President Trump’s plan to distill the Republican platform to its essential principles may be opposed by some conservatives. By no means all of them, though. Count me as one former Republican county chairman and a member of a past platform committee who sees this plan as long overdue — potentially a new kind of contract with America.
The work on the platform for 2020 is reportedly being led by Jared Kushner. The idea is to shrink the party platform down to an index card, meaning to its pith — and, I’m predicting, in language that is so plain that no lipreading will be necessary. The points will be there in black and white so that everyone can quickly understand them and compare them to the Democrats’ nostrums.
What a difference that would be from the doorstops of recent history. The GOP platform has long been considered an unimportant document, a policy wish list rather than a political statement. This may be why so many people were shocked when President Trump started redeeming one campaign promise after another — from taxes to Jerusalem.
The roadmap for a condensed party platform is the one-page political document from the 1994 campaign, “A Contract With America.” Just six weeks before the congressional midterm elections, Newt Gingrich, then a congressman from Georgia, laid out an eight-point plan of what he would do as Speaker. It would go on to change history.
By presenting a short agenda and a pledge, the document made it easy for voters to understand what Republicans would do. The Contract is often credited with being the driving force behind the Republicans’ surprise take-over of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Sometimes less is more.
In previous presidential election cycles, the party’s platform committee began its work many months before the convention. The process began in the states, not Washington. It was a grassroots effort to incorporate state and local ideas into the national platform. As the size of the federal government has grown, though, so have the size and scope of the party’s platforms.
Often, the platform is finalized by Washington insiders and then rubber-stamped by the platform committee. That typically happens a few days before the convention. So the platform has become an insiders-game, ending up as a top-down document that reflects compromises between special interests and party activists. I was on the GOP platform committee in 2012.
The more I became involved in Republican campaigns, the more clear it became that the platform statement — in 2016 it ran a dense 58 pages — was not a usable political tool. Few read the document beginning to end. Anyone who tries it can understand why. Plus, it doesn’t seem to matter, because the high level nominees are often better wordsmiths than the platform scribes.
The question for 2020, therefore, becomes: Why do it the same way? Wouldn’t it be better, more usable, to make the platform shorter? And more of a political document that voters can quickly read? It reminds me of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It followed a two-hour speech that no-one remembers. The Gettysburg Address, which could also be printed on an index card, is still recited in our schools, even by Democrats.
And no wonder. Elections are about communicating ideas. So the platform should be a product that can be boiled down into soundbites and tweets. That doesn’t mean it has to be crafted without input from the grass roots. Each state can still send in draft material. Certainly delegates can be involved — and consensus sought on economic growth, liberty, and opportunity.
The Trump campaign and the RNC could use the input to forge a strong, short platform that has clear broad appeal. And take pride in the campaign promises Candidate Trump made have been carried out by his administration. He uses the slogan: “promises made, promises kept.”
Certainly the 2020 platform will, and should, reflect his vision and priorities. It doesn’t have to include every detail — for policy wonks, there can be stacks of white papers and briefing books elaborating on each point. The platform can give the party and its campaign workers a uniform guide for the hustings.
Four years ago, Candidate Trump asked voters to try something new. He faced a field of 16 opponents and disrupted the status quo. A short, clear platform can be just as successful if it clarifies the issues, makes them memorable and useful, and gets them into the pockets of everyone covering — and voting in — the contest ahead.
Mrs. Malpass formerly chaired the Manhattan Republican Party in New York. She was a member of the 2012 Republican Platform Committee and is a delegate of the District of Columbia to the party’s 2020 national convention.