The Primary Concern

The primary election process is the greatest cancer on our political landscape.  They have become a moral issue, driving politicians to make choices based on survival instead of reasonable policy and personal conviction.  Primaries have driven moderate thinking out of the mainstream, and created an environment where compromise is the new four letter word.  Primaries are the breeding ground for ideologues who pander relentlessly to the small selection of voters showing up to the preliminary polls.  The primary system trades strong candidates for weak ones, swaps reasonability with extremism, and switches compatibility for hostility.

Although both parties are faced with the primary gauntlet, the Republican Party seems to be disproportionately impacted.  Over the last two elections Republicans have given up potential control of the Senate, two presidencies, and the potential ousting of Majority Leader Harry Reid due to Tea Party meddling.  There have been five different Senate seats that have either flipped or maintained Democrat control due to weaker Republican candidates beating stronger, more electable, Republican candidates in the primaries.  For example, in the race for the presidency, both McCain and Romney had to move away from their moderate rhetoric seeking party election, which crippled their electability in the general election.  Romney specifically moved from a being a “compromising moderate” to “severely conservative”.

Conservatives v LiberalsThe Media National Journal has tracked conservative and liberal members across parties for several decades.  In 1982 the Senate had significant overlap in their political leaning.  The eleventh most liberal member of the chamber was a Republican, Lowell Weicker. The thirty-first most conservative member of the chamber was a Democrat, Edward Zorinsky.  In between these two men fell fifty-eight Democrats and Republicans, each committed to their party and to their constituents.  The House of Representatives shared a very similar markup, with over 60% of the members falling between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican.  It was under this environment that President Reagan found significant compromise with Speaker Tip O’Neill passing tax laws and social reform.

Today there is significant polarization in political representation which accentuates gridlock and divides government.  Political representatives know that any give and take will be fodder for the next primary, and grounds for unemployment. One idea to cure Washington’s curious dysfunctional behavior is opening up primary elections to independents.  We should also consider California’s primary system where the top two vote-getters run against each other in the general election.  Whatever the solution, we voters need to line up at the polls in the summer like we do in the fall.  We need to elect candidates that will be reasonable and thoughtful government representatives, beholden only to those that elected them, rather than a proscribed ideology.


  1. Matthew, when I read posts or blogs such as yours from time to time and I can’t help but chuckle. Yes, this is a rancorous process that we go through in our elections but it is not the first time in our nations history where such was the case. A review of many of 19th Century political cartoons will show that to be true. What has heightened the debate and sometimes cheapened the process is the new media – the 24 hour constant drum beat as well as blogs and social media where anyone and everyone can have a say and often does – whether they are truly informed or not. Sadly, political name calling is now an art form where too many enlist to play. I am not suggesting controls of speech but simply recognizing the problem at its most significant source. What I would not call the constitutional process we call our elections is cancerous. While the right has issues, it is not the only side of the process with problems. No question the Republicans have lost some opportunities in the recent past but what is more interesting to me is that for many Democrats to win in conservative states they almost have to out Republican the
    Republican. The last place that we should look , with a state approaching bankruptcy, for political comity is California. If a state wishes to try that approach then they can do so but to open the national elections to that process, I believe, would be a mistake. To be a so called “independent” is almost silly anyway since once they are elected they almost always caucus with one side anyway thus defining them as either a R or a D. Who would really call Bernie Sanders an independent anyway since who can ever recall when he has voted for anything but the far left of the left. One other factor that has lead to this craziness was the McCain-Feingold of a few years ago and the subsequent creation of all of the so called independent PACs. Let a candidate raise all that she or he can BUT fully and immediately disclose the source and get rid of the PACs. I think that would do more to soften the tone that any one other thing.

    1. Jary — I appreciate the time you took to read the article and for your interest in our blog….thank you.

      I agree that the media absolutely plays a part in how voters think about candidates, and I am always the first to say turn off the death spiral of propaganda! There are plenty of good resources where we can be informed about candidates and elections — but the real issue is voters (as a whole) show little interest in understanding how our government works and how each candidate will play in the political process. For this I hold each of us responsible and the real message of this article is be engaged!

      I get that California is not the poster child for all things political, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The beauty of the two highest vote getting primary candidates running against each other — is that if they are of the same party — the moderate will always win. I find it borderline laughable when people call President Obama an ideologue — but that is the way we have been conditioned. Yes California is bankrupt, but so would be many others if it wasn’t for the 2009 stimulus package, the vast majority being red states. Also — the majority of red states take more in federal revenue than they provide through corporate and income tax — level those out and several more states would be bankrupt. The point is we should not be so quick to dismiss good ideas due to our biases.

      I agree with you on your ideas around political money and PACs. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  2. Matthew, I always enjoy your blog even if I can find absolutely no basis for agreement. But how strange to try to compare any so called “red” states earlier financial struggles to California’s complete lack of financial responsibility. That is a whole other discussion and we can look to any number of those same “red” states now and how financially strong they are which has nothing to do with any stimulus. It is called political will to be responsible. Also, I am not throwing anything out with the bath water at all but simply stating that not only is your suggested change to the general election process at the federal level a bad idea (in my opinion) but a bad idea from a state that has not proven it can manage its politics or its finances. Not only is the state in horrible shape but a number of its communities as well. I would also like to know the source of you claim about the so called “majority of red states” take more than they give. Again, not really relevant to the discussion of your suggested changes to the current election process.

    I still claim that the political reform that will make the greatest difference is around money and it is not in limiting money but in immediate and complete disclosure of its source. I do find one place for complete agreement with you and that is in the need to be engaged. It frightens me to see an increasing number of citizens who are completely uninformed (on the right or left) making a increasingly dominant mark on the outcome. That is the soil from which political demagogues flourish.

  3. Wait, what? I thought California balanced its budget this year. I know certain communities still face financial problems, but it was my understanding that the state, overall, was in pretty good shape.

  4. The ball is in the Republican court. All the GOP has to do is say “You are not Republicans, You are of the Tea Party. Therefore you should run as Tea Partiers!”

    Then see how many Tea Party Members reach congress or even the statehouses.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.