The aim of the primary election process is to allocate party delegates in each state to their chosen candidates before national conventions. This is where winning nominees are declared. It is a race for delegates, not votes. These elections draw mostly dedicated party junkies.
And after the last GOP primary, when Donald Trump won the nomination, it was a deer in the headlights moment for the Republican Party.
How did this happen? How could a real, true red-blooded American businessman invade the spotlight on the GOP’s stage? How could so many party members choose someone they had been trying to bury since their first debate? How could so many followers vote against the establishment candidates?
This was their choice. Americans decided to nominate their candidate, not a party hack.
Our Constitution does not mention political parties, and this was not an accident. James Madison wrote that political parties are a “dangerous vice” that have “tainted our public administrations.” George Washington warned against the “baneful effects” of political parties and their “insinuation” into democracy.
But by 1796, two political parties emerged: the Democratic-Republican Party led by Thomas Jefferson and the Federalist Party led by Alexander Hamilton. Although they have changed names, platforms and even ideologies many times through evolution, two parties have run our country since then.
In 1796, members of Congress met informally to choose presidential nominees. This caucusing system lasted three decades.
By 1824, national nominating conventions replaced the state “King Caucus.” State party bosses hand-picked delegates who would vote “correctly” at the convention. But this ultimately became an issue within the parties themselves. And by the end of World War II, states supported reforms that permitted partisans within the states to select convention delegates in primary elections scheduled before the general election.
Political parties at every level of government choose their nominees through primaries. That’s the most cardinal decision a party can make since all organization’s most important decisions should be made by members of that organization.
Primaries are closed or open, with a few independent.
In open primaries, voters cast their votes for either party.
In closed primaries, they vote only within their registered party. Independent voters aren’t allowed to cast a ballot.
And in a blanket primary, anything goes.
These open and blanket primaries have become a pain in the rear-end for party purists.
Not only did Trump’s nomination, a virgin pedant among political candidates, rattle the cages of the GOP, it shocked the left worse than 6,000 volts from an execution chair.
For years, party primaries were the glue that unified party direction for administrative election cycles. Candidates were invited that they felt fit the mold of their current docket and govern within the established traditions of their agenda and not stray far from the party reservation.
The last presidential election was a wake-up call for the left that the Clinton establishment’s mix of socially inclusive rhetoric and neoliberal economics is a weak response to xenophobic populism. Like all failed attempts to secure the White House, they retooled for the midterms and dethroned the GOP. But the Republicans’ learning curve is stuck in aftershock, and they learned nothing from what happened to propel their angry party members to surf the title wave of Trump’s victory in 2016.
Political parties have been dictating law in America so long people think we can’t have law without them. That’s not the way our founders saw it.
This was an invented concept by feuding factions at our first Congress. Joining a political party is like joining any good ol’ boys club. If you wish to be a member, you play by their rules or don’t play at all. And for decades, the left has played by different rules than the GOP — winning elections by voting for the most undesirable candidates in Republican primaries. Since they hand-pick their nominees four years in advance, they can do this.
There has been a standing argument against closed primaries, claiming they are not constitutional because they are limited to party members. But those who say this fail to cognize that political parties are “private clubs” open to all who wish to join, and they are unconstitutional and not recognized as a part of making law in any government. All laws pertaining to political parties are made to control them. These laws are made by each party by their members.
The Constitution guarantees us the right to vote in general elections since that is where we choose who represents us. This does not extend to primary elections to determine nominees.
It’s a mistake to treat primaries the same way as general elections. A party is not a government, and considering them as such is problematic. They are organizations, with leaders and members. Their decisions should be left to the members only. Your rights aren’t violated if you can’t vote in a primary.
Political scientists refer to political parties as “utilities” since they serve to determine who they wish to run for office to represent them. If you want to vote in their primary, they can make you become a member. Since they are open to public membership, they cannot discriminate who may join them. But voting in general elections is a constitutional right guaranteed to every qualified adult citizen.
If the GOP wants to clean up its act, it must have closed primaries everywhere.
With the growing importance of independent voters, it is paramount the GOP gives them the types of candidates they want to vote for. Die-hard Republican activists fed up with establishment GOP nominees picked Trump against all party odds. He was the candidate the independents wanted also, and he won the election hands down.
America was the first country founded on an idea birthed under the cloak of enlightenment thinkers such as Ben Franklin, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Political thought during the Age of Enlightenment was based on the natural rights of man, not regime power. It marked the rise of modern political ideologies and independence of self decision and self rule. That’s why no political parties were factored into our Constitution.
But since we couldn’t live without them, they are our problems to control.
The GOP no longer can afford to permit leftists to pick their candidates for them.
William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13.
A version of this Op-Ed previously appeared on Watchdog.org under the headline “Op-Ed: Closed primaries lead to better candidates.”
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