So California and, what?--every other state with an inferiority complex--is going to move its presidential primary up to February 5 of next year, creating a de facto national primary that will decide the nomination for both parties, and for which the entry fee for any serious candidate will be something like $75 million at a minimum. The Democrats have been the chief force of this increasingly front-loaded nomination system for a while now, thinking that the protracted bloodletting of the old extended primary season that went from January to June hurt its nominees in November. This is probably wrong: in 1984, when the Democratic nomination went through the California and New Jersey primaries in June, Walter Mondale was made a much better candidate for having to fend off Gary Harts spirited challenge. (None other than Bill Galston, Mondales campaign policy director, told me the other day he thinks this is true.) Had Hart challenged Mondale in the current front-loaded system, he might have toppled Mondale (and we could have had Clinton-style sex scandals ten years sooner!!); in 2004, the Dems clearly had a case of buyers remorse with their hastily-picked nominee.
If this keeps up, in another cycle or two the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses will be held the day after Inauguration Day, and, as Squidward might say, wont that just be the most fun day ever--the perpetual/permanent campaign. The media and the consultants will love it. But probably not the voters. (Aside: Last weekend at CPAC, held at the Omni Hotel, I asked a Romney person why they werent billing his speech as "Romney at the Omni." Answer: We pay too many consultants too much money to come up with something that simple and direct.)
Is there any way to stop this madness? Can we somehow return to the stretched out process that allowed voters to scrutinize the candidates more slowly, and see their strengths and weaknesses exposed under fire? Republicans have been happy to follow the Democrats along, but they might put the brakes to this by allocating very few conventional delegates to the early primaries, and require that the bulk of delegates be selected in a rolling process through caucuses later in the spring. They might adopt party rules penalizing early entrants in the race; call it the "Reagan Rule," and say that no one may announce for president formally before November of the year before the election, when Reagan did.
I do hold out some hope that perhaps voters in both parties will grow tired of the early fields (Hillary-Obama-Edwards/McCain-Rudy-Romney), and that late entrants might sweep the field away and act as a corrective to the frontloading problem. Maybe next year we might see the election we deserve in many ways: Newt versus Gore. Bring it on.