Nonhierarchical Parties and the Problems of Candidate Selection
American parties are coordination problems with shared branding.
A table-setting disclaimer, of a sort. This post is partly just about what may turn out to be strategic errors of nomination in three US Senate races. The possible results of those errors will make some readers happy (although others, perhaps not). However, the post is really about how poorly our system produces something representative democracy vitally needs: coherent political parties. Not just coherent parties, but ones that nominate people who can actually govern. As such, while I understand that a lot of readers are going to react with the notion that if the primary process may have helped Democrats retain control of the Senate, that makes the primary process good, I would note that in the long run we need both parties to be functional and to nominate people who are serious about governing, even if we disagree about policy outcomes.
I would also stress that while I fully understand that structure alone is by no means the only variable to explain our current party politics, the primary process is very much a major reason why our parties are insufficiently responsive to national needs, and they are very directly (again, not solely, lest I be accused of being overly reductive) culpable for the nationalist, populist, and chaotic turn of the GOP in recent years.
NBC News reports: McConnell says Republicans may not win Senate control, citing ‘candidate quality’ and I will add that he’s not wrong. The choices of primary voters in GA, OH, and PA may have created the conditions under which the GOP could end up barely missing taking over the chamber in mid-terms because of poor candidate selection. (There are also some examples of what might be poor choices for governor in several states as well, but will leave those off of this conversation).
In Pennsylvania, a plurality of primary voters (indeed, only 31.2%) chose political neophyte, quasi-physician, and talk show host Mehmet Oz of New Jersey as their guy.
In Ohio, a plurality of primary voters (32.2%) chose a political neophyte, venture capitalist, and guy who wrote a book that was made into a movie, J.D. Vance.
In Georgia, a large majority (~68%) of primary voters chose a political neophyte, former star running back at the University of Georgia, and fellow who it ends up isn’t great at business, parenting, or coherent sentence construction, Herschel Walker.*
While counterfactuals are impossible to prove, I would wager that a different candidate selection process would have rendered a different, and almost certainly more competitive, set of candidates for the Republican Party. (And more importantly, would have nominated people better capable of governing).
Indeed, given the closeness of all three states in 2020, and the pro-Republican nature of the current cycle, the selection of these candidates could be a massive own-goal for the GOP primary electorate. This seems especially true in Ohio, where conditions should favor a Republican win. And we will especially be able to test the hypothesis in Georgia, as it is possible that the Republicans will win the governorship, but lose the US Senate seat–an outcome that would very much indict the nomination of Walker.
But, if you leave party formation and evolution (which in many ways is done via candidate selection) to amateurs, this is the kind of results you get. And note that these guys all got on the ballot because they (amateurs) put themselves on the ballot and because self-selected Republican-identifying voters showed up to choose them (also amateurs). Indeed, I am reminded of my attempt at analogizing party construction and a football team from several years ago: An Analogy on Hierarchy (and the Lack thereof) in Party Behavior.
I am struck by a phrase (emphasized below) in the NBC News piece:
The Republican Party establishment also failed to recruit preferred candidates in other states, like New Hampshire.
What does this mean, the “Republican Party establishment”? It is a collection of elected officials, local and national political influences, donors, and the like. It is not a coordinated group. It is not “the party.” It is not even “The Republicans” in any truly coherent fashion. It is a shorthand that can be used in news stories and in talking heads segments to both refer to the aforelisted amalgam of actors who influence these outcomes to a degree while also kind of pretending like it is an organization of centralized well, something.
But it isn’t.
Indeed, all of this is often about whether some part of this nebulous “establishment” is willing to pony up a lot of cash. For example, J.D. Vance is being bankrolled by Peter Thiel. In the context of this discussion, Thiel is just another amateur helping make major decisions about our politics, he just has more influence than the other amatuers because he is rich (and certainly not because he is part of some coherent leadership structure within the Republican Party).
