Monday, September 27, 2010

A short history of presidential primaries meets reality.

There must have been a lull of sorts reached in this midterm election cycle yesterday because it had Washington Post opinion columnist, George Will, gazing off into the future, but not without a tip of the cap to the past ["A short history of presidential primaries."]. The truth is that FHQ just didn't care too much for Will's history lesson. Well, actually the history part wasn't all that bad. The story of the intent of the Founders in creating the Electoral College is one I always like telling my Intro to American Government classes. However, the esteemed conservative columnist is guilty of not only omitting some important information from the recent past of presidential primaries but also of making a fairly large assumption in regard to the 2012 nomination process.

Let me address the latter first. I will be among the first in line (and was) to commend the parties for their ad hoc coordination of the two sets of rules governing presidential nominations for the 2012 cycle. [The intra-party groups -- the GOP Temporary Delegate Selection Committee and the Democratic Change Commission -- were not ad hoc, but the inter-party efforts were.] FHQ said soon after the 2008 cycle was complete that the parties working together was a necessary, if not sufficient, way of reigning in the frontloading that has "plagued" the process essentially since it was reformed during the 1968 nomination process. But the national parties merely changing their rules for presidential selection is but one piece to this puzzle. There is a whole process that will begin playing out as soon as the midterm elections are over in November. Once the newly elected state legislatures begin sessions in early 2011 by filing -- or not filing -- bills to change the election laws of states across the country, we'll begin to understand whether this will be a harmonious process or not. While the GOP may have their "sticks" and the Democrats their "carrots", eighteen states must still alter their election laws to shift their primaries to later dates and thus back into compliance with the national parties' presidential selection rules.

FHQ will not say that this is impossible.* We will, however, point out that those eighteen states represent eighteen opportunities for shirking. That shirking, in turn, poses a threat to an unraveling of the whole process. And yes, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will sit on the sidelines and wait as other states act -- or don't act. Those "Entitled Four" will bide their time and shift the dates on which their contests occur accordingly; earlier than everyone else.

Will really need look no further than Florida and Michigan in 2008 for examples of this. Actually, it is fundamentally irresponsible for him to have omitted the two violators from the last cycle from his column. The Florida and Michigan examples hold the key to the 2012 process. States will either follow the rules as most have throughout the post-McGovern-Fraser reform era or they will treat Florida and Michigan in 2008 as a sea change; a states' rights sea change. States' rights is a loaded term in American political history, but in this case, it is appropriate if only because the states will have the option to flex their muscles, if they so choose, against the national parties' sanctions. As I have argued, the states have the incentive to balk at the rules simply because the penalties are not strong enough.

I guess we'll start finding out in January when the newly elected state legislatures convene in state capitals across the nation.

*It should be noted that Arkansas as well as Illinois and Montana Republicans have moved their contests for 2012 back already.

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