March 24, 2007

"The de facto national primary."

Kos likes it.
There's some level of nostalgia over the notion of a long, drawn out primary process in which Iowa and New Hampshire kick things off. This is supposed to help the Jimmy Carter-type underdogs "build momentum" and give voters a chance to "deliberate" over their decisions.

In reality, of course, we had a system in which two non-representative states (IA and NH) decided our nominee last time, and they were gunning for the same "right" this time around.

The rest of the states aren't morons. They saw what was happening, and so many have moved up to the front of the pack that now we have essentially a national primary on Feb. 5.
I'm inclined to agree -- on principle . (If only we could push the date back later.) But I'm wary about this. I'm thinking there are lurking problems -- some strange, new dynamic will kick in -- and we're not going to like what happens. Or maybe I'm just afraid for the outcome to pop up suddenly, instead of sneaking up on us over the weeks.

38 comments:

Gahrie said...

Well we've already seen one problem..campaigns starting earlier and earlier. Soon presidential campaigns will begin immediately after the midterm elections....

Ann Althouse said...

Wasn't that pretty much already happening?

Tom T. said...

Ironically, because it's impossible to campaign in a focused manner in a national primary, and most campaigns won't have the resources at that point to campaign nationwide at once, what the national primary accomplishes is to magnify the importance of campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, solidify the biggest-money candidate as the de facto nominee, and open a large window for buyer's remorse in subsequent months.

grimson said...

It really does not matter who goes first, other than who weeds out the second tier candidates. If the big states did not like Iowa's selection of John Kerry as the front runner, then all they had to do was vote for someone else. Come the convention, the big states would prevail because they have the votes.

As for unintended consequences, if California going earlier in the primary calendar results in consistently more popular Republican candidates that then routinely carry California in the general election, Democrats can forget about regaining the White House for a very long time.

JSF said...

I remember when the Presidential Primary didn't get finished until May/June. Now (because of the front-loading), we will have the two nominees by the Ides of march. It will force out the "Dark Horse" candidates who don't have money (i.e. Kerry did have more money then Dean in 2004). The Democrats wanted to front load everything, now we will have a long term campaign from march to November.

MikeinSC said...

This is done in the hopes that fellow Dems won't unload dirty laundry upon others. If you give them no time to do so, it can't be done.

It could also lead to utterly unelectable buffoons like Dean winning a nomination, which is always amusing.
-=Mike

Simon said...

The problem with this is obvious: compressing the primary season will increase the importance of money to winning the nomination. Which isn't a problem if you don't think the influence of money in politics is that big of a deal, but I've noticed that most of the people who complained about the spaced-out primary also fret about big money. Now they have to choose: the more compressed the primary season, the more money candidates have to raise in a hurry, which means more big donors and candidates all the more "beholden" to special interests.

Roger Sweeny said...

A national primary might be a good idea--on the second Tuesday in September. But February? Most real people are just beginning to care at that point.

Having both major party nominations decided by political junkies is an awful idea.

Zeb Quinn said...

I say there's something to be said for the vetting process of forcing candidates to run a gauntlet of primaries. One single primary isn't nearly sufficient for that.

The Exalted said...

i thought kos was a raving lefty extremist? linking to him can only embolden him

AJ Lynch said...

Too gimmicky for my taste. It smells of lawyers and political consultants.

ron st.amant said...

Tom T is exactly dead on in his description of what would likely happen in a 'national primary'.
Only large scale (read:monied) campaigns would be able to cover the expanse of the country. I would assume this would favor the insider, limit the effect of smaller grass roots efforts, raise even higher the importance (and size) of money involved.

To be fair I have not read DailyKos' piece so I don't know what his argument would be, but I wonder Ann if you would elaborate on the theoretical parts that you find compelling?

Simon said...

Ron - the problem with a long primary season is that it forces a candidate to have broad, sustained appeal in order to win. That pushes out candidates like Dean, which is the main reason why Kos doesn't like it, and the rest of the reason is because it's the traditional method by which nominees are chosen, and anything traditional is inherently inferior in the eyes of a certain kind of person, Kos being one of them. The primary season, the electoral college, federalism, the separation of powers... These are antiquated anachronisms that stand in the way of his ambitions, and so must be smeared and disposed of.

russmunki said...

Instead of front load the primaries, why not back load them? Have the four most populous states, California, Texas, New York and Florida, go last. That way, no candidate can really declare victory unless they've carried just about every prior primary. Earlier primaries can still weed out the undesirable candidates, but the best two or three should still be standing by the time they get to the final "Big Four".

Gahrie said...

Well if you do go and read Kos's post (oh do I feel dirty for suggesting that) you find that he doesn't even pretend that the idea is good for the nation.

