On Primaries

This is an ill-formed set of primordial thoughts demanding deeper understanding on my part. Stuff I've been thinking about a lot.
  1. Assumption #1: We elect presidents and making that selection should be democratic.
    (It isn't terribly democratic right now given our electoral system and I'm still on the fence about pros/cons of that but that's a different list.)
  2. Assumption #2: We don't elect candidates. Anybody can run for president if they meet the constitutional requirements. There's no obvious constitutional right to democratically select who runs.
  3. Assumption #3: The Republican primary system is overall a little more "democratic" than the Democrats'.
    Fewer caucuses, no super delegates, more winner take all which favors popular favorites over underdogs.
  4. Assumption #4: The republican primaries have promoted poor candidates for several cycles and this year actually selected an unqualified bad candidate.
    The party ticket is topped by a non-republican who's positions don't align well with the party, who the party doesn't want, and who is an embarrassment to the party.
  5. Contentious Assumption #5: Bernie Sanders was a strong second in the Democratic primary as an outsider who arguably would be bad for the party.
    I like a lot about Bernie but he definitely isn't an insider the party can trust to fall in line to further its interests nation-wide over the long run and up and down the ticket.
  6. Contentious Assumption #6: The major parties serve an important role organizing voters, defining packaged platforms, running grassroots campaigns, fostering candidates at every level, and bringing organization and funding infrastructure to the whole process.
  7. Contentious Assumption #7: Our non-parliamentary executive branch is designed in such a way that a multi-party system would be dangerous. The two party system is the only thing potentially stopping a Trump presidency. And a president elected with 10% of the popular vote has the same exact constitutional power as one elected with 90% of the vote
    I used to be a big "third parties!" person but on reflection, I think it's a terrible idea. And ultimately I think any party would anger any person in some ways any time it has broad appeal. Only highly factional divisive parties can appeal to all their supporters in every way.
  8. [Correction: Of course a heavily divided multiparty election would be unlikely to award a majority of electoral votes to any candidate in which case the House of Representatives would choose the winner. You can't win the presidency with 10% of the popular vote. I had forgotten this when I wrote the above.]
    But the point still stands: not a system well suited to multiple parties.
  9. Background: Historically the parties chose their own candidates as they saw fit. This resulted in instances of insider corruption. The current democratization of the primary process is a result of the McGovern-Fraser Commission of 1972.
  10. Concession #1: It isn't really a fair characterization to say the parties are "private organizations" and leave it at that. Given our strong two party system, it is reasonable to at least consider a regulatory infrastructure that encourages transparency in the nominating process.
  11. Contentious Concession #2: The undemocratic structure of the Democratic primary system actually helped Sanders more than it hurt him. Delegate splitting and caucuses both worked to his advantage.
    If it had been more "democratic" he would have been out much earlier. Undemocratic caucuses heavily favored Sanders and delegate splitting in general favors the second place candidate because of rounding.
  12. Question #1: What is the justification for open primaries?
    Full disclosure: I'm not a member of any political party. Recently (last 4-6 years maybe) I've begun to consider joining a party and being involved in it locally. I'm now pretty sure I will. But as an outsider, I have always refrained from voting in the primaries on philosophical grounds. I'm not a participating party member so why should I have a say in who the party runs? I get my say in the election.
  13. Question #2: Does a more democratic primary process undermine the ability for the parties to run effective high quality candidates?
  14. Question #3: Historiclly, what kinds of corruption lead to the McGovern-Fraser Commission and did the reformed system fix those problems?
  15. Question #4: Does the reformed system directly lead to or contribute to promoting lower quality candidates?
    At all levels, not just just for president. I personally believe Clinton is extremely qualified.
  16. Question #5: How much role should the national party, with an eye toward the efficacy of the whole organization, have in promoting its candidates of choice?
  17. This is not meant to be a contentious list. I'm not sure of the answers to any of these.
  18. I wonder out loud if we might have gone too far. I wonder if the party establishment shouldn't openly have a bigger role in promoting its candidates. I wonder if open primaries should be closed so parties can run their own nominating elections. I wonder if last minute party switching to make a primary deadline should be stopped.
  19. But mostly I wonder how Trump ended up at the top of one of the two "major" parties instead of off in a corner saying stupid stuff to an extremist crowd like Jill Stein.
    (Ok that part was meant to be a little contentious. 😶)