Scott Rasmussen: Time to shorten presidential campaign season

Scott Rasmussen

Scott Rasmussen

In mid-August, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post provided further evidence of how our political system is both badly broken and dominated by insiders. “Dear Democrats,” he wrote, “It’s too late to start over.”

Cillizza argued that “Democrats threw their lots in with Clinton more than a year ago.” Keep in mind he’s saying that six months before the first real votes of the 2016 season will be cast in Iowa. “Now they just have to try to ride it out. They don’t have any choice. Not really.”

The sad part is that Cillizza is right. Some Democrats — the donors, consultants, pollsters, activists and other insiders — decided that Clint’s the one. What the Post writer recognizes is that the Democratic voters don’t really matter.

The problem of the insider coronation is highlighted by Clinton’s growing email scandal.

While many Democrats hope and expect it will blow over, many Republicans expect a smoking gun that will force her from the race. The truth is that nobody knows. The bottom line is that Democratic Party insiders committed the party to nominating a candidate before very relevant facts could be considered.

Republicans play this game, too. In fact, prior to 2016, the GOP was better than Democrats at nominating the choice of the insiders while ignoring their voters. Just think back to the candidacies of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush and Robert Dole. With such a track record, it’s not surprising that Republican voters are shaking things up in a big way this time around.

One part of the problem is that the campaigns start way too early. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Going back a generation, Republican President Ronald Reagan didn’t announce his candidacy until Nov. 13, 1979. That’s less than one year before he was elected. A generation before that, Democratic President John F. Kennedy didn’t announce his candidacy until Jan. 2, 1960. He was elected in the same calendar year!

A shorter campaign season makes it easier for a wider variety of candidates to get involved.

One hopeful sign is that the political parties have begun to assert control over the debate schedule. They have found the will to discipline candidates who take part in non-sanctioned events.

The next — and tougher — step would be to fix the primary process. One approach would be to remove Iowa and New Hampshire from their first-in-the-nation status. While it makes sense to have small states go first for a variety of reasons, the utter predictability of the same two states every year robs the process of its vitality. Rather than encounters with everyday Americans meeting a presidential candidate for the first time, we now have veteran caucus goers who are as much a part of the process as the campaigns.

A better approach would be for the parties to randomly select a different pair of states to go first each cycle. The choice could be limited to the 20 states smaller than Iowa so retail politics can dominate. Ideally, the states would be selected on January 1 to prevent anybody from getting an organizational head start. Combined with other reforms to shorten the campaign season, this would make it easier for late-deciding candidates to get involved. It would also give voters a little bit of a say in the nominating process.


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