The discussion of Republican Party rules reform is beginning in the aftermath of the catastrophe of the new rules that were created by the RNC leadership in 2010. Many people attribute the lengthening process to just the new rules, but I would argue that there are several other factors. Some of the obvious ones are the weakness of the candidate field and new campaign finance structures. It is hard to imagine how Newt Gingrich would have been able to compete in South Carolina or Rick Santorum pretty much anywhere without SuperPAC support. Their campaigns would have run out of money in previous years, and their shows would have been up. Blaming the “proportional” rules misses the point somewhat, as none of the states that have gone yet other than Florida previously operated under winner-take-all rules.
The real disaster of this cycle has been the presidential preference caucus. In Iowa, Nevada, and Maine, we have had disastrous voting procedures, with results unknown or in flux for days. In Iowa, this led to the resignation of the state party chair Matt Strawn. In Nevada, the state party’s failed efforts to run a caucus have been widely panned, although the state party chair had already announced that she was stepping down, so there hasn’t been the same kind of accountability. In Maine, I am hearing that state party Chairman Charlie Webster, who I quite like personally, is coming under tremendous pressure from county party chairs, elected officials and the party executive committee to step down.
But the problem with caucuses is not that they are hard to run, although some party leaders have called for improving those processes. After all, they are run by political parties which are notoriously incompetent and corrupt. I suspect that they could be run well.
The reason that we shouldn’t have a caucus is that it gives voters the illusion of participation while transferring power to party insiders or hyper-activists. What a binding presidential primary does is it subordinates the party insiders to the will of the voters. Do you want an illusion or accountability?
This is a process which makes Ron Paul a serious contender in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Maine, where he is not even relevant in any state with a primary. Only in a process that deliberately restricts the number of participants could someone like Ron Paul stand a chance or use the silly process as a basis to build a strategy on.
How bad is this restriction? My friend Matt Gagnon reviewed the turnout in the last primary in Maine and compared it to the caucus, and this is what he found:
In 1996, more than 67,000 Republicans voted in their primary. In 2000, more than 64,000 Democrats and 96,000 Republicans voted.
This year, a little over 5,000 Mainers participated in the much ballyhooed and now very much disputed Romney vs. Paul death match.
I would note that the 2010 gubernatorial primary attracted over 120,000 Republican voters and 110,000 Democratic voters. And this primary resulted in the election of Paul Le Page, the most conservative serious candidate, who went on to win the general election in a blue-to-purple state. How can over a 95% drop in participation that results in “a death match” between Ron Paul activists and party insiders be good for our party?
The answer is that it is not. But let’s get in the weeds to see why. If you voted in a caucus, did you realize that to have your vote actually matter, you have to stay to become a delegate to a county, district, or state convention? If not, your vote doesn’t count at all. You just wasted your evening. Really.
Just ask the Ron Paul campaign, which explained how they got all the delegates from three counties they lost:
In one precinct in Larimer County, the straw poll vote was 23 for Santorum, 13 for Paul, 5 for Romney, 2 for Gingrich. There were 13 delegate slots, and Ron Paul got ALL 13.
In a precinct in Delta County the vote was 22 for Santorum, 12 for Romney, 8 for Paul, 7 for Gingrich. There were 5 delegate slots, and ALL 5 went to Ron Paul.
In a Pueblo County precinct, the vote was 16 for Santorum, 11 for Romney, 3 for Gingrich and 2 for Paul. There were 2 delegate slots filled, and both were filled by Ron Paul supporters.
In these counties, Ron Paul came in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (last), but they got ALL of the delegates from these counties. In the county that Paul came in last, both of his voters became the only delegates, in spite of the fact that all the other candidates got 15-times more votes. When there aren’t well organized activists like the Ron Paul campaign, what happens? The actual Republican voters leave, and process is left to party insiders who give us people like Dede Scozzafava.
None of these states actually pick nominees for Governor or Senate or anything like that via caucuses. They only use the caucus to magnify their power when it comes to picking President. is that right?
One of the reasons that Redstate has urged readers to participate in local party organizations is to give an escape from these options. We can fix the party by beating the establishment and stopping it from being captured by people like Ron Paul supporters. And we can force it to be accountability to the will of voters by using a primary.
I should also add that there is another very serious problem with caucuses. It is very hard in a caucus system to create a method for allowing active duty, deployed soldiers from participating. Captain Sam Wright of the Service Members Law Center discusses said:
Those who serve our nation in uniform, and those who accompany spouses or parents who serve, should be given the opportunity to participate in the nomination as well as the election of candidates for president and other offices. After all, were it not for their sacrifices, none of us would have the opportunity to vote in free elections.
So why do we have a process that excludes soldiers and transfers power to party insiders when we could have one that includes everyone and forces the party insiders to be accountable?
Because people don’t fight for it.