All of us, I suspect, have worked on group projects and know how hard it can be to get everyone on the same page. Worse, if you have ever worked in a large organization you know exactly what is it like to have a general goal, and even directives to get that goal done, but ultimately with no clear pathway as to how to make all the parts of the organization work together coherently (especially since the different parts may not all agree on the definition of success). And we all know that if certain sub-sets of the organization have independent budgets, they end up doing their own thing without much coordination. And what if wild-cards from outside your group who claim to affiliate with you could also influence outcomes?
American parties are coordination problems with shared branding.
Now, if all that meant was that a given party would lose some elections because the Dance of the Amateurs produced a bad crop of candidates, that would be one thing. But the stakes are higher than that.
First, as I have noted repeatedly, the degradation of the GOP in recent years is the direct result of this process. From Trump to Boebert to Greene and so forth, the party has been increasingly shaped by the exigencies of the primary system and institutional deficiencies in the system (such as the Electoral College and a large number of uncontested House districts). So, in simple terms, allowing parties to evolve based on the choices of amateurs (and relatively small slices of the population at that) can be a problem for all of us, not just a given party.
Second, for elections to be efficacious, voters need to know what parties stand for. While yes, parties have platforms (written every four years after the primaries have been contested), there is no central way to enforce such a document. Moreover, as I often note, Congressional leadership has limited abilities when it comes to party discipline. Indeed, as we have seen with so-close-to-being-Speaker-he-can-taste-it McCarthy, politically ambitious actors will conform to incentives to get what they want. McCarthy is therefore driven by needing to kowtow to primary voters, and not just in his district because he needs Republican support to be elected Speaker. Hence his private Kevin v. public Kevin routine in regards to January 6th. We get the Mar-a-Lago photo because McCarthy rightly believes that a ton of GOP primary voters across the country wanted to see it.
Understand what I am saying and not saying.
I am not saying that more hierarchical parties automatically pick better candidates, but I am saying that their odds of doing so are better.
I am saying that more hierarchical parties, i.e., with some kind of centralized influence over candidate selection,** are more likely to filter out utter neophytes and also produce candidates more focused on governing. At a minimum, such a process would produce a clearer electoral product.
I am not saying that a change in candidate selection avoids bad parties and bad ideologies. I am simply saying that it makes it more clear that those bad ideologies aren’t “the fringe” of the party, but are, in fact, the party because deliberate candidate choices were made.*** We need parties that have to take responsibility for the product (so to speak) that they put on the ballot and into positions of power.
To that above point, I realize that a party could be quite coherent and still offer candidates who are bad as governing. Coherence does not automatically lead to good outcomes. But coherence should make it clearer to voters what they are, or are not, voting for. Our current system allows a fringe neophyte to get dawn the mantle of old, established parties that have a way of laundering their problematicness.****
I am definitely saying that using primaries to nominate candidates means that the central party, such as it is, cannot effectively define itself, but gets defined by the nominees that the primaries produce. Events which are, as I constantly note, low-turnout affairs often driven by the more fringe portions of a party and especially susceptible to name recognition over policy debates (often driven by who has the most money to spend to get their name out into the public sphere).
And while it may be that the GOP is hoisted on its own petard this electoral cycle, which may cause it to lose its chance at controlling the Senate, the reality is that we are allowing the formation of parties, and therefore those who control our government, via a very precarious process.
Let me conclude that while the poor quality of Oz, Vance, and Walker may lead to their defeats, let me also not that they all three could very well be US Senators in January of 2023. And while I fully understand that such an outcome would make Republicans happy, the reality is that electing a bunch of hack celebrities to the Senate of the United States isn’t good for the country.
*I will confess that that litany at the end feels a bit mean, which is not the intent. Because while it may sound mean, it is simply a recitation of facts. And, more importantly, for this piece, these are facts that directly bear on his quality as a candidate. His lies about his business success and acumen are a problem. The fact that he has been revealed to have multiple out-of-wedlock children while talking bug about fathers staying with their kids is a huge problem. And the fact that he really cannot coherently talk about much of anything is a problem (especially if you compare him to the highly eloquent Senator Warnock, his opponent). There is little doubt that Walker’s football career goes a long, long way in Georgia. He is a legend, and his prowess on the field cannot be denied. But that one massive positive does not balance the scales. (And I haven’t even mentioned his history of mental illness, abuse, and the fact that he seems to have been living in Texas and not GA).
