By John F. Di Leo -
I have been a fan of country music since the mid-1970s, when Ellie Dylan jockeyed disks on Chicago’s WMAQ radio. There are different kinds of country fans, of course – those who like the modern guys more, or the modern gals more, or the oldies more, and of course there are the “traditionalists” who think that nobody’s REALLY been country since we lost Hank Sr. But we’re still all country fans.
So, when the internet came along, and fans gained the opportunity to vote for the top 20 songs of the week, and then the top 20 videos of the week, I joined the thousands of other fans in logging on to the video channel and casting a vote now and then. Some of us may prefer the romantic videos, some the more raucus. I’m most likely to cast a vote for a comic one from Toby Keith or Brad Paisley.
I’m not in the industry; I can’t vote for the CMAs or ACMs. But I’m a fan, so I can vote for the country video stations’ top 20 list. And that’s just fine.
I suppose the hiphop and rap stations, rock and pop and alternative rock stations, probably also have top 10 or top 20 video votes, just like country does, but I wouldn’t know. I haven’t liked rock since the British Invasion wrecked it; I have no right to judge what I think their top songs or videos are. Not being a rock fan; I would have no business showing up and casting a ballot. Just as rock fans, in my opinion, have no business showing up at a country website and telling us what our best videos are. What do they know?
In the end, the stations are available to us all. We can all turn on our televisions and watch the best of each genre and compare for ourselves. But let’s see what the country fans think is the best of country, what the pop fans think is the best of pop. And then choose.
Of course you know where I’m going with this. The primary season of 2012 has not surprised; it is exactly the nightmare they usually are. Mitt Romney – nothing against him, he’s as good a Republican as you could ever expect a former Massachusetts governor to be – tied Iowa and won New Hampshire, starting out his season on top.
Now, how can the leader of the conservative party be anything but a conservative? How is it possible? Easy. It’s fixed.
No, it’s not illegal. There’s nothing illegal about the GOP primary season (this is the party of honest campaigns; if you want vote fraud, look across the aisle). The GOP primary calendar and system operate within the law; they’re just set up terribly wrongly.
Start with a couple of moderate states. Then give them an open process where you can declare your party on the day of the primary or caucus… not a month earlier, or a year earlier, but that day, so you might have attended a Reelect BHO fundraiser in the morning, but you can still take a Republican ballot in the afternoon. And be sure to encourage them; champion this open primary to the whole world, so everyone knows that non-Republicans are encouraged to participate.
Then as soon as this proud group of non-Republicans chooses the least Republican of the field, proudly declare that “Republicans are rallying around the frontrunner, as expected!” And be sure to hide the giggles until the cameras are off.
A Little Data
According to exit polls taken at the New Hampshire primary, as reported by FoxNews.com, approximately 48% of the people taking Republican ballots “think of themselves as Republicans”… About 52% of them think of themselves as “something else.” Now, you can interpret that any way you want. Only a few percent went so far as to admit they think of themselves as Democrats, but half the country isn’t independent, Libertarian or Green.
The numbers speak for themselves: Mitt Romney proudly won about 40% of an electorate that was half Democrat. They tell us such audiences are his specialty; let’s hope that if he does get this nomination, he does a lot better in November before a similar electorate.
But the big question is why? Why on earth should non-members of a party have a say in who that party should select as its champion? These people don’t subscribe to Republican economics, or Republican foreign policy, or Republican views of our American culture. They may be nice people, good citizens, hard workers; they may be wonderful in every way. But if they aren’t Republican enough to even say, when pressed, “For the most part, I think of myself as a Republican”… then why do we let them vote in our primaries and caucuses?
Building a Proper Primary System
It is too late for 2012, but if we have a 2016, we should get our rules in place so this repetitive error isn’t repeated yet again.
Closed Primaries, Never Open:
A closed primary is defined as one in which you had to announce your party affiliation at some point before obtaining your ballot; an open primary is one in which you can select the primary ballot of your choice right there in the polling place; you can literally change your mind before casting the ballot.
But there are hardly any truly closed primaries anymore. A generation or two ago, in Illinois, if you wanted to change parties, you had to skip a primary. Voted Democrat in 2008? Regretted it? Want to switch to Republican in 2012 to make up for your error? Fine… then you have to skip the 2010 primary. Prove the seriousness of your conversion; prove the depth of your commitment to your new party.
Contrary to the whines of the left, this is no denial of anyone’s constitutional rights. Nobody has a constitutional right to speak for a group of which he is not a member. Democrats should choose their own champions, just as Republican should choose theirs.
