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Morning Jay: This Is No Way to Pick a President

6:00 AM, Oct 12, 2011 • By JAY COST
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3. The establishment still rules. Historically speaking, the Republican party has long been divided between the well-heeled establishment in the Northeast and the small town conservatives of the Midwest (who have in recent years alligned with the conservative Sun Belt). From the Civil War to the Great Depression, the Midwest held the balance of power, as more than two-thirds of the Republican nominees came from Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio. After the Depression, when Democrats surged in the Northeast, the establishment began to dominate the GOP, as the party nominated moderates Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, Alf Landon, Richard Nixon, and Wendell Wilkie, all of whom had the blessing of the Mid-Atlantic and New England. The conservatives, most notably Robert Taft, were left on the outside looking in.

One would think that opening up the nomination process to the broader GOP electorate would diminish the power of the establishment, but that would be incorrect. Money is the name of the game in the primary battle, and the establishment has plenty of it to spread around.

For instance, the top three GOP fundraisers in 2008 were Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Their hauls were overwhelmingly tilted to the establishment – Giuliani collected 55 percent of his money from those who gave more than $2,300, while Romney pulled in 48 percent and McCain collected 34 percent. What’s more, the securities/investment industry contributed nearly 10 percent of Giuliani and Romney’s total hauls, with the big banks (like Lehman and Citi) making up nearly 20 percent of those contributions.

In other words, the rise of the primary system has not degraded the power of the well-heeled Republican establishment. They may not have the votes, but they have the cash that candidates need for the votes.

4. They are too expensive. Through March of 2008, Republican presidential candidates had raised better than $300 million. This was money dedicated not to campaigning against the Democrats, but against each other. Here’s a question for the party that campaigns on economy in government: isn’t there a more efficient way to select a nominee?

Just about nobody likes the current nomination process. Unfortunately, every major reform proposal I’ve seen (e.g. a national primary, a cycling set of regional primaries) would exacerbate these four problems, as they would all enhance the role of the primary, which in my opinion is the major flaw with the status quo.

My preference is to bring back something similar to the old convention-style system. This would do away with the ill conceived primary elections, revitalize the state and local parties, and hopefully facilitate a more deliberative process that encourages consensus, reduces the power of the establishment, and costs less. 

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