**Getting into what option might exist is a whole other topic. But I will stress that our current system is as close to open, self-nomination as you can get and still have some party structure involved. I am suggesting, at a minimum, that there needs to be some amount of centralized vetting of candidates, if not simply elite-level selection. I do think, as I have argued for years, that such a change would likely foster real third-party activity because it would take away the currently very easy route of just running in the D or R primary as entry into electoral politics.
***So, for example, the GOP leadership in Congress can pretend like it isn’t their fault that some QAnon types were elected. After all, that is who the voters nominated and elected, so it’s their fault, not ours! And it allows people like McCarthy to pretend like he doesn’t even know what this faction of his own party is. The primary system allows for plausible deniability because no one is specifically responsible for candidates.
****Put another way: Mehmet Oz (R) is guaranteed a certain number of votes in November. But Dr. Oz (OzParty) isn’t. Same dude, same campaign, same office. Being the R makes him a “serious candidate” but if he was running around as the OzParty candidate, he would be treated as a sideshow.
You aren’t wrong about Vance and Walker and Dr. Oz being amateurs, but a professional politician is just an amateur who has managed to stick around for 30 years and an amateur money guy is just an embryonic pro.
Case in point: one commenter here a few days ago was like the the Democrats are crazy because they want to do universal health care at a price of 4 trillion. When it was pointed out to him that the current price on a non-universal health care plan is also 4 trillion, he did the wise thing and vanished. Point being: to be a responsible politician you have to be able educable in such a way that you can handle these facts. But the GOP is not intended to be the party of educable politicians. They want to scare voters about 4 trillion universal health care so that America can spend 4 trillion on a worse health care option because the money guys before Thiel built the party for this function. Being built for bad governance and class warfare is the point of the GOP. Vance and Thiel are just the next phase.
This can be addressed by making voting more convenient, I vote every election because vote-by-mail has been made hugely convenient in AZ (the “Permanent Early Voting” list).
The main purposes of parties are:
A) Get candidates elected.
B) Pursue ideological policy agendas.
These are in tension, if voters support goal A they will tend toward pragmatic electable candidates. If voters focus on goal B, the selections will be more ideological but less pragmatic/electable.
The GOP has become hyper ideological with its embrace of “populism,” Christian Nationalism, white supremacy etc. thus all the horrible examples you cite.
Dems should probably take the blame for the current candidate selection procedures. The McGovern reforms after 68 and the Bernie reforms were intended to push decision making down to the grassroots. R simply followed along, because their grassroots demanded equal treatment. Fortunately Dems have been
betterluckier in their candidate selection and have not had as many clunkers. The reason is worth a post on its own.
Given that party membership doesn’t mean commitment to the parties platform only registering as a Dem or R, it is silly that candidate selection is pushed down so firmly, to the grassroots.
As far as NH not getting its preferred senate candidate, well blame Moscow Mitch, Sununu had no interest in going to DC in order to do nothing but oppose Biden and the same goes for Larry Hogan. The NH primary is 9/13 and their are at least 2 establishment candidates for senator on the ballot, with a bunch of crazies. Both are definitely conservative, but understand governing and have shown some capacity for doing so. Polling has been thin, but I’ve seen a couple of references that one of the crazies, Don Buldoc, is expected to win. This is a benefit for Dems.
All very true. But, if I may, a few comments.
There’s been a lot of news, and well deserved chuckling, over Rick Scott’s NRSC having burnt all the money and having to sacrifice Johnson and Walker to support Vance. They fail to note that McConnell’s PAC is flush and probably more than making up the shortfalls. So it’s premature to write off any of these idiots.
