Editorial: Open primaries: GOP sees threat; Dems eye ‘bigger tent’
In the aftermath of the New York Republican primary, Democrats and Republicans are looking for future reforms in very different ways. For establishment Republicans, the party is trying to reduce the opportunity for non-party voters to participate, while among Democrats a growing number are considering the prospect of opening their primaries to independents.
What has Republicans in a tizzy is that their leading candidate, Donald Trump, doesn’t follow the party line. In fact, the party establishment has made an all-out effort to derail his candidacy — but without much success. Trump clobbered Sen. Ted Cruz in New York and might have a shot at claiming the nomination at the convention on the first ballot.
For establishment Republicans, the Trump show been maddening enough to push principled conservatives like Washington Post columnist George Will to the point of sabotaging their own nominee: “Voters can only surmise what Trump is hiding by refusing to release his tax returns and can only guess how much he is exaggerating his wealth, or how much he has made from the money his father gave him…” Will wrote last week. “Voters know, however, his repeated boasts that he has prospered in the New York City real estate business, a petri dish of crony capitalism, by making lavish payments to political decision-makers: ‘I give to everybody. When they call. I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me’ And. ‘As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.’ And. ‘I’ve got to give to them, because when I want something, I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass.’”
With reporting like that of a fellow Republican you can sense Will’s unabashed contempt of Trump. And he can’t stop:
“No wonder Trump, in his New York City parochialism,” Will writes, “considers grass-roots politics in Colorado and Wyoming … mysterious and sinister. His rule-or-ruin approach to the GOP, which this real estate operator is treating like a short-lease rental property, is attempting to de-legitimize any process in which he does not win… ”
Will goes on to propose closing all Republican primaries to insure outsiders like Trump have no future chance to hijack the party: “Next year…state parties that have open primaries should rethink this practice. It makes parties susceptible to free-floating voters and freebooting candidates who are, like Trump, lightly — if at all — invested in the party’s historic mission and its future. Open primaries are not unconstitutional, but they are discordant with a First Amendment value — the freedom of the individual to associate with like-minded persons in political parties to advance a particular political doctrine.”
Wow. What a contorted association with the First Amendment — the very idea that we need to restrict our primaries to the refined views of the party faithful. Doesn’t sound much like democracy.
Democrats, on the other hand, will hopefully push to make more of their state primaries open, rather than closed. As Sen. Sanders’ noted several times during the run-up to the New York primary, about 3 million New Yorkers were shut out of the primary process because they didn’t register as Democrats or Republicans six months prior to the primary. We’ve all since learned that New York has some of the toughest (as in, restricted) primary rules in the nation. Considering Hillary Clinton received 1,054,083 votes to Sanders’ 763,469, a significant 58–42 percent margin, but only 300,000 votes separated the two, the numbers of have huge importance. Plus, in an example of election mismanagement, there were more than 60,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn alone (Sanders’ home town and where he drew 28,000 people to a pre-primary rally) whose names disappeared from voter rolls with no explanation. That under the current system 3 million voters (primarily Democrats and Independents) were denied the ability to cast a vote for their preferred candidate screams to the need for reform — and you can bet it’s one of the things Sanders and others will push at the convention.
While not all Democrats agree on the advantages of an open primary, the general conversation all along has seemed to endorse “a big tent” approach to their primaries, not because it would dilute the party faithful’s principles (as Will suggests), but because it would allow a greater cross-section of Americans to select the candidate that best reflects their collective wisdom.
Such a difference in party approach would be worth broadcasting on the national stage.
Angelo S. Lynn
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