This is near novel-length, so get settled into a comfortable spot with a cup of coffee. Girls, get yourself into a snuggie if you need to. Guys, if you get yourself into a snuggie, don’t ever tell me you did. ManCard™ forfeiture, pal. Sorry about the length. I just can’t cover this any more briefly.
The original proposal, 1.0 was In 2012: no more open primaries, a proposal, dated Jan 21, 2008, as that slow-motion horror movie unfolded to give us John McCain, the worst nominee since Alf Landon in 1936. This proposal was inspired by Jed Babbin’s column at Human Events Whose Primaries Are They, published that same morning. It was also inspired by the post-South Carolina departure from the race of Fred Thompson, the only movement Conservative in the first tier.
The revised, sharpened proposal, 1.1 For 2012 and beyond, a superior Republican primary system was published July 16, 2010, as the Tea Party Revolt was reaching Category 4, gaining speed, and preparing for landfall.
This is version 1.2. If anything, the unfolding 2012 primary race has shown us how spectacularly broken the process is, which can be described as “exactly like 2008, except worse”.
This proposal differs from 1.1 only in the margins, because…. well, because…. 1.1 was the proposal that movement conservatives should take into battle. Gain control of the RNC via Cold Warrior’s Precinct Committeeman Project, and have the RNC put this plan into play. So here it goes, a near reprint:
The 2008 Republican nomination process was an absolute miserable train wreck, the culmination of years of a worsening and chaotic system. In this case, it had already given us an inevitable nominee — too early, an unrepresentative and unsatisfactory candidate, with most of Republican America cut out of the process. I thought a better process could surely be devised. And now, watching the system crumble even further, Republican voters are in the mood to replace worthless people and processes with productive and vibrant ones. Starting with our own house.
So let’s start with the basic question. What is the purpose of the primary season as it exists today? The purpose is seemingly to select the Republican nominee in the general election for President of the United States, by a process whereby the Democrat-biased media, and voters from both parties in early purple states are given a groteqsue large amount of influence. What should the purpose be? For Republican voters to select that nominee, having had a fair chance to evaluate the candidates, all of whom have had a fair chance to make their case. I offer a proposal that achieves that end.
What is broken about the current nomination process
Who is in control of this process? Technically in charge is the national Republican Party. The Republican Party submits the candidate during the convention in which one nomiee secures a majority of delegate votes. The state GOP committees and state legislatures determine, with some boundaries, how their delegates are selected and apportioned.
As a practical matter, nobody is in charge. It’s a zoo, the monkeys are out of the cages, and they’re flinging poo at each other, while the RNC stands in the corner tsk tsk-ing at everybody, and wondering how it ever got this bad.
Seriously, the system is a complex system driven by multiple entities with often competing interests. All those groups have been allowed to grab whatever influence and control that they could get away with. The result is chaos, and that result would only by delightful accident produce a candidate satisfactory to the bulk of voting Republicans.
Witness the issues raised by the 2008 season:
- Candidates declared campaigns virtually in the aftermath of the 2006 elections. The one laggard who declared 14 months before the election (instead of the requisite 22 months) was pilloried roundly by the press, by the other candidates, and by the right-blogosphere. And he was the man who should now be president.
- Televised debates began, what, in July of 2007? Most of them were hosted by the left-wing press, and the fora and questions were distinctly unhelpful in helping Republicans get to know their candidates. About ten candidates got soundbite-sized time slots to answer left-slanted questions. Seriously, moderators like far-left, leg-tingling-for-Obama Chrissy Matthews? Questions from YouTube entries? Just stop it.
- The heavily Democrat national media did the expected. John McCain was certainly their pick for the Republican nomination, and their coverage was mostly horse-race reporting, when they weren’t focusing on trivia.
- With a September convention, the first primaries and cauci were in early January. Some of the states were punished for going earlier than the GOP mandated. Apparently they were not punished enough to be deterred.
- The early states were mostly non-Red states open to Democrats and Independents to vote in (and they did). The principle thing they all had in common was that they were not bellwether states. None of them could be expected to be a reliable indicator of what the Republican voters across America would vote for. South Carolina, the 9th state to go, was the first reliably Red state — however, open primary. Nice going. After South Carolina, the decision was close to inevitable.
- Super Tuesday approached rapidly – 4 weeks after the first primary, still not having had a decent closed primary in a Republican state. Nearly half of the delegates were designated on that day, 7 months before the convention and 9 months before the general election. Stooooooooopid. The deal was sealed on that day.
- Every state after that, including big Republican strongholds like Texas, were superfluous.
Proposed solutions should address a few areas
- The central truth of my proposal is that only Republicans should have a voice in who the Republican nominee is, and how the process is done.
- There should be no presupposed notion that all Republicans must be conservative. RINOs are still Republicans. Northeastern liberal Republicans are still Republicans. But there should be a presupposed notion that Republicans in the most reliable states on election day deserve to be substantially involved in the process. Such is not currently the case.