Every state should return to such rules. No matter whether the state chooses the caucus method or the primary method – and both choices have a good deal to recommend them – these nomination contests should be 100% limited to people who have identified themselves for their party for at least a year.
A Rational Schedule:
In the current system, Iowa goes first. It gets a day to itself, then a week to bask in the glory of having made its decision. Then New Hampshire goes second. It gets a day to itself, then another ten days before South Carolina. Then another ten days until Florida. Again we must ask, Why?
The old idea that a national primary would be too costly, too difficult a decision-making process, so we should select a few early states to handle the important stuff, was always a foolish idea, but is especially so in the modern age. Deserving candidates can raise a million in a day online; they can produce good video commercials that go viral; they can write position papers that are circulated nationwide in an instant through social media. There is simply no need to save candidates that much money by holding the primaries in this focused fashion, if indeed there ever was.
In fact, a far stronger case can be made that this focus on a single state gives each of these early states a great deal of power – not necessarily to elect, but to winnow – that is utterly unfair to the other states.
There have been many proposals for revisions to the schedule, and Iowa and New Hampshire have always squashed them through the undue influence that the current system provides. The time has come to cease this outrageous system of giving a single state – any single state – its own day of prominence.
We could select ten days, in which the five smallest states hold their primaries or caucuses (again, both must be properly closed to party members only) on the same day. Then the next five smallest a week or two later. Then the next five, etc.
The important thing is that no single day is owned by a single state, so that a candidate ill-fitted to a single state might be eliminated, however strong he might be elsewhere. The multiple-state primary day is the key.
My personal preference is a bit complicated, but fair: Divide the states up by congressional districts, so that the schedule is arranged not by 50 states but by the 435 House districts. 40 districts the first primary day, another 40 a week or two later, another 40 a week or two after that. This would add some cost at the state level for many states, but not significantly more than many states already spend on special elections, run-offs and recalls. This method would allow small states to vote as one, but larger states would no longer have to wait until the end of the cycle; they could just be divided up, rotating, so that every state can be cycled in to mattering every few elections.
North Wisconsin could be first and Southern Wisconsin last the first year, then the reverse four years later. Texas could be split into quadrants, each participating in the first primary day every fourth cycle.
Or the cycles could be weighted by how Republican or Democrat they were in the last election; either rewarding the most Republican areas by making them first, or focusing on the swing districts by giving them prominence. There are many ways to look at it.
The important thing is to get rid of the open primary that allows non-Republicans to choose our nominee, and the single-state election schedule that gives each of several early states a virtual veto on our candidate fields.
Fixing the Debates:
There was a time when very few commentators complained about this issue; no more. It has grown into quite a common whipping boy in the 2012 cycle. Simply stated: most debates allow non-Republican journalists to ask questions of Republican candidates that the Republican electorate don’t care about. Just as the general election debates are designed to help all voters make their selection in the fall, the primary election debates are designed to help the primary voters choose their champion for that campaign. The debates don’t help if the questioners don’t want the best of the field to be nominated, if they don’t want the party’s nominee to be victorious.
Yet again, the solution is simple: only self-identified conservatives should moderate and participate in the questioning at a GOP primary debate. The writers of National Review and the Weekly Standard, the conservative hosts of radio and television. These questioners won’t throw softballs, but they’ll be fair. They won’t be looking for gotcha questions; they’ll be looking to seriously inform their own votes. So they’ll ask the questions that the primary voters care about.
There’s certainly more that could be done to fix our system. The right kind of campaign finance reform, for example (eliminating limits, but requiring full disclosure, and enforcing the ban on non-citizen and foreign contributions that the Obama campaigns are famous for flaunting in 2008)… better candidates and better campaign managers… an end to vote fraud. There’s much to be done.
But we can’t fix everything. Just fixing the schedule, having more useful debates, and limiting the voting rolls to only those who actually want Republicans to win, will go a long way toward a more useful primary system next time.
We have a great bench for 2016 and 2020 – great governors and senators that we know of for sure, plus (we hope) great cabinet secretaries in the next administration. Let’s give them a good set of improved primary rules, so that when that great bench runs for president in a few years, those cycles will produce the best we have to offer. As indeed it should.
Now we just have to get through 2012 and the next few years somehow.
Copyright 2012 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade lecturer. He’s given speeches in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and likes both states… he assures us it’s nothing personal; he just stands for a more efficient system for the selection of our presidents.
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