In Middle Eastern news I’ll accept a reference to “the Israelis” but not to “the Palestinians”. Israel has a functioning, more or less democratic government that speaks and acts for the Israeli people. The Palestinians do not. But there are opposition parties in Israel and differences of opinion, so “the Israelis” is still an approximation. As Dr. T notes, there is no such thing as “the Democrats” or “the Republicans”, but because of the greater dominance by major funders and the interlocking institutions of, for lack of a better term, the Kochtopus, “the Republicans” is closer to true than “the Democrats”. Will Rogers famous line. “I’m not a member of any organized party, I’m a Democrat.” is still true. And yet Dems seem to be doing a better job of candidate selection, at least this cycle, than GOPs. Locally, Val Demings, who’s now neck and neck with incumbent Marco Rubio, was recruited by Dems some years ago.
The nature of primaries is set by party rules. If either party wanted to change how primaries work, it’s within their power. It is, however, in the nature of the Republican Party that they don’t care if their candidates, or office holders, aren’t exactly statesmen.
For an amateur like me, and I suspect for many pros, intra-party politics are opaque. I feel like a Kremlinologist looking at who’s placed where for the May Day parade because there’s nothing else available. Koch et al didn’t want Trump, but as long as he wore an (R), they could and did adapt, including somehow worming their guy Pence in as veep. I have no idea who they’re backing now. Or who any of the rest of the Billionaire Boys Club are backing. Part of the entrepreneurial nature of GOP primaries seems to be that anybody can get adopted by some billionaire and get enough money to start a run. How much influence do the “populists” really have? Is Thiel working with or against Koch and his co-conspirators? Are people still going to Vegas to kiss the Adelson ring now that his widow is wearing it? Dems are reported to now have a fundraising advantage. Is that still true? And with all the dark money sloshing around, who could really tell?
ETA – There was something to be said for smoke filled rooms.
And because Trump wanted them, and Republicans across the board love, adore, and worship Trump, and do whatever he says, including attack law enforcement.
Republicans are defined by Trumpism because Trump and his bigotry and extremism enjoy near universal support with Republican voters and politicians.
Walker, Mastriano, Oz etc may have won with ~35% pluralities, but I have bad news for those who think the candidates they defeated were better: the defeated Republicans in the other ~65% were also lying, Trump-addled radical right extremists with no business holding political power. So.
This is an excellent post that I, naturally, agree with completely. It is unfortunate that you’ve had to add a lot of throat-clearing to guard against “misinterpretation” of your arguments.
I would just add two additional points:
– This is probably the best example of the idea that “more democracy” isn’t necessarily always better. The idea of taking candidate choice out of “smoke-filled rooms” and giving it to “the people” sounds great in theory but hasn’t worked out so well in practice. It’s worth remembering that to make democracy work in the real world so that it does not eat itself, you have to have undemocratic and less-than-democratic institutions.
– Secondly, the weakness of parties and the over-democratization of primaries leaves a lot more room for propaganda and ratfucking which we saw with some Democratic groups spending money to try to get more extreme GoP candidates elected in primaries. That will probably become normalized as groups seek to exploit any short-term tactical advantage they perceive.
Or you look at cable news. Very few Americans watch cable news, and it’s a dying medium, but it remains super important in politics because lots of primary voters and the highly-ideological watch cable news. It’s the way candidates can connect with the base, and the current primary system prioritizes the base above everything else.
Finally, there is the important question of what to do about this problem. I don’t see us returning to smoke-filled rooms because Americans like at least the illusion of choice and small d, democracy. Ultimately reform needs to come from the parties themselves but it’s not clear how that can happen given the difficulty of the collective action problem. But there are a couple of things that could help:
– Repeal the well-meaning but ultimately misguided campaign finance laws that have neutered parties when it comes to fundraising and spending. We now have a situation where campaign funding is dominated by highly ideological small donors contributing directly to candidates combined with massive spending by third-party groups. Candidates should be more dependent on the support of state and national parties for funding and support generally.
I’m not as sure about this one, but if we’re going to have democratic primaries, and as long as primary elections are run by state governments which makes them quasi-official elections, then we should consider going whole-hog and moving to open primaries where everyone is on the same ballot, the election is an official election day, and anyone can vote. Then the top 2-4 candidates move on to the general election.
Weren’t all three endorsed by Trump either pretty early on (Oz, Walker), or saw a decisive rise in their polls after that endorsement (Vance)?
