Dan Phillips: The Constitution Party’s Donald Trump Dilemma

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The following article, written by Dan Phillips, was published on April 12th, 2016 on EconomicPopulist.org and sent to IPR for publication:

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.

46 thoughts on “Dan Phillips: The Constitution Party’s Donald Trump Dilemma

  1. Cody Quirk

    Interesting article.
    I know that the South Dakota CP Chair, Lori Stacey, is a big Donald Trump supporter and wants to see him join the CP.

  2. DJH2036

    As a Republican- trust me on this. You do NOT want Donald Trump to be associated with the Constitution Party at all. For every pro-CP issue he’s expressed, he’s expressed 10 that would make you think he’s a member of the Green Party.

  3. RedPhillips

    DJH, don’t look at it issue by issue. Look at the Gestalt. The CP needs to connect with the angry Middle American rebellion that Trump is fomenting.

  4. DJH2036

    I understand that- but using the guy who’s literally still praising Planned Parenthood, and has espoused more Liberal than Conservative positions isn’t going to end well for the party (a big reason why a lot of Republicans are pushing against him- nominating him does nothing but bring out the WRONG angry crowd and throws the traditional Conservatives under the bus). If they want to connect with angry Americans- there are better ways. Trump’s angry crowd also tends to include the people who think that the Jews caused Hurricane Katrina…

  5. Constitutional Craig

    I speak for myself as a member and not for the party, but the Constitution Party welcomes or should welcome all voters who feel disenfranchised from both parties not only as a result of the primary process but the lack of tangible results from the federal government. If you are reading this and desire to have limited, legal immigration and a transfer of most of the power from the federal level to the state level as outlined in the US Constitution, with an emphasis on the 10th Amendment, then the Constitution Party is the one for you. Regarding the comments of DJH2036, I never call myself a Conservative anymore and it’s been that way for several years. The connotation of the word has changed since 2001. Now it means an open borders, borrow-and-spend, go-along-to-get-along Republican. Prior to that it meant limited government accentuated by fiscal restraint. I know that pre-2001 “Conservatives” get really upset about the meaning changing, but the past 15 years have shown us the fruit on the tree, with the national debt growing from $5.7T to $19T. If you are a Democrat or Republican and your favorite candidate does not win the nomination, take a look at the Constitution Party.

  6. J.R.Myers for President

    The CP movers and shakers are gathering in Salt Lake City to hammer out our future plans. Lots of excitement. Several candidates are here. Al Jazeera was setting up earlier. This is the place to be for constitutionalists!

  7. Constitutional Craig

    J.R., Keep us posted. Here’s to hoping for a spirit of cooperation and that the attendees will all be rowing in the same direction by the end of the weekend. I have heard from several people around work that they are not inclined to vote for either the D’s or the R’s. I have heard someone say they are done with the R Party if they nominate Trump and I have heard another say they are done if they don’t nominate him. There has never been a better time for the Libertarian Party or the Constitution Party to be America’s other primary choice to the Global-first party (featuring the D’s and the R’s). As a bonus, how many will be done with the R’s if neither Trump nor Cruz gets the nomination?

  8. Cody Quirk

    “There has never been a better time for the Libertarian Party or the Constitution Party to be America’s other primary choice to the Global-first party (featuring the D’s and the R’s)”

    Problem with that assessment- while you are correct about the LP, yet when it comes to a political party that will be lucky to have ballot access in 25 states this year, has a total of less then 100,000 registered voters nationwide (and that total would be cut by almost two-thirds if we take the Nevada IAP out of the equation), barely has an activist base, and has a ton of past history & baggage when it comes to the likes of religious extremism & despotism in several of it’s state affiliates and including such individuals as Michael Peroutka, John Lofton, Riley Hood, Angela Wittman, Don Grundmann, and other CP individuals with such views and rhetoric as to match the rabid deep south churchgoer/klansman in terms of zealotry and sheer ignorance….

    The CP is not on par, or even close to being in the same league as the LP is.
    Likewise with the Green Party.

  9. J.R.Myers for President

    27 state delegations we’re credentialed. Mississippi is not present.

    Platform: All scriptural references tables for now.

    Preamble is to be addressed in minutes. This is the language which determines if we are a “Christian” party or not.

  10. Joshua K.

    @J.R.Myers for President: Is the presidential nomination vote tomorrow (Friday 4/15) or Saturday 4/16?

  11. J.R.Myers for President

    The vote for CP POTUS nominee will be starting Saturday at 9:30am. It is true that the state Chairs cast the votes for their delegations. So, for instance, I will cast the four delegate votes for Alaska. It looks like there will be perhaps 200 actual delegates present.

  12. JamesT

    Thanks for the updates. Hope you end up on the ticket. Is Castle actually running? Have you spoken with him?

  13. Antirevolutionary

    Can someone make an open thread for the convention? I would be willing to help liveblog from the CP Facebook page and the stream when available.

  14. NewFederalist

    CT/AR – It’s Friday and it’s Happy Hour. Only Prohibitionists can post now! 😉

  15. Antirevolutionary

    Good to be back in touch NF! Don’t worry, I have changed my views quite a bit from my misspent youth as CT, but I’m still a Catholic and thus, far from a prohibitionist.

  16. Antirevolutionary

    I guess I’ll post here until Red is able to make the open thread.
    They have started nominating speeches; John Jay Myers just finished; Tom Hoefling speaking now. They are both arguing that they can win the California AIP nomination, but talking about some of the CP’s regular issues as well. Lots of religious talk from both of them as well.

  17. Antirevolutionary

    They have been taking questions from the audience in the middle of their speeches.

  18. Antirevolutionary

    Thanks Red. Will start posting on it now. You wouldn’t know me personally; I used to have very different beliefs when I posted here a long time ago, but I have changed a lot and I am now considering joining the CP.

  19. Sean Scallon

    ” The CP needs to connect with the angry Middle American rebellion that Trump is fomenting.”

    From a political standpoint one would agree. The problem is the sectarian nature of the CP pretty much prevents this. Trump represents a lot of people put off by the “Religious Right” (otherwise the would be supporting Cruz) and if you think religiosity in the GOP is bad you haven’t seen anything yet until you visit the CP. Any party that willingly tear itself apart over the question of the Christianity of Mormons or would harbor extreme-Calvinists is just bats and is not going to be in a position to welcome Trump voters with the sense this is a party worthy as a political home. The irony is….when it was the U.S. Taxpayers Party and a hoped for non-major party vehicle for Pat Buchanan, it was a populist party. Where this transition took place and whether it was the result of infiltration by Christian Reconstructionalists (probably about the time of the Peroutka nomination) is a mystery. Goode was an attempt to bring the party back to its roots but he was hardly a populist and poor campaign may well send the CP back in the opposite direction this year.

  20. Eric from Utah

    Darrell Castle won the nomination and selected Scott Bradley as his VP. Very exciting ticket! There is definitely a feeling of unity and excitement here! All of the nominees did a great job. And it takes a lot to throw your hat in that ring.

    We’re all ready to go back to our states and get to work getting ballot access (where needed) and working at the grass roots level to get the rest of the citizenry energized about constitutional principles of government with Castle and Bradley leading the charge!

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