Primaries: open or closed? That's the question…
Over the Christmas season I had the opportunity to talk quite a bit with my father-in-law, a fairly solid Democrat on most issues. (Well, if not a Democrat, then certainly a non-Republican.) One of the reasons I get along so well with my in-laws is their ability to actually discuss something with someone who doesn’t agree with them without falling into the venom-spitting attitude I get from so many on the Left these days. The topic of discussion turned toward the upcoming primaries and caucuses – Iowa was the big thing on the news that day – and he asked what I thought of primaries in general. One thing I thought should change, I said, was that primaries should be closed to include only those people belonging to the party in question.
Back in May 2006 I was writing about the aftermath of the VA 10th District convention I’d attended and I wanted to address the concept of “freedom of disassociation.” In that post, I wrote:
I would argue that private groups such as the GOP must be free to exclude persons from their association. Associations are made to gather like-minded persons together for some purpose. Perhaps it’s a chess club or a scuba-diving club or a network-security professional association that we’re talking about but the reason for the association is always the same. People with a common interest working toward a common goal gather to join in their mutual pursuits. Such groups must be able to deny membership to those they conclude do not share their common interest and to sever their association with persons already a member who demonstrate interests counter to the group’s stated goal.
The goal of the GOP is, bluntly, to get Republicans elected to public office. They do that so as to advance a conservative political agenda, yes, but the entire reason for banding together as the party does is to identify candidates to support and then support them for election.
It should be obvious on its face that a political party should be allowed to select the candidate they wish to put into the race without interference from persons outside the party. In other words, I believe that every single primary should be a closed, GOP-only event. A discussion about this, and about how primaries should be arranged and run in the future, is currently being held over at RedState. The author there has put in quite a bit of thought on the matter, obviously and it’s generating quite a bit of discussion. I’m weighing in here so as to be on record in my own space. I wanted to also address a couple of points that have come up over there.
One of the things being mentioned is the fact that the media, via their reporting (and, in some case, ignoring) and their control over the debates is exerting control over the nomination process. As a Fred supporter, I have noted that the media frequently fails to even mention Fred Thompson. He’s gotten more press since Saturday than in the months preceding, and that’s mostly due to the media’s “vote someone off the island” attitude. Their continuous characterization of him as “not really wanting it” has actually colored the perception some people have of him. And their implementation of the debates has been unhelpful to the public and downright hostile toward the Republican side of the races.
One of the proposals is to have the GOP National Committee take that over and run the debates themselves. This is a great idea, in my opinion. Again, the entire idea of the primaries is to select the Republican nominee and the control over debates between Republicans vying for that position should clearly be with the party. There’s been some idea that trying such a thing would result in the MSM simply not covering the debates. I find that less than likely given the competition the various media outlets engage in. Even if they did, so what? CSPAN could perform that duty and streaming internet video is far more capable of performing this function adequately than it was even a few years ago. Getting local parties to gather their members together to watch the debates over a less broadcast medium might even be good for the party as a whole.
The other item I wanted to touch upon was actually from the comments of the RedState post. Some people are arguing against closed primaries because, they say, we need the input from the Independents so we can get a sense of “how electable” a given candidate will ultimately be. I would have to argue that the increased participation of people who are not members of the party and who do not have the interests of the party as their guidance in this effort is a pretty high price to pay for what amounts to marketing research. Is it really too much to ask a person who wants to have a say in who the GOP nominee is that they actually join up?
I encourage you to go read the entire post and, if you can get the time, the comments attached. There’s a lot of detail over there that I haven’t gone through in this post and there’s no point in repeating here what’s said there. It’s an important issue to think about for the future of politics in this nation.