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Repairing the Presidential Nominating System

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
This is the last one of these, I promise!

As usual, there is no way to make everybody happy. Obviously New Hampshire and Iowa are going to be displeased at any changes, but oh well. Also, to solve what I see are more pressing problems, it is probably necessary to minimize the role that promoting "outsider candidates" has in fashioning a workable primary system. After all, only two such candidates have ever secured the nomination (McGovern and Carter), and that was thirty years ago. While I do think we should limit the ability of media-dubbed "front runners" to dominate the process, I think that the price of maximizing the potential for an underdog candidates comes at too high a price. To do so we would have to maintain the sequential nature of the contest, which is what has created so many other difficulties.

So here's my plan. Despite grave misgivings, I am going to reverse a previously held opinion: I think something like a national primary is probably the fairest system. It would eliminate the bias towards any one region of the country or demographic group, and would also make for a much shorter and more sensible campaign. The national primary could take place in May or June, with the Conventions in July and August. Ta-dah! A short campaign. No more campaigning in April of the previous year (thank god).

To make a national primary workable, we would also need to make some other changes, otherwise big-money and big-media candidates would own the process, and people like David Broder would have too much influence. First, I would consider abandoning primaries in favor of the caucuses, since the latter rely more on activism (I also like the idea of parties picking their own candidates. Call me crazy). More importantly, I think the Convention would need to revive the old 2/3 rule requiring that a candidate needed an effective consensus rather than a simple majority. This would make sure that no candidate could cruise to the nomination without any trouble. To reduce the influence of money over the process, a strict system of public financing should be established in which candidates who "opt out" (like everybody is doing now) will be ineligible to have their names placed in nomination at the Convention. Finally, there should be a (very) few candidate debates in prime time on every network - just like the general election debates. This would give less well-known candidates a chance for exposure.

This is not a perfect system, by any means. The role of the media might even be enhanced, and it could benefit incumbents if the out-party had a messy convention. But on balance I think a national caucus with the tweaks I mentioned would do a great deal to make the system fairer, shorter, and more interesting. It would primarily benefit those candidates capable of generating enthusiasm and support across a broad stretch of the nation, and well as those generally liked by the entire party. If we combined a Caucus system (rather than primaries) with a more effective public financing regime, it would make place a premium on a candidate's ability to build an organization capable of competing across the country - which would pay considerable dividends in a general election.

The End.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:33 AM
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