- The national party must be large and in charge of the nomination process. The national party can set standards and punish non-compliance by nullifying, reducing, or refusing to seat a state’s delegates. They should do so with gusto.
- The time scale in which this is played out is unacceptable. It must begin later and end later.
- A Super Tuesday is about the most moronic idea imaginable. There is something very healthy about a vetting process, where early, relatively low-stakes primaries weed out candidates whose organizations are weak, or whose message simply fails to resonate.
- The predominant national media are a huge hindrance, a malevolent meddler in the Republican nomination process. They wield tremendous power in the current system, and they hate us. They have demonstrated repeatedly that they use their power to deliberately subvert the will of Republican voters. So we must cut them out of it — coldly, deliberately, and with deadly precision. We don’t try to cut them out of reporting it of course, but we cut them out of the control loop, out of the ability to control the dialog, and out of the ability to control the framing of issues for Republican voters. And we should enjoy doing it.
My proposal involves some carrot, and a whole lotta stick. The monkeys are out of the cages and flinging poo at each other. I don’t think enticement works here. This proposal is brutally efficient. If you are a candidate and don’t play along, you’ll be labeled a media whore and Democrat shill. In the unlikely event you should win the nomination, you won’t even be allowed to give a speech on the convention floor. If you are a state party and don’t play along, your delegates will not be seated or counted at the convention.
I think getting that established right up front, and enforcing it on the first couple of offenders, will produce a remarkable degree of compliance. So here we go.
In chronological order as the season plays out.
- Declaration of candidacy — no change. This is America, anybody can run and be judged on their merits, and declare as soon or as late as they want to.
- Debates — have the national GOP sponsor a series of debates
- At least 5 debates, at 3 week intervals.
- Starting Nov 1 (this is important — not a day earlier). We must give this season a slower start.
- All candidates are invited who are currently polling at least 3% of likely Republican primary voters in Rasmussen or Gallup.
- The national GOP decides when, where, and who moderates, and what the format and questions are.
- This is not a rule, just a highly recommended guideline. Have the moderators be prominent, influential conservatives. Picture Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Sowell, Haley Barbour, Jed Babbin, Fred Thompson, Ramesh Ponnuru,Andrew Napolitano, Ed Morrissey and a couple of those FNC hotties like Kim Guilfoyle and S.E. Cupp. (uh oh, did I just objectify them?? Oh noes!!!!) Also have some prominent Republicans and trustworthy Independents who aren’t so distinctly conservative, perhaps even a libertarian-leaning person or two — Former President George W Bush, Peggy Noonan, Dick Cheney, Matt Drudge, Bill Kristol, John Stossel, and Megyn Kelly. Can you imagine how entertaining such debates would be to Republican voters? And can you imagine how insightful and pertinent the questions would be? Republican candidates would have a chance (finally) to answer questions that they and their voters care about.
- All debates by ABC, NBC, YouTube, etc, are to be boycotted before the end of the 5 RNC debates. For the GOP debate system, eligibility for these debates is contingent on turning down all other debates. A candidate chooses either/or. Play the left-wing media game and hit all those debates, or hit the RNC-sanctioned debate series. We’re going to royally cheese off most significant media outlets. But who cares, they hate us anyway, and frankly they can’t hurt us in this area. We know CSPAN and FNC would jump all over the chance to televise these debates — and we give their people all the before-and-after-debate commentary and analysis, face-time, exclusive access, etc. And let’s be real. Almost 40 million viewers watched Sarah Palin’s 2008 Convention speech, and 9 million of those watched it on FNC. These debates will draw huge, off-the-charts ratings.
- that the first 2 primaries be the first and second Tuesday on or after March 1. One state each week.
- they be selected to go on a lottery basis for each 4-year cycle.
- states eligible for a “front 2” will have to have gone GOP in 3 of the last 4 presidential elections (split-electoral-vote states get no consideration unless they go unanimously GOP in 2 of the last 4). They will have to be worth at least 8 electoral votes, and not have been a “front 2” in the last 3 cycles.
- to be able to seat delegates at the convention, primaries (or caucuses) must be closed. Not semi-open, not semi-closed (see definitions). Only Republicans select the Republican candidate for President.
- Any state going earlier than those first 2 states seats no delegates in the convention. Any state not having closed primaries, no delegates. It is likely this will not initially deter some (IA and NH, I bet you a thousand dollars). The left-wing media will lionize these states; it is their one chance to influence the process. But it won’t count for much, and it won’t happen the second cycle. Read the next point to see how fast the candidates will lose interest in outlaw early states.
- Candidates who even “file” (whatever the term is) and/or make campaign stops after November 1 in states that violate the above, such candidates will be kicked out of any remaining RNC debates, and will not be allowed to speak at the convention, even the acceptance speech should that person win the nomination. Brinkmanship? Yep. But don’t you love the taste of gunpowder? It’s a time for political courage by the party, for once.
- No “super-days”. Using the number of electoral votes as my guide (good rule of thumb, another barometer will do), no primary day may have more than 70 electoral votes at stake (that’s less than 15% of the total). This allows little bitty states to combine their “purchasing power” without Republicans getting stupid about it. How to arbitrate whose primary is when? I’m open, but I’d suggest a first-come, first serve.
