Jared Kushner Is Acting Like Party Platforms Don't Even Matter Anymore. He's Right | Opinion

Presidential advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly looking to slice down the Republican Party Platform, taking what was a 54 page, 35,000+ word document in 2016 to the size of a postcard. The move, while it tosses out a long American tradition, is the right one.

While the platform is a document supposedly representing the party's stand on a number of issues, in reality, it is a frequently bloated, rarely-read document that is endlessly debated and fought over by activists and professionals, but in the end ignored by the public—except when the opposition highlights a politically unpalatable part. Both Republicans and Democrats should recognize that the platform is simply a potential political millstone that has been hung around candidates' necks.

Political platforms go back to the early days of the convention era. While the first conventions took place before the 1832 election, the Democrats first decided to write a platform in Martin Van Buren's ill-fated reelection campaign in 1840. After that, both parties started issuing these declarations. However, these original platforms were short documents. With the exception of the Democrats in the inauspicious year of 1856, none topped 2000 words until 1884. Even though political persuasion was more text based before the invention of TV, and voters were always reputed to be able to sit through much longer debates and speeches, it wasn't until 1952 that one of these documents topped 8000 words. Nowadays, they are frequently multiple times that. In 2004, the Republicans published a 92 page, 41,000+ word platform.

These platforms are never a source of pride for the candidate or the party. While no platform has been as badly received as the infamous 1983 Labour Party's manifesto in the UK—famously derided as the "longest suicide note in history"—candidates dread platforms.

The Republicans witnessed the problems of a party platform in 1996. Presidential candidate Bob Dole felt such a need to distance himself from the platform's position on abortion that he said that he never read the document.

The Democrats have faced similar difficulties in two of their own disappointing election losses. In 2016, Sanders' supporters tried and failed to change the platform's position on Israel. This mimicked a 1988 Democratic platform fight led by Jesse Jackson's supporters. In 1988, the platform battle may have damaged Dukakis' previously strong Jewish support, as Bush improved by four points among Jewish voters, to 35 percent, over Reagan's 1984 numbers.

Dukakis and his team were aware of the negative repercussions they could face with a poorly thought out document. The result was that the 1988 Democratic platform was the shortest by a major party since 1952. Dukakis tried to head off the battle before it even started and actually won the votes to beat back the platform proposal, but the fact that they took place in the first place caused enough public relations damage to his candidacy.

For the Republicans, the platform is sure to be an embarrassment with one potential group or another. But Republicans, as the party of the incumbent, actually have less to worry about than the Democrats. The platform fights of 2016, 1996 and especially 1988 should serve as a warning for the Democrats what may lie ahead. Having a battle over controversial issues in a platform could prove fatal in a close election.

Platforms have been around a long time, but they rarely provide any benefit for the candidate. The two parties need to streamline their efforts and consider what will help them win in November. A platform fight that highlights divisions and potential unpopular policy choices is not going to help at all. 2020 would be a good year to dump an old anachronism.

Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. He blogs at recallelections.blogspot.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​