Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Bring back the smoke-filled rooms!

By now, you’ve probably heard a good bit about the "unbiased" Republican (??) questioners at last night’s debate. Interestingly, this WaPo piece on the questioners doesn’t get any of that, while this NYT piece gets only a little of it.

There are a couple of issues that come up here. One has to do with the competence and/or impartiality of CNN and Youtube as organizers of an event like this. Seems like Republicans were right to be leery of this format. And I think that both organizations deserve even more egg on their face than this.

A second issue is whether non-Republicans have any business posing questions to Republicans during the nomination process. If the forum is open, why not? But, of course, this wasn’t an open forum. I’m tempted to argue that part of the problem is the manner in which the "parties" choose "their" nominees. In too many primaries, like the one in my home state, all a voter has to do is ask for a particular party’s ballot on election day. And even being required to declare your party allegiance when registering isn’t much of a hurdle. The result that just about anybody can have a modicum of influence over a "party’s" choice, even if that person has no real interest in or loyalty to the party. (In that respect, last night’s debate is just an instance of the permeability and openness of the nomination process as a whole.)

What’s more that permability and openness don’t stop in the voting booth. People with money and their own agendas, like George Soros, have a pretty powerful incentive to drive folks in a certain direction. And even candidates will try to figure out how to mobilize "their voters," rather than those who are most predictable in their November voting behavior.

I know that there are some virtues in this (e.g., evidence of an ability to reach beyond the so-called base), and I can’t imagine a way of building a disciplined party structure in this day and age, but can’t we agree that the "democratization" of the nominating process isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be? I don’t really want to being back the proverbial smoke-filled rooms (Mike Huckabee would be aghast!), but I wish there were ways to empower parties to regain the control of their labels that they’ve ceded since the 1960s.

Discussions - 7 Comments

James Ceaser has a great book on presidential selection. I say, let's go back to the Van Buren-style smoke filled rooms, so long as the smoke comes from cigars! BTW, of the present crop of candidates, who do you think would win a (cigar) smoke filled room primary? (Of course, an entirely differently presidential selection system would result in an entirely different style of presidential politics; what sort of politicians would we have if we went back to smoke filled rooms?)

Fred Thompson, the insider who pretends to be an outsider, would probably do better in the sfr process than he's doing in this one. There was a time when parties used a few primaries to gauge the candidates' campaigning skills, but didn't cede as much influence to random voters and candidate-centered organizations.

Well, the changed media environment has probably made "disciplined" parties near to impossible, but here are two thoughts: (a) get rid of campaign-finance laws, most of which are designed (implicitly or explicitly) as anti-Party reforms and (b) stop having the states help run parties' primaries and caucuses. You want to nominate a Presidential candidate? Run your darned primaries - and get some super-rich dude to pay for 'em!

Michael,

Good thoughts, especially the latter, which would be an antidote to the unseemly and counterproductive frontloading.

"In too many primaries, like the one in my home state, all a voter has to do is ask for a particular party’s ballot on election day. And even being required to declare your party allegiance when registering isn’t much of a hurdle. The result that just about anybody can have a modicum of influence over a "party’s" choice, even if that person has no real interest in or loyalty to the party."

Would you consider this a problem if someone who had been voting as a Democrat for years changed their mind at some point and decided they were actually going to vote for a Republican in the next race? It certainly does happen. What do you want, people to be aggressively interrogated as to their party loyalty? Loyalty oaths? There are even pols who have switched parties. What if someone wants to follow that candidate in their transition?

And sorry, but when you get into the George Soros stuff you're really going off the deep end and getting into Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter country. In case you were unaware, and you seem to be, there are plenty of wealthy conservatives out there who are every bit as eager and involved to "drive folks in a certain direction." Ever heard of Rupert Murdoch, for starters? And then, with no sense of contradiction at all, you cheer on the elimination of campaign finance laws. Too much O'Reilly Factor, I'd guess.

I watch very little TV and no O'Reilly, but I do know that the really big donors in the last election cycle ere folks like Soros and Peter Lewis (of the aptly named Progressive Insurance fame). But I agree that nothing prevents any wealthy person from imitating their example, to any end. The only cure here is transparency, and then having people pay attention.

As for party loyalty, I don't think it's too much to ask to require people to "join" a party before they can have influence over its nominating process. That, by the way, is how it's done in most parliamentary systems with which I'm familiar.

CNN?

Isnt't that the same news organization that made a deal with Saddam in 1990/1991 to not give bad press for the public access it had to the dictator?

CNN started off corrupt and continues corrupt.

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