Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dogpile on Iowa and New Hampshire ...Again.

Is it that time again?

The time for everyone to pile on Iowa and New Hampshire for being the unrepresentative states at the front of the presidential primary and caucus line.

It seems that way. But now, instead of it being about the racial unrepresentativeness,1 it's about the urban-rural discrepancy and the resulting economic policy. The policy bit has been covered. Andrew Taylor showed -- without the quips about the position Iowa and New Hampshire occupy on the calendar -- that the earlier a state is the more it gains in promises from candidates and the more it gains in terms of candidates-turned-presidents' concessions once they are in the White House.

Now, a normative argument could be made for allowing other states to have a turn at the front to enjoy the fruits of being there. But that completely misses the point. So too, does Leonhardt's emphasis on the notion of one person-one vote in his New York Times take down of Iowa and New Hampshire on both urban-rural and policy concessions grounds. FHQ should go on record as saying that it is an advocate of one person-one vote, but primaries and caucuses or nominations for any office are not necessarily the domain of one person-one vote. Nominations, whether for president or dog catcher, are the business of the parties that conduct them. General elections, on the other hand, are about electing someone from one party or another to fill a particular office. The latter is democratic. The former isn't necessarily.

The idea of a general election is to let whomever wants to register to vote vote and have as equal a voice as possible. But nominating contests are not about that. Nominations are about the parties nominating someone to run in that general election. And the parties can choose whatever rules for govern that process that they want. It's their business.

Want to set the rules to produce the best candidate for the general election? Go for it.

Want to set the rules to produce the candidate who is the best ideological fit regardless of their chances in the general election? Again, go for it.

Want to set the rules to produce only balding, white males with yellow eyes -- so help me God, yellow eyes? Hey, more power to ya.

The point is that parties set the rules governing their nomination races. And no, they don't necessarily have to be democratic or fair. It just has to appear that way or appear enough that way. The courts have continually found in favor of the parties on this front (see the Tashjian case from the Supreme Court docket in 1986). The parties want to stick around for the long haul, and ideally to achieve that end they will have to be pragmatic and find enough electable candidates and minimize the Christine O'Donnells while still allowing for those sorts of results to occur.

But at the end of the day, it is up to the party to decide on the rules. And if that means Iowa and New Hampshire go first in the presidential primary process, then tough. When and if Iowa and New Hampshire produce a nominee that is unpalatable enough in the eyes of the party -- whichever party -- that a change at the front of the queue becomes necessary or even unavoidable, the party or parties will alter the rules. And honestly, I can't remember the last time someone argued that it was Iowa's and/or New Hampshire's fault that a certain candidate won a nomination and cost a party the chance at the White House. [It is usually the candidate that is thrown under the bus, not the voters who chose them eight or nine months prior.] Sure, that argument could be made, but it hasn't (or hasn't been effectively).

The bottom line is that Iowa and New Hampshire, despite their warts, do what they're suppose to do -- or at least do well enough at what they're supposed to do -- to keep their positions. If they didn't the parties would change it. And we may be approaching that point. All the talk about Iowa this time around has been about how the potential is there, due to the rightward "lurch" of the Iowa Republican caucusgoers, for an extreme candidate to win the caucuses and threaten Iowa's position as the first contest. FHQ cannot speak for the Republican deliberations that have taken place, but the Iowa/New Hampshire question was raised last summer at the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee meetings to set the 2012 delegate selection rules for the party. That idea was tabled, though, because the party's objective was and continues to be to reelect the president. The members of the committee did not want to rock the boat in 2012 by attempting to shake up the nomination system.

And until Iowa and New Hampshire drop the ball in some fundamental way, the parties are not going to want to rock the boat in any future cycle.

Is FHQ nothing but a shill for Iowa and New Hampshire? No, but we do know that the overlapping interests of state and national parties, not to mention those of state and national governments, make changing the presidential nominating process extremely difficult. Does that mean no effort should be made? Not necessarily, but please know that the parties hold a veto on any changes that are proposed (and that Congress, while technically able to intervene and effectively in the eyes of the courts has been very hesitant to do so).

There are bigger fish to fry.

The interesting thing is that primaries/caucuses/nominations got confused with the ideals we hold dear in terms of general elections. That confusion is attributable, FHQ would argue, to presidential primary reform. In their effort to comply with the new Democratic Party rules for presidential nominations, states opted for the convenience of state-funded primary elections as opposed to funding separate, party-funded contests. The fact that most of these presidential nominating contests are taxpayer funded blurs the line on this. That opens up a whole different can of worms, though.

1 The DNC opened the pre-window period up to both Nevada and South Carolina in 2008 in an effort to allow Hispanic and African American voters respectively have a larger say in the early presidential nomination process.

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