by Jon N. Hall 7/15/15
The following article appeared at GOPUSA on Oct 19, 2009. It’s no longer up there, as far as I can tell. Given the political season we’re in, the central idea, which I still believe in, is timely. The article is exactly what I sent to GOPUSA nearly six years ago; it’s 898 words. “Try it, you’ll like it.”
America’s primary election system allows anyone to run in any party’s primaries. For instance, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent. If a radical leftist runs in a Democratic primary, it’s just possible that the Democrats would end up with a radical leftist nominee. The same could happen to the GOP.
The primary system elongates campaigns, especially campaigns for the presidency. Indeed, most of a presidential campaign is the primaries. Is it good for America to have these seemingly endless campaigns? Don’t a lot of folks just tune out and ignore it all? Because of the expense, length and general arduousness of primaries, some of our best people take a pass on elective office.
One of the more sobering problems with the primary system is that voters can vote for candidates they have no intention of voting for in the general election. That is, they can switch parties and vote for the weaker candidates of the opposition party. This tactic was famously deployed in the last campaign: Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos”. “Party switching” is an especially tempting tactic when one’s own candidate is an incumbent or otherwise assured of primary victory. The primary system puts a party’s hopes in the hands of voters before the real election: the general election.
Under the current presidential primary system, conventions have devolved into pro forma exercises, the selections having already been made in the primary elections. Unless the primaries produced a near photo finish and trigger a “brokered convention”, a convention is a coronation, a made-for-TV party jamboree. Conventions are usually meaningless insofar as choosing a nominee is concerned.
The current presidential primary system should be junked. It is a party’s convention delegates that should choose a party’s presidential nominee, not primary voters.
What we’re proposing here is that conventions revert back to being more like what they were in the pre-McGovern era. In such a convention system, the job of delegate would become far more important. Rather than being mere agents of the primary voters’ will, delegates would be the ones making the decision.
The selection of delegates, then, would be very serious. Delegates would be thoroughly vetted true-blue party members. But, just as with electors in the Electoral College, no delegate would be a federal official (Article II, Section 1. 2.). Therefore, the Democrats’ undemocratic institution of the “super-delegate” should be changed.
Under our proposed reform, conventions would be far different than today. Since there’d be no pre-selected winner, conventions would again be serious deliberative work. Those wishing to run for president would present themselves at their party’s convention and try to convince the delegates that they’re the man for the job.
But also, there could be a draft: The delegates themselves could nominate someone who isn’t even attending the convention, perhaps a general, an ambassador, or an academic. The draft reminds me of Arthur Clarke’s 1986 novel The Songs of Distant Earth (p. 48) where “it was universally accepted that anyone who deliberately aimed at the job [of president] should automatically be disqualified”. (Yes, the quote is from a science fiction tale where heads of state were chosen by lottery, but I thought it resonant.)
Our current primary system serves no one but incumbents. But with our new system, an incumbent would be required to present himself at the convention along with challengers. Which means: Delegates could decide not to run an incumbent. Also, delegates could reconvene and take their nominee, including an incumbent, off the general election ballot at anytime. The ability to withdraw a nominee is especially important to the fate of a party if a cloud, such as an indictment, comes over their nominee. (Think Ted Stevens.)
If some think our proposal undemocratic, they might think again. We wouldn’t be changing how we elect our president; we’d only be changing how we select nominees. Anyone and everyone could still run for president, but not necessarily in any party. If opposition party members don’t like it that they can’t vote in the primary of another party, who cares. If unaligned voters (Independents) don’t like not having a say, let them form their own parties. And if party members miss voting for a candidate in their primaries, let them vie to become delegates.
There is one not-so-little snag in our proposal, and that is election law now on the books. Changing these laws would be difficult, and met with stiff opposition. So until these laws are thrown out, I propose that convention delegates ignore the result of the primaries, forget that they’re “pledged” to a certain primary candidate, and engineer open conventions where they can choose, or perhaps draft, the best person.
Just what is a party? And how much autonomy should a party have?
A party is an exclusive club of like-minded individuals. Sure, a party can be a “big tent”, but it can’t allow too much heterodoxy lest it loose its identity. It is the party that should choose its standard-bearer, not the public. And it’s nobody’s business but the party’s how a party chooses its delegates and its nominee.
Professional politicians aren’t going to like our little proposal one little bit. But it is in the interest of the country that every party runs its very best people, and this just isn’t happening. I contend this is because of the presidential primary system. Let’s junk it.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. • (2007 views)