- - Sunday, May 8, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Several years ago I joined a poker game with a group of people I’d never met before. The stakes went up and at one point a pot reached over $1,000. I had what was likely the winning hand, but the dealer, who was a friend of my remaining opponent, “accidentally” flipped his last card up, not down. Normally the rule is that the misdealt card is “burned” and a replacement card is dealt face down. No harm, no foul.

In this instance, I was informed “house rules” say the player gets to choose whether he wants the card or a replacement. This effectively gave him two last cards, and sure enough he pulled his full house after rejecting the first card.

Cheated, I hightailed it out of there and never went back. The “never-Trump” movement would have said: too bad you should have known the house rules before you sat down.

For four months I kept my mouth shut during the Republican presidential delegate chase, but now that it is over, I want to shout from the rafters: the nomination process is the most corrupt, elitist, anti-democratic system for choosing a president imaginable.

Donald Trump was not my first or second or even third choice. This isn’t about Mr. Trump, though. It’s about restoring basic fairness and voter empowerment going forward. Cheating voters is no way to build a majority governing party.

The party chieftains wanted to tell millions of voters, who sometimes waited two hours in line across the country to cast their ballot, that their vote doesn’t really count. When voters complained the insiders replied: sorry, you should have known the rules.

There were probably six people in the whole United States who could make heads or tails out of these convoluted convention rules.

As we learned this year, it doesn’t matter what the rules are because the insiders are empowered to rewrite the rules when they don’t like the way voters are voting.

Another story: A few weeks ago a longtime conservative friend, who is also a Virginia delegate, told me proudly that she and all her delegate friends intended not to vote for Mr. Trump at the convention.

Wait a minute, I reminded her somewhat stunned, a plurality of voters in Virginia chose Mr. Trump. She launched into a tirade that she has been an activist in the party for 20 years and how dare all these new Trump voters just storm into the party and vote for someone other than her first choice. She all but blurted out: my vote should count more than theirs.

Apparently, in the GOP rule book, all voters are created equal, but some voters are more equal than others.

Many people are intensely unhappy with the outcome — and they feel entitled to a “better” candidate. But imagine that it was Ronald Reagan who had won Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, California (where he was up by 25 points), and at least 20 other states. But the party hacks said: sorry, we nominate George Bush. See you in November.

Conservatives would have gone ballistic and justifiably so. Since when do we as conservatives believe the ends justify the means?

It seems like just yesterday Republicans were making fun of Democrats for rigging the system for Hillary Clinton, and the voters be damned.

Now the other argument in favor of the corrupt nomination process is that the Republican Party is a private organization and it can make whatever rules it wants.

Fine. But if that’s the case, the party should at least have the decency to tell the voters: we have a couple thousand insiders who are going to decide who our nominee is. Don’t make 20 million people trudge to the polls under the false belief that their vote matters if it doesn’t.

Amazingly, this is the same party that says it must drive up voter turn out to win, but when voters do turn out in record numbers, they thumb their noses at them as stupid, low-information, “not real Republicans,” and so on.

How do we fix the Republican nominating system to empower actual voters? I’m no expert (who is?) and I do believe in federalism where the 50 states decide their own rules. But at the very least get rid of the rules that allow “unbound delegates.” Mr. Trump won almost 60 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania yet as many as two-thirds of the delegates said that at the convention, they would choose someone other than Mr. Trump. Delegates should be bound based on a well-defined rule of either winner take all, or some kind of proportional system. By the way, the delegates should be toothpicks or straws to be counted, not people.

Whoever has the most straws wins. What a concept.

As I was writing these words, I received a text that some influential never-Trumpers are still conspiring to find a way to take the nomination from Mr. Trump even after he gets way past the 1,247 delegate finish line. They are advising delegates to break the rules and not vote for Mr. Trump even though they are honor-bound to do so.

Will the madness ever end? If only these smartest minds of the party, by their own admission, would help figure out how to beat Hillary.

Correction: In a previous column I wrote that the Natural Resources Defense Council supported a lawsuit against Peabody Coal for environmental cleanup costs. The NRDC has not initiated a lawsuit but supports payment of an estimated $700 million in fines the coal company owns.

• Stephen Moore is an economic consultant at FreedomWorks.

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