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Morning Jay: The Nomination Rules Are Rigged Against Grassroots Conservatives

6:00 AM, Jan 6, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Here we get to the core flaw in selecting party nominees via primaries. I have written before that without competition between the political parties, we cannot really count on voters to make good decisions; it is the battle between the Democrats and Republicans that forces the electorate to focus on real problems and the partisan differences on how to solve them. Primaries are intra-party contests and thus do not offer that kind of clarification process. Hence, we have poorly informed voters backing a candidate because they like him or her more.

But wait, it gets worse!

Self-identified conservatives tend to be a majority of most primary electorates, so one would think that, even with the limits of primaries, you’d still get a quality conservative nominee. But that isn’t necessarily the case in a three-way race. That’s the final, huge problem with the primaries. They do not build consensus, which ultimately would require the assent of the conservative side of the GOP. Instead, they create a game similar to the show Survivor – “outwit, outplay, outlast.”

If you are a moderate Republican – e.g. Bob Dole or John McCain – you don’t need to win a majority of the conservative vote. You just need to do well enough among moderate Republicans so that you win more votes than your conservative opponents. Then, you simply wait for the media and the party establishment to pressure your conservative challengers into dropping out.

That is exactly what happened in 2008:

As you can see, during the competitive phase of the nominating battle, John McCain did hardly better than Mitt Romney, who that year was identified as the conservative in the race. But the conservative vote was split early on between Romney and Mike Huckabee, enabling McCain to “win” primaries, thus putting pressure on Romney to drop out, which he did after Super Tuesday. And that was basically that: McCain effectively sows up the nomination with less than 40 percent of the vote!

And this, my dear readers, is why the conservative party never seems able to nominate a conservative candidate. The rules of the nomination game favor candidates who have the insider connections, can garner positive coverage from the media, can appeal to non-ideological and poorly informed voters, and who can win perhaps just a third of the vote in the early rounds. Such candidates are rarely the conservatives. Put another way: conservatives consistently lose because they are not actually in charge of their own party.

This is why, moving forward, conservatives need to spend serious time and effort thinking about how to fix this screwed up process. Yes, it is important to consider the big policy issues – tax reform, health care, industrial policy – but without good rules to produce good nominees who can implement those policies, then it is all for naught.

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