keyes associate Tom Hoefling. As a disclaimer, I am Facebook friends with the latter two and met both briefly at the 2008 Convention where I was heavily invested in the Baldwin nomination. All three seem to be good men who are sincere, concerned citizens who want what they see as best for their country. No disrespect is intended by describing them as “relatively minor” and the descriptors I chose for each were intended to convey the most relevant info in a few words.
Recently, former Republican Alaska Senate nominee and Tea Party favorite Joe Miller announced he would seek that nomination but withdrew himself from consideration today. Also today it was reported that Castle would in fact seek the nomination, despite earlier withdrawing. (I first learned of these two developments while I was writing this. Such is the hazards of writing about current happenings, I suppose.)
My hunch is that Castle will win the nomination, but I do not predict this with any certainty. This lack of a big name nominee is one reason why how the CP handles the Trump phenomenon is really the more interesting dynamic this cycle.
For a little background, while the CP in its current iteration is an unambiguously Constitutionalist party, it was initially formed in 1992 as a possible vehicle for a Pat Buchanan third party run, following his primary challenge of George Bush. Hence, the CP has always leaned paleoconservative. Its platform is restrictionist on immigration, opposed to globalist trade deals and non-interventionist on foreign policy.
Herein lies the dilemma for the CP regarding Trump. A Trump Republican nomination could potentially open the CP up to disaffected #NeverTrump types who see Trump as an abandonment of movement conservative orthodoxy and/or as not having a Presidential temperament and demeanor. But while being the more orthodox conservative party might gain them some votes from disgruntled conservatives this cycle presuming a Trump nomination, I think it would be short-sighted in the long run for the CP to overtly dis Trump and his supporters and seek the more conservative than thou vote this cycle. Purely ideological parties that attempt to be the more pure expression of a particular ideology, whether the CP, the Libertarian Party or the Green Party, while they have a role, have limited popular appeal. This is not a value judgment. This is an observation based on history.
The growth potential for a conservative alternative party like the CP is not in appealing to the more conservative by degree vote which has limited popular appeal. The growth potential is in being the populist alternative to the globalist, elitist GOP, capitalizing on issues like immigration and trade that Trump is appealing to. Given this dynamic, it would be very unwise for the CP to run as the explicitly anti-Trump alternative.
If my social media feed is any indication, CP types are very divided on the Trump phenomenon. Some are adamantly opposed to Trump, particularly the more Christianist (for lack of a better term) element who see Trump as a poor Christian example. But many, particularly the more paleo and anti-globalist elements, see Trump as a unique nationalist challenge to the globalist Establishment consensus. Of note, 2012 CP nominee Goode has endorsed Trump.
My assessment, for what it’s worth, is that the CP would be wise to accept the anti-Trump element that comes its way without coming out as overtly anti-Trump. The populist Middle American rebellion that Trump is fomenting is where the potential for growth lies for a conservative alternative party, and it would be unwise for the CP to become the overtly anti-Trump conservative alternative.
From what I know about the current CP candidates, I suspect that Darrell Castle gets this dynamic better than the other alternatives. I believe he would be a wise choice for the CP delegates interested in not burning bridges with Trump supporters.