There’s a whiff of hierarchical candidate selection here, strongly influencing the primary voters.
(Your thesis worked well before Trump, and explains Trump, but we now live in very different times as the Republican Party has been taken over by a cult of personality)
This is true for the presidential contests, but the usage of primaries for other offices dates back to the Progressive Era. And I would argue that the fact that primaries have long dominated legislative elections, in particular, are especially explanatory as to our stable two-party system (and why when the GOP was persona non grata in the Deep South post-Reconstruction a new second party did not emerge).
@Gustopher: But Trump isn’t in control. He has preferences and his political significance gives some modicum of influence, but it is hardly hierarchy, even a whiff. A hierarchical party controlled by Trump would not have Kemp as a nominee for gov in GA, for example.
I understand where you are coming from, but this is an overstatement and an oversimplification.
Being influential (as former presidents tend to be, especially when they have a term left they can serve and look like the nominee in the upcoming elections) is one thing. “Taking over” something is yet another.
And what, in concrete terms has he taken over? To the point of this post, he does not having nominating power, for example
And part of my ongoing point is that primaries give people control of the label and that brings the voters to the yard. Trump gets some of his votes because of MAGA cultists if you prefer. But he gets a huge chunk of them because he is the R and a lot of people simply are not going to vote D.
I understand why people want it to be true, but not all R voters are MAGA cultists.
Indeed, better, more coherent parties would be better for democracy and if the way to get there is via a less ostensibly democratic nomination process, then that’s fine.
@Steven L. Taylor:
But enough are that he becomes kingmaker in a lot of competitive races. Particularly open races where 40% will win a plurality vote.
When the MAGA label gets 40% of the primary vote, and it can be bestowed by just one man*, it’s a very big finger on the scale. Large enough that in many cases it becomes functionally hierarchical.
Your parenthetical makes it seem like this is a normal thing. One could make the argument that one term presidents are more often treated like losers, and the party attempts to adjust — Carter to Clinton, and George HW Bush’s “compassionate conservative” giving way to the Newt era of no compromise.
(For all of his flaws, George HW Bush was the last Republican President that tried to be a president for all Americans, rather than just the people that voted for him. Flaws include his children, of course)
*: I use the term loosely. He prefers he/him pronouns, even if he does nothing manly.
More “democracy” can work, but everybody has to participate, not just a small outraged minority. The general public is needed to dilute the nut-vote. The Aussies have a system of semi-mandatory voting, which seems to help. Not perfect, just better.
I don’t see going back to the days when party polls were not considered elections in themselves as viable. We The People have been made too distrustful of “institutions”, for better or worse. A soft mandatory voting policy on the other hand, isn’t near so easy to negatively demagogue.
@dazedandconfused: Since you lot can’t even impose masking with descent into bizarre reaction, it seems borderline fantasy to think you can impose mandatory voting – which is to say there does not appear to be any real world practical route to it (although not to say it is a bad idea as such from a naive reading, but seems simply impossible to achieve in your current environment).
Or rather you mean that your system (or systems perhaps is better) and general public should act not as they actually act, but as you would ideally like them.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Which then would push the blame back to the original Progressives then, somewhat deepening the time depth but not changing his observation. The general observational take-away then being that within the actual real semi-organisational structure of the party system, the primary system has not had particularly brilliant end-results for your system.
Or rather as Andy
But then the what you can pragmatically do in real world terms is the most interesting item
Sounds plausible but then this needs a systems analysis (perhaps the Pr. Taylor has done), but also what is politically possible to achieve…
I presume this is something that has to be effected state by state and can not be mandated by the Federal government even for Federal elections?
One of the enormous difficulties in making changes is state legislatures. They’re the ones that determine if/when primaries will be held and how. They’re the ones that insist only state parties can place candidates on the ballot. They’re the ones that determine how much it costs to be a major party in the state (eg, how much paperwork must be filed, how many local organizations there must be).
The feds have the authority to proscribe the “place and manner” of elections for federal offices only but historically have not meddled too much. So ideally, you’d want this to happen at the state level, so it applies to all elections in the state. And as Michael Cain notes, state legislatures have a lot of power to craft various rules and regulations beyond the system design itself.
