This is No Way to Run An Election

Since the day after the 2010 elections, I have been bombarded with mailings and phone calls from the Republican National Committee seeking my support in the campaign to defeat President Obama in 2012.

I am 100% committed to that goal.

I am also 85% dissatisfied with the way that the process has been conducted.  And it seems to get worse with each election cycle.

My most significant issue is the unending cacophony of experts, news analysts and bloggers insisting that the “whole thing is over after South Carolina” or some variant thereof that seeks to wrap up the whole process before 47 other states have had a chance to weigh in on the matter.  If we truly are going to end the process after three (relatively tiny) states have had some sort of caucus/election, why do we need to be bombarded with endless requests for money? Why, as a resident of Georgia, should I even bother to participate in the county conventions or primary if a bunch of committees in states I don’t live in are going to decide the issue?

My second issue with this process is the large number of debates conducted (largely on Saturdays when people have actual lives) and moderated by professionals who have only one real aim — self promotion and more ‘resume bullets’ — yes, John King and George Stephanopoulos, I’m looking at you — rather than facilitating a meaningful and intelligent discussion of the issues.

I believe that we need a process that helps us understand the traits that are important in the candidates — their grasp of the facts, their guiding governmental principles, and a reasonable test of the way they think under pressure.  But I think the process we have now does a really poor job in answering these needs.  The ‘twitter debate’ that was conducted was an interesting twist as the candidates all had to answer simultaneously without knowledge of the other’s  thoughts.  Maybe we should expand that a bit beyond 140 characters and look for ways to have the candidates, in their own words and in writing, state their positions without the circus of the debates.  The stand up routines are useful, but only to a point, so we should encourage say 3-5 of those, done at a time when people’s attention will be attuned to actually listening to them.

I also believe that we need to return to some sort of means to deeply understand the issues and develop solutions. We almost need an ‘issues convention’ in the year before the primaries so that we can vet the candidates on that basis instead of what we do now — who has the best poll numbers? who has the best fundraising report? These are terrible surrogates for  a candidate’s ability to govern once elected. Instead of forcing all the candidates to mount their own platforms and ideas, we should first decide as a national political party what the issues are and form a working consensus on the solution — and then pick the candidate that does the best job defending the solution.  The voters would then have the confidence that the plan would actually be accomplished, and they would be far more committed to working toward the election of the candidate.  As it stands now, we have disconnects with ideas and candidates — there appeared to be some strong support for “9-9-9” for example, but those folks see little chance of that being adopted with any of the current candidates. Don’t be surprised when their enthusiasm wanes as a result.

Lastly, I think ‘wrapping it up early’ might be great for the support troops and the ‘campaign professionals’ but it is a lousy idea for winning the election.  I’m not a sports expert, but it seems to me that the teams that wrap up their division races and coast into the playoffs always get surprised.  The election cycle should be a campaign of short, but intense action — so the current 4 year process should be scrapped, because it leads to “the professionals” trying to “manage” it, rather than groups of leaders at all levels “waging” the campaign.

“Managers” want the primaries to end early — but I think that takes a lot of the “edge” off as the other states, who don’t matter, go through the motions of choosing their delegates, much like baseball teams playing the last 4-5 games prior to the playoffs.  There is a danger of disaffection, boredom, ‘injury’ and turning their attention elsewhere — none of which are good things.

“Leaders” on the other hand, see the political process needing continuous, sharp and meaningful competition until the final ‘battle’ is won.  Why do you think politics is so infused with military terminology — it is because it truly is a contest (without weapons) that is every bit as important as a military victory.  Clausewitz said “War is politics by other means.”  It could and should be understood to be true in the reverse — and in this important election, many (like me) believe that this election truly is a fight for the future of America.  If this is a fight, then we don’t want to be the Army of the Potomac, patiently waiting for our opponent to move — we want to use (all) the primaries to harden the candidates and the troops and then use the summer and the Conventions to relentlessly pursue the course of victory in November.

We should insist on a process that begins in the late winter/early spring of the election year, thoroughly tests the candidates into the summer, flows into a short respite around the Convention (think of it as the “All Star” Break) and then pushes into the final 6o or so days to the election.

This would truly make it a national contest, worthy of supporting a national political party.