A few weeks ago I speculated that the Trump campaign would fail to submit a full slate of delegates for the Republican primary in Illinois. On Monday, he beat the odds and delivered a complete application…sorta.
Judging from the ragtag and slightly bizarre collection of delegates the campaign has designated, his signatures might warrant scrutiny. However, if his petitions stand up to review then this process deserves serious attention from political researchers. What Trump has accomplished here is remarkable in ways that extend far beyond his own campaign. Say what you want about the man and his message (Lord knows I have and I will), but this may prove to be a watershed moment in the democratization of our system and the expansion of The Politics of Crazy.
A little background might be helpful. In Illinois, the candidates themselves are not on the primary ballot. Primary voters in each of Illinois’ Congressional Districts select three delegates who are individually committed to each candidate. In order to be represented, a candidate must recruit three delegates who will obtain the requisite number of qualified signatures in their Congressional District to appear on the ballot. Highest vote earners in each district will become delegates to the national convention.
This is no simple feat. As the Republican field has grown in recent years to include political entertainers and assorted nutjobs, candidates regularly fail to appear on the ballot here. The filing deadline is today and only Bush, Cruz and Trump have submitted a full slate.
In practical terms, Illinois’ petition structure forces national campaigns to work hard early to obtain support from local political figures all over the state. Candidates for County Board, the State Assembly or other state and local offices already have teams at the precinct level (like yours truly) dividing up the work of petitioning. State and local politicos agree to sponsor a Presidential candidate’s petition effort in return for a deeply coveted opportunity to attend the national convention as a delegate.
That’s the model followed by all of the other Republican campaigns in this cycle. Trump was not able to exploit this well-worn route. Frequent (if half-hearted) appeals from local GOP leadership for someone to step up and assist with signature collection for Trump failed entirely. No one with any political heft whatsoever was willing to be associated with the guy.
Companies will help with this process for a modest fee, but paid petition circulators in Illinois have a miserable track record of reliability. It isn’t clear yet whether the Trump campaign used paid circulators, but given the absence of any grassroots support and the…let’s call it “unconventional” nature of the delegates that emerged, it seems likely that at least some of the work, especially in Chicago, was paid. Nevertheless, even a commercial petition gatherer probably couldn’t have helped the campaign get over the hump on a statewide basis in such a short period.
True to form, proposed delegates from the other campaigns are mostly public or semi-public figures, easy to identify. My state senator is a delegate for Jeb Bush. My state rep is a delegate for Christie. Not all of the delegates are elected officials, but they are generally prominent local political figures.
Then, there’s Trump’s list.
Only two of Trump’s 54 delegates are elected officials. One is the mayor of a single-stoplight country town. The other, his state campaign chair, sits on a downstate community college board. There are also two figures from the financial community in Chicago, including a former Board of Exchange President. Then it gets interesting.
If Trump wins Illinois he’ll be sending to the RNC a food service manager from a juvenile detention center, a daycare worker from a Christian School, an unemployed paralegal, a grocery store warehouse manager, one brave advocate for urban chicken farming, a dog breeder, and a guy who runs a bait shop. Elsewhere on the slate, Barbara Kois is a minor Christian author whose blog posts are right in line with the hysteria you’d expect from a Trump voter. Nabi Fakruddin is a low-level suburban politico whose claim to fame is being removed from a local transit board position for “double-dipping.” Bob Bednar ran unsuccessfully to head the GOP in Lake County. He’s about as close as you’ll get in that bunch to an active political figure.
About half of his delegates are more or less unidentifiable from any low-level search beyond the voter rolls. There’s one, a Raja Sadia, who has no online footprint of any kind. Needless to say, that is highly unusual for potential convention delegates.
One possible explanation for this strange delegate slate is that the campaign paid someone to run the process. These folks do generally fit the profile of paid petition circulators. The problem with that hypothesis is that the ones who can be identified appear to be honest to goodness Trumpists.
Another explanation seems more credible, though it is also remarkable and perhaps disturbing. In The Politics of Crazy, I explained that a broad devolution of power was weakening our central institutions in ways we never anticipated. Everyone loves democracy, but we are beginning to understand that democracy without effective, responsible institutions is a dangerous mess.
Figures on the left in particular often complain about low levels of political participation and influence by the poor and marginalized in our society. Well, the times, they are a changin.’ If Trump’s petitions are legitimate and these really are qualified delegates, then his campaign has accomplished a feat of democratic activism on a historic scale. Nursery workers and warehouse foremen with no history of political involvement may be on their way to a national convention – and they are not Sanders’ delegates.
The left worries about the alienation of low income and blue-collar voters from the political process. They should be careful what they wish for. The largest movement of grassroots activism by low-income voters in our history is threatening to move a uniquely American brand of Fascism into the political mainstream.
Illinois has one of the most country’s most rigorous standards for ballot qualification. If these petitions prove to be legit, then a ragtag collection of political weirdos just jumped that impressive firewall. We are running out of time to adapt to the demands of decentralization. The Politics of Crazy is toppling dominoes at an impressive pace. Trump may be building a gaudy high-rise over the ruins of our democracy.
Quick postscript after the filing deadline. This time around candidates seem to have clued into the complexity of ballot access in Illinois and gotten the job done. Prior to any petition challenges, only four campaigns failed to submit a full slate of 54 delegates for the Illinois primary:
Paul, 44 delegates
Still, no one’s delegates are more consistently obscure/odd as the Trump slate.