Friday, July 04, 2014

Ranting On...National Primary Day

In honor of it being both Independence Day in the US and Friday (where I usually do a “Ranting On…” post), I figured it would be most appropriate to do something related to politics, and there are a treasure trove of different topics I could discuss.  I certainly have opinions in both directions on, say, John Boehner suing the President or Bob Beauprez’s idiotic comments in the Colorado governor’s race, but I figured that this being a special day, I’m not going to address something so topical (though I might get into either of those stories this weekend-no promises, but if you’d like me to discuss say so in the comments).

Instead, I wanted to discuss something that truly bugs me about the upcoming presidential campaigns, and in fact all presidential campaigns: the primary schedule.  Recently I read an article discussing how most of the Republican candidates for president are not out campaigning for Scott Brown in New Hampshire, and while the logic behind this was arguable (Brown is more moderate than most of the candidates running), the real reason that Brown would warrant attention is, well stupid.

I don’t mean stupid in the sense that campaigning for him might not be a good idea-it certainly would be for a potential Republican candidate for president.  After all, Brown, were he to win, would become the most important Republican in the first primary state in the country.  However, I think anyone with half a brain will tell you it is utterly ridiculous that New Hampshire is able to have this kind of power.  This also goes for Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada.  It’s time to rethink the current primary schedule.

New Hampshire has been a cornerstone of presidential primaries for nearly a century, but its current importance started in 1952, when a pair of wins there caused major repercussions in that particular presidential race: General Dwight Eisenhower defeated presumed frontrunner Sen. Robert Taft with the Republicans, giving Ike a major boost that would carry him to the White House, and incumbent President Harry Truman lost his primary to Sen. Estes Kefauver, causing Truman to abandon his presidential campaign for a second full-term in the White House.  While New Hampshire has not always been a harbinger of who would later take the nomination (just ask Pat Buchanan and Hillary Clinton), it has become a major stomping ground both for the media and presidential candidates everywhere, in a way that Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada all have as well.

This doesn’t seem right though.  These four states get undue and lavish attention spread on them every four years by some of the most important men and women in the country, and that doesn’t seem fair to the other 46 states.  Why should these arbitrary states get so much power while the rest of us (the vast majority of the country) don’t get such influence?  What we need in the country is one day, probably in June of the presidential year, where everyone in the nation gets out and votes for the nominee of their party.

There are arguments against this, and they are not without logic.  For starters, this would likely require a constitutional amendment, as states have the rights to conduct their elections as they see fit under current federal law.  Considering Washington has trouble naming post offices these days, a constitutional amendment seems like an extremely tall order.  However, that’s an argument against how it would be difficult to do, not against the actual idea.

A true argument against the idea would be that this system would greatly favor wealthier candidates and candidates that get a strong jump start on name recognition.  There’s no denying there’s truth here-the candidates with more name recognition, money, and a more important office would be favored in this system (which would be just another reason to propose changes to Citizens United…just saying).  However, the current system greatly favors wealthier and better-known candidates.  John McCain, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and John Kerry were very well-known quantities in their respective elections, and are hardly what you’d consider “come out of nowhere” victors.  Plus, with the multiple debates held prior to these primaries (which give more attention to lesser known candidates, which likely helped someone like Rick Santorum in 2012 gain more traction than expected), as well as with strong social media and news savvy amongst voters, it wouldn’t be a huge hindrance to get your name recognition out there.

The bigger issue that could arise out of this, quite frankly, is that conventions would go from being merely ceremonial to being really and truly important (also, just to rip the band-aid off: I’m 100% against the idea of superdelegates and would be glad to be rid of such a system in this proposal as they are also wildly undemocratic).  Looking at, say the 2016 Republican race, you might see establishment support for Jeb Bush/Paul Ryan, grassroots support for Rand Paul, a Tea Party push for Ted Cruz, and regional support for people like Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie.  This would result in a convention where the victor was undecided, but it might also allow for that holiest of grails in American politics: compromise.  Allies of each candidate would work together and hobble a team of candidates that represented a larger swath of the party, and in turn the country.  It would have, for example, likely meant a Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket in 2008 (which most Democrats were hoping for) and would likely mean that more Americans got to know the Vice President (since you’d almost certainly have to run for president to be the VP), which would allow less room for a Sarah Palin-style nominee.

All-in-all, this is an initiative that I truly think both sides can get behind-it’s that rare issue that the Tea Party AND the progressive movement can get behind because it makes elections fairer, more grounded in what the people want, and quite frankly makes the candidates more open about their positions (you can’t say one thing in one part of the country and then another thing in the opposite end).  And finally, it acts as an inverse to the Electoral College (an entirely different Independence Day conversation), giving more sway to states that are solidly blue or red in picking their president, since delegates are chosen based on a state’s party loyalty and population.  So on this Independence Day, I urge Congress to consider a freer, better presidential selection system.  And Happy Birthday America!

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