Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Sabato on the Impending Insanity of the 2008 Presidential Campaign

Our friend Larry explains why extreme front-loading might eradicate all deliberation and produce both "buyer’s remorse" in both parties and a seemingly endless general election campaign. The possibilities are actually fairly scary, if you think about them.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Well, yes. I have thought about them, and scary is just how I’ve seen it: or dismaying, or disgruntling, or something.

How has this problem has gone unnoticed by the parties in the last few elections? The states have even been jockeying for earlier contests, which would make the problem even worse. The likelihood of any change is slim or none, especially if this is a situation that the state parties - for whatever reason - find desirable. "Buyer’s remorse," indeed. Although, has there been any instance in the last presidential elections where there has been a potential candidate who turned up later in the process and would have done better? Or would that be obscured by the campaign process wherein everyone in the party gets behind the candidate. Really, once the campaign is rolling, dissent would have to be - well - something like strangled at birth.

Thank you for posting this. It is nice to know I do not merely vapour on the topic, or at least that I do not do so entirely on my own.

Sabato is good on the analysis, but not on the remedy. Why, if the parties are already putting themselves through the wringer, as well as wrapping things up months before the general election, does it make sense to schedule four regional primaries? (Is that not an even bigger gauntlet to run?) Not to mention, establish a lottery for determining the order? Both will be fiercely resisted, but what if they weren’t (wild imaging here)? The first would permit only the best-funded candidates (imagine the massive costs of four regional elections--for which there is no precedent)to have a shot. The second would have the same effect in that uncertainty favors the better funded (unless all parties agreed on a primary election schedule years down the road). I guess no one favors real deliberation among national delegates at an actual convention. Too bad, for it would be good for candidates to be nominated by people who know them as something other than fleeting personalies in the media or in a crowd. This madness won’t stop until some person or group is outraged (or greatly hampered) by it and has the political clout to make changes. The intrinsic merit of the idea will not be enough to carry it. That’s how we got political parties in the first place, not to mention major rules changes. Ambition drives all political changes, not political science wonkery.

Richard, I don’t know the extent of state and/or party rules that bind party delegates to nomination contests, but the more we increase the possibility of post-February "buyer remorse," the more we increase the likelihood of (a Blackberry-version of) the old "smoke filled room" occurring at the conventions.

I agree with you, and Sabato, on the criticism of the current primary system. It was the remedy that Sabato proposed that I quarreled with. Let decisions be made in July or August, not February. No buyer’s remorse.

There was something to be said for the guys in the smoke-filled room, in that those guys DID have better idea of the person behind the image than most of us do. As it is, the conventions are pointless. There is no contest there. They function as coronation ceremonies, but have not yet dropped the trappings of our political party traditions.


It isn’t so much a matter of buyer’s remorse as it is citizen boredom or exasperation at the length of the process after the decisions have so apparently been made. The non-voters complaint is often this: why should I bother when the I never felt that I had any choice in the first place. As one young man put it, the media appears to make the choice, not the voters.

I would echo Kate’s nostalgia for the real deliberation that went on among party leaders in the smoked-filled rooms, but it might be construed as more ironic praise of smoking. I really don’t see the road to restoring the convention to its rightful role as the place where the nominee is selected. And I agree with Richard R. that Sabato’s diagnosis is much more persuasive than his cure. If I could think up a genuine cure that would have some chance of success today, then I really would deserve the big bucks.

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