Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open primaries and political gamesmanship

The S.O. and I were listening to NPR yesterday and happened to hear The Donald bloviating about his South Carolina win. He was explaining that the results showed he was uniting people, not dividing them, because apparently a fair number of people who "used to be Democrats" voted in the Republican open primaries.

For some reason, the bloviation about Democrats jumping parties reminded us of the 2000 election cycle. Michigan had a toad of a governor at the time, a man named John Engler, and Engler was angling for the V.P. slot on the ticket. He promised George aWol Bush that he'd deliver the state for him in the primary. Michigan has an open primary system. Doesn't matter what you're registered as, when you walk into the polls you can opt to vote for either Democrats or Republicans -- the only thing is, of course, because it's a primary you have to vote for either all Democrats or all Republicans on the ballot or it doesn't count.

Anyway, to make a long story even longer, by the time 2000 rolled around, Engler was finishing up his third term and was pretty universally despised. A fair number of voters did not want to see him succeed in helping Bush and quite possibly moving on to the Vice President slot on the ticket. So what could anyone do about it? Well, whole bunches of people who normally wouldn't bother voting in the primary suddenly discovered they were John McCain supporters. In many districts the Democratic candidates for Senator or Representative on both the federal and state levels were running unopposed so why bother voting for them? Everyone already knew who was going to be in the general election. For that matter, even the top of the ticket for the Democrats was basically already locked in. When a sitting vice president decides to run, the assumption tends to be that's who you're going to get stuck with in the end. On the other hand, the Republicans could probably use a good spoiler. . .

You got it. Lots of Democrats took advantage of the open primary system to throw a spanner in the works. McCain carried the state; Engler's fantasies of being a vice presidential contender went up in smoke. He did end up with a cabinet slot eventually, but it was definitely step down from his original ambitions.

Which brings me to Trump and his appeal to Democrats in the primaries. I have no doubt some of those people who jumped parties, at least briefly, did so because on some weird level Trump's rhetoric resonates with them. On the other hand, I can't help wondering just how many might have decided it would be fun to cast a vote for The Donald just to mess with Rubio's or Cruz's or the Republican establishment's dreams in general?

Every poll says that the majority of voters are terrified of the possibility of a Trump presidency. It doesn't matter if it's Bernie or Hillary running against Trump; either Democrat is likely to win. Poll results are closer, though, if the Republican nominee is someone other than Trump. So if there's an open primary and you're a Democrat and have a chance to tip the odds a bit in Trump's favor because he'll be the easiest candidate to beat in November? And then when you add in the fact everyone and their brother was predicting it was going to a lop-sided win for Hillary? Even if you felt the Bern it wasn't going to make much difference. Heck, if I lived in South Carolina, I might have shown up at the Republican primary myself.  


  1. I have some friends who, in their youth, registered as Republicans in order to overwhelm the local Republicans and endorse an absurd candidate. The local GOP threw a hissy fit, but there was nothing they could do.

  2. Your fine post just points up how rigged the two party system is .....

    "the only thing is, of course, because it's a primary you have to vote for either all Democrats or all Republicans on the ballot or it doesn't count."

    I firmly believe that the two parties are in cahoots by rigging the system to not allow anyone access until well past primary season. I would prefer open primaries that were really "open" and not the closed system we have.

  3. What worries me is that Republicans are turning out and Democrats are not in anywhere near the same numbers.
    The perils of Apathy!
    the Ol'Buzzard

  4. It ain't over till the fat lady sings. Why people believe anything that comes out of HRC's mouth is beyond me. She and Slick Willie are two of a kind. Bernie, I trust and only Bernie. Wish I knew more about his foreign policy though. Trump will cut a deal with Putin and throw Europe under the Russian bus. And Bernie?


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