Why Trump played little role in 'most conservative platform' in Republican Party history

The Republicans have passed what some are calling the most conservative platform in the party's history, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, their presidential candidate had little role in crafting it.

Document lays out party's principles and policy positions, but presidential candidate is not bound by it

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had little involvement in the creation of the party's platform, a document being hailed by some in the GOP as the most conservative in the party's history. (J.Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

The Republicans have passed what some are calling the most conservative platform in the party's history, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, their presidential candidate had little role in crafting it.

Donald Trump deviated from the actions of past candidates who have actively participated in the drafting of the party platform, possibly in attempt to curry favour with those within the party still unsure about his candidacy.

Trump let the delegates control the platform and the process.- Joe Gruters, member of the Republican Party platform committee

"I would say that Trump let the delegates control the platform and the process," said Joe Gruters, a Florida delegate and member of the platform committee.

The platform, which was approved Monday at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, outlines the party's guiding principles and policy positions. It is an evolving document that is amended every four years at the party convention.

Although the candidate is not bound by it, it is taken seriously by some delegates, and the wording is often the result of weeks of work parsing phrases. 

The presumed presidential nominee usually takes control of that process and tries to shape the platform to reflect the message he or she wants to offer in the general election. But in this case, Trump's campaign appears to have been mostly hands-off.

There had been hope among some gay Republicans, for example, that the platform might moderate some of the language concerning gay rights. But the nearly 60-page approved platform includes language reaffirming the party's opposition to gay marriage and calling for a reversal of the Supreme Court decision that legalized it in all 50 states. 

The platform also opposes allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to the gender they identify with rather than their biological sex. The party also adopted new language condemning same-sex parenting.

On abortion, there are no exceptions included for rape or incest, but the platform language does include a line that says,"We affirm our moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women who face an unplanned pregnancy."

There is no specific language about the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal favoured by conservatives yet opposed by Trump. However, the platform does include language that the U.S. needs better-negotiated trade deals that put "America first."

Some of the Republican delegates who were asked about the platform following its passage Monday said they knew the general principles but had not read the document. (Warren DillawayThe Star-Beacon/Associated Press)

Trump's team certainly had some involvement in the crafting of the party platform and insisted on inserting language on issues he cares about, including the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants. Language about trade was also massaged, Gruters said.

'Let the delegates control it on their own'

But mostly, said Gruters, "they really let the delegates control it on their own. It was not heavy-handed at all throughout the process."

Trump's laissez faire attitude toward the platform could, in part, be a political move, an attempt at party unity, particularly among the conservative wing concerned that some of the polices espoused by Trump are not conservative enough. He has been a fierce critic of trade deals and seemed to have taken more moderate views on abortion and gay rights.

"Part of the process of him bringing the party together is probably trying not to have a heavy hand in it," Gruters said. "And what happened as a result? It's the most conservative platform in the history of our party.

"And I think that's a result of the lack of interference from the campaign. It's probably the first time it's ever happened."

'I don't think it's going to define Trump'

Yet Trump's lack of interference might stem from something else: a genuine disinterest.

Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Elections Research Center, said Trump is the kind of candidate who uses television and social media very effectively. But the platform doesn't fall into either of those categories, he said. It will not be read on television, and few will be tweeting about it.

"I think he would say, 'No one reads it. Who cares?' and the truth is, no one reads it," Burden said.

Historically, it's becoming less and less a significant document.- Curt Hartman, delegate from Ohio

Some of the delegates who were asked about the platform after it passed Monday said they knew the general principles within it but had not read the document.

"Historically, it's becoming less and less a significant document," said Curt Hartman, a delegate from Ohio.

Paul Frost, a delegate from Massachusetts, said he could "give a rat's fanny about it" and that at the end of the day, he never loses any sleep over the platform because it's not a mandate and doesn't require any elected official or candidate to abide by it.

"I don't think it's going to define Trump. I don't think he's going to allow it to define him," Frost said.​​


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Associated Press


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