Some states and localities are experimenting with different systems. California and Washington, for example, has a top-2 primary system, and Alaska recently passed a top-4 system with ranked choice voting.
So far, I hate to say, these experiments have been a mixed bag, but I haven’t researched too deeply into the details – Steven can probably provide a good summary if he has time to comment on it.
@Steven L. Taylor:
The exception that proves the rule.
No, that’s not what he means (or certainly not what I mean by endorsing the statement).
It is actually true that making nominations open to the vote, which is definitionally more democratic than other candidate selection processes, actually is a worse option for reasons I have often discussed, and discuss here. It isn’t because the people won’t produce what I want them to produce, it is because it uncuts the party system itself by making it too porous.
No, it is an example.
But the reality remains that Trump is not picking outcomes. He does not control the nomination process. He has influence, but that is not the same as control. This is empirically true.
I’ll say this: neither Top 2 nor Top 4 is likely to result in new party formation, especially since those systems are even more nonhierarchical than most other states because multiple candidates can run under the same label. What does it mean to be an R if there are 2 other Rs in the race? etc.
If the goal is more coherent and representative parties, primaries have got to go–even if there is increased participation.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Not by themselves, that’s true. My general idea, since I think getting rid of primary elections isn’t in the cards because they are too baked into the system, is to evolve primaries to be more of a preliminary or first-round election.
States should, for example, stop funding and running closed primary elections for the two parties. There are no good reasons taxpayer dollars should be spent on what is supposed to be an internal party activity. If parties want to run a separate closed primary, then make them pay the full cost to the state of running that election.
Secondly, states could restrict the new “primary” (1st round) ballot access to one candidate per party, forcing parties to choose a single candidate to run. Third parties would also have access to this election. Combined with a top-2, 3 or 4 system the primary would then become a de facto 1st round election, with the winners moving on to the 2nd and final round – the general election.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Ha. What’s Donald Trump’s approval rating among Republicans again?
I understand why it’s hard for much of America’s white establishment to grapple with the reality that Republicans choose to give near universal approval to a patholgical liar who mocked a disabled reporter, tweeted a White Power video on June 28 2020, and who incited a terror attack to destroy democracy.
@Steven L. Taylor:
It’s also moot, a six in one hand half dozen in the other sementical game intended to downplay Trump’s power and Republican voters’ choice to empower his radical right extremism.
@Steven L. Taylor:
I know that you feel this is self evident. I don’t see enough evidence to decide either way. What we have now is a two party system wherein both parties need to attract a very wide coalition in order to achieve power. That necessitates a decidedly tactical outlook, and a deliberate ambiguity in some position. There are bad things about that, but there are also good things.
When you say “more coherent” I’m assuming you mean that their positions are more tightly defined and more rigidly held. This can lead to a cycle where parties become fixated on a very small number of issues to the exclusion of everything else. While there are good things about that, there are also very definitely bad things.
Perhaps I am misinterpreting what you are saying?
overall, you’ve made some really good points, but I’m not too sure about this part
Trying to square this with a quick googly search. but then again, my googly-fu skills are weak, as we all know…
OTOH, it’ll be ironic as fqk if Palin wins the seat in Alaska. But given her short attention span, I can’t help but wonder if she’ll resign after 90 days because, reasons.
“…a pathological liar who mocked a disabled reporter, tweeted a White Power video on June 28 2020, and who incited a terror attack to destroy democracy”
For the same reason the scorpion stung the horse. Because it’s their (and his) nature.
@Flat Earth Luddite:
Thanks for the comment. I think I did get the “place and manner” part wrong. From your link, which I believe is a correct characterization, elections are mostly the purview of the states, but the feds do, at least in theory, have the authority to change rules for federal elections, but historically haven’t.
You may remember the “For the People” act last year that passed in Congress but failed the cloture vote in the Senate. It would have exercised that federal power to change the rules for federal elections.
“He has influence, but that is not the same as control. This is empirically true.”
