The Republicans' platform fiasco goes from bad to worse

Instead of writing a 2020 platform, Republicans are simply endorsing Trump's agenda - which is a problem because Trump doesn't have an agenda.
Image: The Republican National Committee holds a media walkthrough for the 2020 Republican National Convention that will be held from Aug. 24-27, 2020
The Republican National Committee holds a media walkthrough for the 2020 Republican National Convention that will be held from Aug. 24-27, 2020 to choose the 2020 Republican presidential nominee in the Spectrum Center Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, Nov. 12, 2019.Jim Bourg / Reuters file
By Steve Benen

In June, the Republican National Committee's executive committee met, and by all accounts it agreed to recycle the party's 2016 platform, rather than coming up with a new one. It was an embarrassing reminder as to just how indifferent the party has become toward governing.

Two months later, the story now appears slightly worse.

The Republican National Committee will go without a traditional policy platform at the upcoming GOP convention.... The RNC said if they had been able to meet, they "would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the party's strong support for President Donald Trump and his administration," and resolved that "the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president's America-first agenda" and "will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention." It did not mention any specific policies or goals.

In other words, for the first in time in Republican history, the party has decided not to bother with a platform -- except to effectively say that the party supports whatever Donald Trump wants.

(In last night's statement, RNC officials suggested part of this is the result of the coronavirus pandemic, though it's worth noting that Democrats faced the same crisis and they nevertheless debated, wrote, and approved a 91-page platform last week.)

Part of the problem with the Republicans' decision is this is important work that major parties are supposed to do. As we discussed in June, every four years, like-minded partisans get together to iron out the details of their party's goals, priorities, principles, and values. In many instances, the process is contentious and difficult, with partisans quarreling over every detail, but that's because they care about their party's substantive direction.

The party is supposed to have those debates -- which is to say, it's supposed to care about having those debates -- and the public should have an opportunity to see the results of the intra-party negotiations. To effectively conclude, "Whatever Trump says is fine with us," is pitiful for a party that pretends to be a credible governing entity.

But the other missing piece of the puzzle is hiding in the White House: in lieu of an actual platform, the RNC has asserted its "strong support" for the president's agenda, which might be more compelling if the president had an agenda.

Indeed, Trump has been asked four times in recent months to articulate his priorities for a second term, and in each instance, he's bungled the question. The issue came up once again last night, in yet another Fox News interview, in which the president said he "would do new things" in a second term -- failing to identify what any of those new things might be.

Last night, the president's re-election campaign did release a 50-point bulleted list of Trump's priorities for the next four years, but to call the list an agenda would be far too generous: it included goals such as "return to normal in 2021" and "protect our veterans."

These hardly count as half-written tweets, much less elements of an incumbent president's governing agenda.

I rather doubt Team Trump and the RNC read my book about Republicans becoming a post-policy party, indifferent to the substance of governing, but they appear to be going out of their way to prove the thesis true.