While the Democratic Party platform tussles between Bernie Sanders and supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have gotten more attention, the less structured work around drafting the Republican Party platform is, in its way, equally important.
Platforms aren’t binding, but they are important documents that allow the press and the public to get a sense of where party activists’ heads are on a range of policy matters.
That’s particularly significant in the case of the GOP, because its presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, is not exactly known for a wide-ranging grasp of policy detail, so the views of party activists are unlikely to be meaningfully checked by the top of the ticket.
The draft platform is Trumpy on trade
One key area that Trump has gone out of his way to emphasize is trade policy, and here the draft platform largely follows him. It abandons recent Republican Party platforms that favor free trade and instead calls for "better negotiated trade agreements that put America first." It promises that a "Republican president will insist on parity in trade and will stand willing to implement countervailing duties if other countries don't cooperate."
The platform does not, however, include Trump’s commitment to abrogate the North American Free Trade Agreement or specifically endorse his call for steep new tariffs on Chinese imports.
But it sticks with other big GOP orthodoxies
At the same time, the draft platform retains the now-traditional Republican language on abortion, further indicating that Trump would have trouble selecting a pro-choice person like Gen. Michael Flynn to be his vice president.
The platform also reflects the orthodox conservative view that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman.
The committee working on the platform hasn’t yet gotten around to the other big question that Trump is viewed by some conservatives as shaky on — the long-term future of Social Security and Medicare, which most Republican candidates are committed to cutting eventually (while protecting benefits for current retirees), while Trump has basically just emphasized protecting benefits.
An activist right grab bag
The platform also includes a lot of more or less wacky notions that highlight the continued influence of talk radio — rather than, say, the US Chamber of Commerce — over the practical day-to-day concerns of most Republican Party activists:
- The platform continues to oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling that discrimination in marriage rights on the basis of sexual orientation is unconstitutional, but no longer calls for a new constitutional amendment to that effect.
- The platform calls for teaching the Bible as part of "American history."
- It warns that "an EMP is no longer a theoretical concern" and urges both the federal and state governments to take action against the threat of electromagnetic pulse weapons. (Qualified scientists say this is dumb.)
- It rejects the move to assign the presidency to the winner of the popular vote rather than the winner of the Electoral College.
- It "congratulates" states that have declined to implement Common Core curriculum standards.
- It opposes the Obama administration’s alleged "distortion of Title IX to micromanage" how colleges and universities handle sexual assault investigations.
- The GOP regards the Iran nuclear deal as "non-binding" on the next president.
- It endorses Ron Paul’s call to "audit" the Federal Reserve, though the legislation that goes under this name isn’t really about auditing, which already happens.
- It calls for legislation limiting bathroom access to the gender a person was assigned at birth.
These are not really Trump’s big issues. But they’re not by any means incompatible with his agenda. And in many ways — especially the Fed audit and the opposition to Common Core — they reflect the basic Trumpish cocktail of political nostalgia and nationalism overwhelming the GOP’s ties to the business community as the main center of gravity inside the party.