When I posted this in 2008, there were some people with opposing ideas. It was quite a healthy discussion. I am fine with people having ideas that conflict with mine. However, I like this plan, from top to bottom. I see no substantial flaw, and the only thing keeping it from being enacted would be the failure of leadership at the RNC.
- But what if some candidates ditch the RNC debates and go to the ABC/MSNBC/YouTube debates? You will get 100% compliance from the candidates. I guarantee it. Suppose Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry (for example) skipped the RNC debates and went on a series of major media debates, while Bachmann, Romney, Cain, Huntsman, Paul, and Santorum did the RNC circuit. So Perry and Gingrich go to 10 debates where they are asked about global warming, gays in the military, and lowering taxes on the wealthy. The other 6 go to 5 debates where they are asked how they would fix the economy, cut down on the regulatory stranglehold on businesses and employers, how they would undo the Obamadamage on trade and in foreign policy; what are their tax ideas, and how to lower the debt and deficit. Who do you think will persuade Republican voters more? Plus, if you skip those debates in favor of the media, the Cain and Bachmann ads just write themselves. Not only that, GOP voters will be highly resentful, since we’ve had all we can stand from the leftist media. That candidate will be wiped out in the first two real primaries, which will be in deep red states. To skip the RNC debates and go with the left-wing media is campaign suicide.
- But there would just be softball questions. OK. Seriously. Close your eyes and try to imagine Rush Limbaugh asking a softball question. Picture Thomas Sowell failing to cross-examine every candidate’s fiscal and tax policy. Or maybe you think Megyn Kelly will ask if they are “surprised, enchanted, troubled, or humbled“. You are high if you think these people are not going to mercilessly grill these candidates, to explain contradictions, and to frame answers within Constitutionally defensible positions. The thing you can be sure of is that they will ask questions and cover issues that Republicans care about.
- But the state Republican Party doesn’t control primary dates, especially in blue states. Fair enough. But it won’t stop the state party from sending delegates to the convention, selected in a fashion of their choosing. The Republican Party can ignore the primaries, or not have a Republican ballot at all. In many states, if they are willing to fund them, they can get state approval for their own primaries on a date of their choosing. If there are no practical options at their disposal, they can choose delegates in the old fashioned way via Iowa-style caucuses. It can be done on a shoestring budget too. Caucuses may not be strictly democratic, but they have their strong points too, and they have a way of rewarding candidates that have a strong ground game – a highly useful thing for the general election.
- But the list of states eligible to be the first two primaries is about 6 states. Actually this cycle it is 13 states. For 2012 that list is Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. What’s that you say? Mostly redneck states? Yes that is right. Mostly states where people respect the National Anthem, where they love God and country. I can’t imagine a finer bunch of states to choose from to be our first two bellwether primary states. Faithfully Republican, for the most part. What, you want Iowa and New Hampshire?
- But I would prefer a national primary day. Good for you. I most emphatically do not. The vetting process provided by earlier primaries will weed out the weaker candidates and candidates who are not representative of Republicans. We will get to observe them on the trail, how they respond to success and failure, how well they raise money, how they handle the leftist media. Such skills and organization are required for the general election. Eventually the field is narrowed down to two, and then one. A single national primary day deprives us of all those things. A single national primary also leaves us very susceptible to splitting the conservative vote among 4 conservatives, and having the one moderate wuss win the whole thing on one day with 30% of the vote. No way will I ever support this.
- But a candidate must have cross-over appeal, and this system would fail to account for that. First, nobody who is not a Republican deserves a say in who the Republican Party nominates. That is a moral absolute. I dare say better to die with a captain we are willing to fight for. But second, shutting the Left out from the debates and from participating materially in the votes is a far cry from Republican voters and candidates being ignorant of crossover appeal. You can be sure the national media will constantly be polling the primaries, polling various Republicans against various Democrats in head-to-heads, how they poll among independents, blacks, women, men, and so on. And not just the left-wing, but also Rasmussen. Plus, all candidates have their own private polling services who are brutally honest. Republican primary voters will take into account many factors; among them, their view of a candidate’s electability. It will hardly be a secret what a candidate’s cross-over appeal will be. But even still. If, in the end, American Republicans choose their Mondale, their unelectable candidate, we will have done it with eyes open. So be it.
This plan can be implemented. The RNC, if run by strong and conservative people, easily has the power to enact and enforce this plan. The only weakness is that the RNC has for decades been dominated by establishment types who would just as soon not have conservatives picking the nominee. Our ColdWarrior, with the Precinct Committeeman Project, is leading the movement that will remove that obstacle sooner than you think.
Further, this plan is sensible, pragmatic, and equitable. I can’t deny that I enjoy that it pokes a finger in the eye of that national partisan left-wind media machine, and cuts down their influence in framing the issues and defining the candidates for the voters.
But at the end of it, it puts Republican voters in charge. That is a very good thing.