The 2016 U.S. Party Conventions and the Impact of Brexit

by Cristian Tracci

From left: Pamela Harris, Hans Noel, Lucio Martino, Federigo Argentieri

From left: Pamela Harris, Hans Noel, Lucio Martino, Federigo Argentieri

On Tuesday, July 7, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs organized a panel discussion on the 2016 U.S. Party Conventions and the Impact of Brexit. The event was dedicated to Beau Solomon, visiting student from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who died in Rome earlier this month. Professor Federigo Argentieri, Director of the Guarini Institute, remarked how, given his passion for political debates, Beau would have certainly liked to attend to this event.

JCU Professor Pamela Harris, who teaches law and American Government, outlined some key questions stemming from the upcoming elections. Most importantly, how might the Trump campaign’s populist challenge to Republican party leadership change the way that we should think about American political parties themselves, and the relationship between their elected officials, their voters and the interest groups that drive them?

Professor Hans Noel of Georgetown University, has been studying parties’ dynamics in their candidates’ nominees. In his 2008 book, The Party Decides, he argued that party leaders, rather than voters, determine the party’s presidential nominee. The theoretical model presented in his last book would have never foreseen Trump as the Republican candidate. This surprising example turned out to be a great case to study to further expand our knowledge about parties.

Professor Noel observed that, since 1972, the party delegates who nominate the presidential candidate are chosen through primaries and caucuses, guaranteeing the people’s participation. However, constant trends show that the nominee usually represents the will of the party establishment. Even though they do not have the power to directly do so, the party’s leaders are deeply influential through their support, their resources, and their networks. The nominations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush illustrate this pattern.

However, in 2015 the Republican party was highly fragmented, showing a clear lack of leadership. While trying to identify a candidate who could unite the party, Donald Trump imposed his presence, leaving no possibility to bridge the distance between factions.

On the contrary, the Democratic nominee closely followed the model, despite the contrasts between self-identified party members and independents.

Finally, Lucio Martino, of the Military Center for Strategic Studies in Rome, emphasized the complexity of parties and their manifold nature. Moreover, he posed some questions about a narrative of parties based on the tension between establishment and anti-establishment. The floor was then opened to a lively discussion with the audience.