Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Three Cheers for "Closed" Primaries

If we must have primaries to nominate our candidates, then at least voting in them should be restricted to those who actually identify with that particular political party - ans so presumably care, at least somewhat, about the party's principles and electoral prospects. That is the "traditional" primary system i grew up with in New York, Had such a system been in place throughout the United States, Donald Trump's path to the Republican presidential nomination might have been more of a challenge for him. And Bernie Sanders would never have become the problem tha the has become for the Democrats.

And a problem he clearly has become - as is increasingly evident after the shameful spectacle of unseemly behavior by Sandres' partisans last weekend in Nevada. How ironic that not so long ago people were worrying about Trump's followers' being misled into thinking that the nominating system was rigged and that the nomination was somehow being stolen from them and about their potentially unseemly behavior at Trump rallies and perhaps this summer at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Now, the Republicans seem to have accepted their destiny, and Trump's calm coronation in Cleveland seems increasingly likely. Meanwhile now it is the Democrats' November prospects that are being endangered by Sanders' demagoguery and his followers' fanaticism. There probably hasn't been a presidential election years so full of surprising twists and turns since perhaps 1968!

In the old days, of course, some noisy conflict was common at all conventions, but that was before everyone - especially the party establishments - came to expect conventions to be televised commercials for their candidates' campaigns. In any case, when the noisy conflict is ideological (as with the Democrats in 1968 and 1972 and with the Republicans in 1964 and 1976), the end result is usually negative. Of course, ideologues who care little about the party and the ultimate result in November are less likely to be moved by such considerations. That is why parties need to keep control of their nominating processes and why "open" primaries in which people with no commitment to the party can participate are so problematic.

Democrats should never forget that, while Sanders caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, he has never actually been a Democrat. And neither the Democrats nor the country as a whole need another Ralph Nader-like constituency distorting this year's election as happened in 2000.

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