Seems like a distinction without a difference. Lets say I suddenly started writing really clear stuff on blogs and people liked it. They liked it enough that I had enough influence that 95% of the people I supported for office among Democrats got elected. Sure seems like control to me. I agree with your general thoughts but I think that when you have a true cult it throws conventional thinking out the door.
@Steven L. Taylor:
I don’t view the elimination of primaries as viable.
IMO, We have the government we deserve. Sorry, everyone (not just OTB), but look in the freaking mirror.
It made potentially large changes in how the actual voting would be conducted. It didn’t change all the other things states do, like decide on the structure of primaries, or even if there should be primaries, or what sorts of hoops parties have to jump through to get names on ballots. As I recall, it wasn’t cloture — they couldn’t come up with the votes to open debate.
@Steven L. Taylor: You have misunderstood my comment, purely focused on this specific phrase from his comment – not yours, and I frankly do not see any relationships (or if you quoted it, I have simply not read that): “More “democracy” can work, but everybody has to participate, not just a small outraged minority.”‘. I have no objection to your observation as you stated, however statements which predicate their observation on what ends up fundamentally being a large change in behaviour of the public are invariably routes to Soviet New Man type failures based on presuming somehow the system will induce new behaviour.
In anycase Andy’s pragmatism seems most interesting to ponder, as seeming to focus on changes that might actually be effectable inside your systems as it is and not condemned to mere academic reflexions.
…evolve primaries to be more of a preliminary or first-round election.
States should, for example, stop funding and running closed primary elections for the two parties. There are no good reasons taxpayer dollars should be spent on what is supposed to be an internal party activity. If parties want to run a separate closed primary, then make them pay the full cost to the state of running that election. This would seem to me to be the kind of argument that could have some populist traction (which would seem on first thought to be sine qua non to overcome entrenched party interests in being subsidised).
Has an intriguing feel of pragmatic potential for evolving from what one has in place of root-and-branch restructure – rather like natural evolution repurposing the traits and fundamentals it has on hand of fins to fee to fins again.
@Flat Earth Luddite: Well, perhaps yes, but Pr. the OP is quite right in his insistant reminders that the structure of the selection system makes for certain kinds of outcomes and the same people in the mirror with a different process may end up with something importantly different.
Of course it is a theoretical observation unless some pragmatically achievable path to actual change can be identified within the constraints on hand (or one needs a root and branch redo that typically one comes out of great national crisis, like revolution). Evolutionary paths then barring revolution.
While that would be helpful, the main issue is simply that most Americans aren’t sufficiently interested in politics nor committed to one of the major parties to have an opinion about, much less participate in, the primaries.
It is a known fact that having a high approval rating means that a person directly picks candidates.
Ya got me!
Except it isn’t a semantical game. It is about how things work in reality.
Influence is not the same as control, let alone total control.
If you want to be on the side that takes reality seriously and to rightly criticize others who want to make up their own reality, then you have to be willing to talk in real terms.
@Steven L. Taylor: @DK: Part of what I don’t understand about these kinds of conversations, why do you have to go all in on “control” or however you want to put it when it is manifestly bad enough that he is popular and influential?
Why does this always have to get ramped up to 11?
That is likely true.
It doesn’t change the analysis.
Understanding has to proceed solutions.
Influence and control are simply not the same thing.
I would note that Trump’s scorecard on nomination endorsements is not a great measure, because he often endorses to up his percentage, like endorsing Mo Brooks in AL and then unendorsing Mo Brooks in AL and finally endorsing Britt when it was clear she would win.
There was also the recent race where he endorsed “Eric” (both candidates were named Eric).
I think, for example, that Trump mattered in OH for Vance. But is that “control”? of who gets nominated?
He couldn’t defeat Kemp, not even close.
His aforementioned endorsement of Brooks (before he took it away) didn’t look very control-y to me.
And if he endorses someone like Walker, who was going to win anyway, is that control?
No. I finished work and went home for the day. If you pay attention, I stop commenting at the same time every day (2 hours earlier on Fridays)–and virtually not at all on weekends.
I wish I’d seen this post yesterday (was offline doing chores), because this is something I was at one time on the front lines of.
