We seem to have people who still misunderstand the primary system, both in our CapQ community and in the national political movements on the Right. Over the last couple of weeks, we have had grand ultimatums from a couple of factions which have demanded a particular type of nominee, or else the faction leaders claim they will depart the Republican Party. A few commenters have asserted the same ultimatum in the comments on this blog. It shows a lack of understanding not just of the primary process but also in how to build the necessary political coalitions that result in agendas getting addressed.
First, primaries serve as a testing mechanism for the various factions that make up the major political parties. Each faction gets a chance to convince a standard-bearer to run for President (as well as Senator, Governor at the state level, and so on). Primary campaigns allow these groups to make their best argument to the people with whom they are most closely aligned. The primary elections themselves test for the support within the party for the factions as well as the candidates themselves. It shows which group can pull together the largest political coalition, the strongest constituency within the party, as well as the most successful candidate for a general election.
It’s a good process. If someone cannot win primaries among political allies, they’re certain to lose general elections against political opponents. It allows the major political parties to produce the most successful candidate so that the entire alliance has a good chance to affect public policy.
However, it relies on all of the members of that alliance to act responsibly, both during and after the primary process. Those groups that want a certain kind of candidate to win the primary election need to find that candidate and support them in the primaries. They need to make the case to the party that their candidate makes the best national case for election. If they can’t do that, or if their candidate does not succeed, then they need to honor their alliance and go with the candidate which does succeed — because to do otherwise makes them unreliable partners on whom the party should never rely.
Let’s take a look at a particular example. Richard Viguerie sent an e-mail last week that stated in part:
As you may know, I was part of a group of over 40 conservative leaders who met recently and resolved not to vote for Republican candidates who are pro-abortion.
We will present the petition to the members of the Republican National Committee, the President and Republican members of Congress, media and blogs, and many other Republican leaders. It will be a powerful warning to those in a position of influence that, if the GOP turns against unborn children, a significant portion of its base will not vote for Republican candidates.
That, frankly, is absurd. The RNC, the President, and members of Congress do not select the party’s nominee. The Republican voters in each state do that. What good does a petition do? Why doesn’t Viguerie simply put all of that effort into actually supporting a candidate, rather than issue petitions aimed at people who have nothing to do with this process? Is Viguerie demanding an appointed candidate, one that comes from a smoke-filled back room rather than an honest primary process?
Along with the splintering rhetoric from James Dobson and others, it shows an immaturity and a complete rejection of the primary process. It’s a form of extortion; select a candidate despite the voters’ own preferences, or they walk out of the party. If the party nominates someone who cannot win a majority among their own voters without the threat of extortion, what chance do they have in the general election? None.
The silliness extends to the general election. On the radio shows I do, I hear the same refrain I heard in 2006 — “We’ll stay home and teach the party a lesson.” What lesson — that its allies are completely unreliable? That those who claim to speak for a majority would rather marginalize themselves and the rest of the agenda on the Right rather than accept the conclusion of the party’s own voters in the primaries? That’s not democracy, it’s petulance. All elections are cost-benefit choices, at all levels. If people can’t understand that much, they have no business leading any kind of political movement.
Support your primary candidate passionately and with positive assertions of their policy stands. Once the primaries are over, do some intelligent and mature cost-benefit analysis instead of indulging in hurt feelings and childishness. That goes especially for those who came out of Salt Lake with dire warnings about third-party efforts if they don’t get the candidate they want, especially since none of them appeared prepared to offer a specific candidate in the first place.
UPDATE: Shaun Mullen doesn’t like the caucus process, as he explains at The Moderate Voice. I’m not terribly enamored of caucuses as opposed to primary elections, either, and I think Shaun confuses the two a little in this post. It’s a good read nonetheless.