His support for the frontloaded primaries is that he thinks this is good for candidates like Dean and the nutroots wing of the Democratic party, and gives them a better chance of defeating mainstream Democrats and the republican nominee.

ron st.amant said...

Simon, thank you for the summation...I try to avoid Kos...he still seems to be running the 2004 Dean campaign...someone should tap him on the shoulder and let him know it's over.

God forbid the president of the entire country have a broad and sustained support...

He is symbolic of what frustrates me about the far left.

ron st.amant said...

gahrie writes:
he thinks this is good for candidates like Dean and the nutroots wing of the Democratic party, and gives them a better chance of defeating mainstream Democrats and the republican nominee.


Yes, as someone of the DLC wing, I dodge more than enough slings and arrows from the Kos-ians...I'm just not Democrat enough for them it would seem...somehow I'll try and get over it! :)

Ruth Anne Adams said...

There's another alternative: a primary season that does not decide the nominee and a convention that doesn't coronate, but actually selects the nominee. If California and other states go from a winner-takes-all primary to one where winning a district wins a delegate, then there could be a mere plurality going into the convention.

We haven't had a nominee selected on the floor of the convention [or maybe the smoke-filled backrooms] for about 50 years [Ike?] and so I think it would make for wonderful politics-as-theater.

Eli Blake said...

Ruth has a thought:

Consider this (not necessarily likely, but certainly possible) scenario:

Illinois neighor Obama takes Iowa.
Nevada is then up for grabs and fellow westerner Richardson mobilizes the Hispanic vote to pull an upset in Nevada. New York neighbor Clinton rebounds and wins in New Hampshire. South Carolina voters choose (as they did four years ago) North Carolina neighbor Edwards.

So then you have going into super Tuesday four candidates who have each won one state. With primaries in all different regions of the country, the only result that emerges from Super Tuesday is that all the candidates do well enough so that all of them are mathematically eliminated from garnering enough delegates to have a majority before the convention, even if they have the support of some 'super-delegates.' The candidates then spend the rest of the primary season campaigning in the 20 or so states that haven't voted by then to try and pick up as many delegates as they can and strengthen their hand going into a brokered convention.

Same scenario, Republican side (though the GOP doesn't have Nevada ahead of the primary):

In Iowa, organized groups including conservative Christians (who have been courted by John McCain) give him a win over Rudy Guiliani. In New Hampshire, Guiliani comes back and wins but Massachusetts neighbor Mitt Romney runs a surpringly strong second. In South Carolina the voters stun all the front runners and vote for arch-conservative and George neighbor Newt Gingrich.

As I said, I consider these scenarios unlikely, but certainly they are within the realm of possibilities. A real nightmare for one party could be this scenario on their side of the ledger while the other party does come out of Super Tuesday with a clear nominee who can start raising funds and building towards November while the challengers won't have a nominee until late August and will have to expend any funds they get before that to beat up on each other.

Of course, getting a sure nominee by early February could be a two-edged sword. Picture an un-vetted nominee, chosen by Feb. 5, who then gets hit with a devastating scandal in late February that makes him unelectable.

Simon said...

Ruth Anne - you'd think so, but The West Wing still managed to make it seem dull.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Simon: I stopped watching that show when Ainsley left to do CSI: Miami. She was the pretty little blonde, loosely modeled on Peggy Noonan.

peter hoh said...

How about the first primary goes to the state with the narrowest margin of victory from the previous election?

Actually, the smoke filled rooms of yore had a lot going for them. I forget who I heard describe how Nixon appeared in one, started giving a stump speech, and the fat cats stopped him and told him to tell them what he really thought.

Simon said...

Ruth Anne - she was a firecracker, and I think she was (implausibly enough) the White House Counsel.

That show essentially ceased to be viably entertaining after the 2004 election when the producers decided to make it explicitly a democrat's wet dream. The final season was sharks performing formation jumping over sharks.

Gahrie said...

I always hoped that the producers of The West Wing would have a Republican (just not Alan Alda please...Fred Thompson would have been perfect) win the election, and then cntinue the show with a Republican administration.

Gahrie said...

The Ainsley charachter wasn't the White House Counsel...that was John Laroquette and Oliver Platt. She was one of the lawyers who worked for the White House Counsel.

Fen said...

I always hoped that the producers of The West Wing would have a Republican

They promised too, but then let go of all the conservative advisors [like Noonan] that were with the show.

West Wing was my fav show, despite all the ridiculous strawmen attacks on conservative issues. Loved the writing. But Sorkin's bias was disappointing - like if Michelangelo limited himself to only half the colour spectrum.

Fen said...

Back OT: I think Dems will produce better nominees if they don't have to appeal to the NorthEast. Dukakis? Kerry?

Walter said...