I think a state-level strong party structure could be described as “establishment.” It’s a collection of insiders who have a fair amount of authority to direct state-level funding and resources. State parties used to be a lot stronger than they appear to be now. I’ve been out of politics since the late 90s, so it’s been a while since I was actively involved, but there was a fair amount of direction.
One, the state party would recruit candidates for every winnable or even potentially winnable district, state race, or federal campaign. If there was an incumbent, that incumbent was supported–even if he/she wasn’t there on every issue. (This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen–the litmus-testing of candidates.) Candidates had to be right for the district to get the full basket of party support. If you were a pro-choice Republican running in a pro-choice district, you’d get support.
I’m not exactly sure when things got weird, but they did. My hunch is it has to do with changes in financing that had the effect of weakening the party structure.
I have mixed feelings about this.
I generally accept Steven’s thesis. It’s often the most extreme voice that wins a primary, and who gets big money from someone is also an important factor. There is no ability to deny someone the label of either party, and so the brand shifts constantly. For instance, I don’t think MTG is dumb, per se. She has decided she wants to be the most radical voice heard on certain topics, because that will garner her attention from primary voters and certain donors. Are her pronouncements good for the caucus as a whole? Probably not. (You could say the same about Ted Cruz, too). But there’s little in the way of any disciplinary action.
In contrast Boris Johnson kicked multiple sitting members of Parliament out of the Conservative Party, (or at least threatened to). That’s not possible in the US. There’s no such thing as being kicked out of a party.
But here’s the thing. I also think that the rerforms of 1972 made it much more possible for someone who isn’t a white male to hold the presidency, or to even attend a national party Convention. Maybe it also had an impact on Congress, as well because primaries got more attention?
So maybe some sort of dialectic process was needed. I certainly now support parties having greater control of their brands.
@Steven L. Taylor: You are quite right, but on the other hand it does highlight Trump’s cunning natural sense of image making for himself, by engaging in relentlessly, utterly shameless and tireless spin. He is a genuis for creating a mirage. First a mirage of being a billionnaire, now a mirage of personal control he exploits for fund raising grifting.
@Steven L. Taylor:
True, but impossible solutions aren’t solutions.
Our system, indeed all known systems have inherent flaws. The goal should be to make the best tweaks that can be made. On top of strongly encouraging normal people to participate by including penalties of some kind for not doing so, I would make it required that in the primaries everybody has to select a candidate from both major parties. Some will play games with it, but most will know they may have to live with someone they don’t like winning so it should foster moderation in the candidates for nomination.
I think there are two reforms that would help immensely and that are doable.
1. Party leaders for the jurisdiction in question (the DNC/RNC for Presidential elections and state/local parties for Senate, House, and local races) should have veto power over those who are unqualified or simply toxic.
2. A requirement for 50% support (whether via landslide, traditional runoff, or IRV-type process) to win the primary.
That doesn’t fix apathy or “independents” who wait for the general. But it would likely mitigate against most of the nuttiest candidates.
I don’t think Trump would have won the 2016 nomination under these rules. Even if the RNC had allowed his candidacy, I don’t think he gets 50% in many of the contests. He simply got more votes than any of the half dozen meh moderates running early on and, even as the field winnowed, it was basically the one bellicose guy, Cruz, and three or four moderates.
Sounds like good ideas, but the system of selecting party heads needs addressing. Set that up now and I believe that would be Don Trump and/or the people who most stridently proclaim their loyalty to him. Or the best fund raisers, like Marge Green.
It’s apathy that allows the small, outraged-by-media minority to call the shots. There is no replacement for an engaged populous. I would have us forced, albeit with minor penalties, to be so.
@Steven L. Taylor: “Control” was your word, Dr. Taylor, not mine. I did not use it in my own wording, you did multiple times.
I’m not concerned about control, you are. It’s moot to me. 100% of people still voting Republican in 2022,are enablers of facism, white supremacy, radical right extremism, and Trump’s authoritarian attacks on democracy.
Whether they are doing so because they are controlled, intellectually lazy, dumb, selfish, indifferent, uninformed, QAnon, racist etc is not relevant at this point.