Critics of the nomination system should offer their own alternatives
Consensus on the problem, zero on the solution
Monday, March 19, 2012
The complaining about the length of the Republican nominating contest continues in earnest.
One obvious question is this: should the nominating contest involve voters from every state, or should the country anoint voters of a privileged few to make the decision for the rest of us? To argue for a “short” process means to, in effect, advocate for either (1) a national primary day, where everyone votes at once; or (2) allowing voters of a few, early states to pick the nominees of both parties.
The consensus on the Republican National Committee following the 2008 election is that no one wanted national primary day. In 2008 we had come as close as we ever had in history to such a phenomenon when voters in 24 states cast their ballots on February 5. No one thought this was a good idea. As a result, the rules were changed to lengthen the process and give people more time, and allow voters in more states to participate.
In 2012, the process has gone on for a month longer than the new rules allow. The reason is not the process taking longer, but rather the race started earlier because Florida broke the rules and scheduled their primary for January instead of March. Michigan and Arizona also broke ranks, and the early states of New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada skipped ahead to maintain their early position.
We have a process going on for a month longer than designed not because the rules were followed, but because the rules were broken.
Those who don’t like the new process should follow their complaints with constructive suggestions about what they feel should replace the current system. Everyone can agree the process can be improved. That's not the issue. The real conversation gets going when we talk about alternative solutions.
The obvious one would be a single, national primary day – the same concept which was rejected following 2008 because it would lead to campaigns being waged almost exclusively on national television, and candidates would spend the bulk of their time in donor cities raising money, instead of campaigning with people.
A national primary day also requires the cooperation of 50 state legislatures and governors. Ask the governors of New Hampshire or Iowa if they plan to sign such a bill any time soon. I’ll bet not a single state legislator in either state would even introduce the idea.
Personally, I find merit in the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Rotating Regional Primary system. Under the NASS plan, four regional primaries would take place one month apart, beginning in March and ending in June. Each region would rotate every four years so every state gets to be among the first (every fourth presidential election).
Once again, however, there’s the issue of whether states like New Hampshire and Iowa would go along with it. (They wouldn’t).
When you see how many different institutions (legislatures, governors, national parties) need to put their own interests aside and agree, it becomes clear as to why bold reforms of the system have been a non-starter.