The were going to have the Republican canidate win the election at the end of the series, but when actor playing the Democrate Vice President canidate (John Spencer was the actor, the character was Leo) died during the last season, the show didn't have the heart to let the Democratic canidate lose both the VP and the election.

Cousin Don said...

"non-representative states"- What does that mean?

Iowa and New Hampshire have 2 US Senators, don't they? New Hampshire has two Congressional Representatives and Iowa has five, according to Wikipedia. So what is "non-representative?"

I think Kos means to say "not diverse." Divesity is a concept the nutroots use to tell Americans they're not Americans, but really part of some disadvantaged group based on what color your skin is, or who you're sleeping with, and if you want more representation vote for us so we can decide who to give your money to based on what group we deem as "most disadvantaged."

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Here's an idea:

Hold the primary election in August and skip the conventions altogether; they seem to me to be nothing buy anexpensive waste of time.

Forget the delegates. Let the rank and file vote directly for the candidate and platform. Since the campaign season seems to start in the November two years prior to the general election that should given even the darkest horse time to make a good national showing.

One caveat- No radio or TV ads allowed. Two years of traveling and pressing the flesh, talking and listening to the people, not preaching at them.

Bill said...

Picking the whole schedule up and shifting it back to April–June is one obvious way to improve the process.

If we're going to have a national primary, maybe it should be a multiround thing, the way popes are elected? (Or, you know, Survivor.) We need some way of weeding out the Kucinichs and Robertsons.

peter hoh said...

Maybe we could run primaries the way they run American Idol? Almost anything would be better than the way we do it now.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

In our two-party system, the primary serves an important purpose. It secures the base. I feel free to vote ideology in the primary. And then, I'm dutiful in my selection in November. It also tests the mettle of the candidate. John Kerry sewed it up very early and then he became a flat-footed candidate in the long general election. Conversely, John McCain's very good challenge made W a much better all-around candidate. Primaries are good proving grounds. And, unlike the general election where a few swing states get all the campaigning, places like where I live [NC] actually matter.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I probably should've said "contested primaries are good proving grounds."

Simon said...

Ruth Anne - remind me to send you a "Giuliani/Gingrich '08" bumper sticker before primary season gets under way. ;)

I'm not sure that it's true that the primaries necessarily leave one free to "vote my ideology" - I certainly don't feel free to "vote my ideology" in the '08 primary because I actually want to win in the fall,and the simple fact is that of the announced candidates (and quasi-announced), the one I feel closest to is Newt, and I don't see how he can win in the november election. Show me Ohio! ;) If I was persuaded it was hopeless, that we couldn't win in '08, I might be inclined to have a Goldwater election - pick the "purest" candidate. But I think we can win, and that ties my hands in the primary.

Ernst Blofeld said...

The compressed primary season is bad for several reasons, including

1) That it's compressed. A long campaign demonstrates that the candidate can sustain months in the public eye without doing something exceptionally stupid. It also demonstrates that the candidate can put together an organization and manage it (or have it managed for him).

2. It creates a big gap between the primary, the convention, and the election. If the primary season is effectively over in Feb, what is the candidate doing until August? Committing gaffes, that's what. What if the party or the public starts having second thoughts about the candidate? They're stuck with him. What if new facts (something analogous to 9/11) surface? The early lock-up of the nomination violates the proximity to election time rule of thumb.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Simon: You're the pragmatist and I'm the optimist. I'll vote ideology and know that I'm outnumbered by you pragmatists. But wasn't "electability" the buzz that got John Kerry quickly through the primaries?

Simon said...

Ruth Anne -
I have a very clear memory of sitting in a hairdresser on June 16th last year, and reading this line, from our Hostess' ouvre:

"Legal minds tend to respond to a statement of clear and compelling principle ... [and] [u]pon identifying a principle, they crave consistency."

I stopped dead when I first read that line, because it nails me. So your comment was kind of amusing for me to read. LOL. I believe that "One should start from principle and march thence to conclusion, not the other way around," and I've called the alternative "intellectually radioactive." I mean, I'm an ideologue, not a pragmatist - and I think that's what attracts me to formalism, and to law. And now I'mm a pragmatist? I don't know about that. I don't think it's pragmastism to bow to inevitable reality. ;)

The problem with Kerry, I guess, wasn't that he was chosen because he was electable, it was that he was a godawful candidatewho'd have made a godawful President. I think Giuliani'd do okay, even though I disagree with him on a couple of key issues. But the other thing to keep in mind is that when I say I want to hear Rudy talking about appointing a certain kind of judge, I don't just want to hear that as a political way around his being pro-choice, I want to hear what I'm hearing from Rudy from every candidate. I want to hear the same thing from Newt Gingrich, from Mitt Romney and so forth.