by Rod D. Martin
March 1, 2007

The Hill reports that the emerging Feb. 5, 2008 “national primary” is now expected to include at least 20 states; but The American Spectator suggests this growth in scale may have the exact opposite effect of that which the organizers intend.

I have been quite vocal in my opposition to this process, for two reasons, the first of which is that a front-loaded big-state-heavy primary will tend to favor east and west coast-friendly liberals who will depress the Republican Party’s overwhelming conservative majority come November. But The American Spectator suggests — I suspect plausibly — that the sheer size and scope of the primary actually developing will push things the other way. Now expected to include not only California, Florida and Illinois but Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota, Utah, Kansas, Colorado and (for the GOP only) West Virginia and Nevada, the February 5th extravaganza could actually minimize the impact of the current big three early states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — because no prohibitive front-runner can emerge as in previous years with so much at stake just a week later; and then disappoint everyone when the giant primary fractures everything, with the top candidates intact and able to split the spoils, with no clear front-runner emerging then either. The final nine states — which don’t hold their primaries until May — could actually become decisive (and, in The Spectator‘s view, open the door to a possible white knight candidacy such as Jeb Bush’s, or in our view of the other side, Al Gore’s).

Unfortunately, none of this addresses my other main criticism, that this massive front-loading gives a ludicrously unnecessary advantage to the candidates able to raise too-early money, long before most Americans have the slightest idea who any of the these people really are. An elongated primary process means that candidates have time to build momentum, meet real people, and genuinely have what so many of today’s politicians disingenuously call “a conversation with the American people.” An early super-primary destroys any chance of that: hence the media’s enthusiasm for it, since it means they get to package everything, and hence the jockeying for this abysmal result by the top-tier candidates of both parties in state legislatures all across the country.

But the prospect that they’ve been too clever by half — that a representative primary, if not actually a good one, might emerge despite their efforts; and even that an elongated process might ensue as a result — is both good news and quite satisfying. It is also yet another potential stake in the heart of the ideas of central planning and social engineering: legislation always has unintended consequences. It is no shocker that the most liberal candidates (in both parties) are the ones pushing hardest for this reworking of our system. Would that they would all fail by their own hand.