Phyllis Schlafly’s conservative manifesto, A Choice, Not an Echo, has a quote on the cover that is as fresh today as when it was first published in May 1964. Under a picture of the author (in perfectly styled hair and two strings of pearls) a caption promises to tell “the inside story of how American Presidents are chosen.” Comparing GOP leaders to Paris couturiers who “brainwash” unthinking female consumers, she revealed in the introduction that the presidential nominating process had been stolen from the people. Between 1936 and 1960, she wrote, “a few secret kingmakers based in New York selected Republican presidential nominees…and successfully forced their choice on a free country where there are more than 34 million voters.”
As Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral strength potentially leads the Republican Party into its first contested convention since 1976, this self-published book, which Schlafly and her husband distributed from their garage during the 1964 campaign season, asks questions that seem new again. How will the GOP candidate be chosen in 2016, and by whom? What relationship will primary voting, very different from the process in 1964, bear to an actual candidacy? Trump rival Ted Cruz is already harvesting unearned delegates through his skillful use of existing party rules. Meanwhile, the national GOP leadership has two more opportunities prior to formally convening the nominating convention to shift Trump delegates to another candidate. Will the voters who rallied behind Trump be asked to “echo” the choice of the Republican kingmakers?