A Kook on the Ballot

By Begala, Paul | Newsweek, December 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Kook on the Ballot


Begala, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: Paul Begala

The Republican establishment hopes the GOP base will calm down, sober up, and nominate Mitt Romney. But the party's new primary system may stand in the way.

Every time I look at the economy I think president obama can't win. And every time I look at the republican field I think he can't lose.

Let's face it: this is a weak field. A seemingly endless string of polls and debates have produced a series of frontrunners who, as LBJ said of the Republicans of his day, couldn't pour pee out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.

Beltway Republican strategists were content to benefit from the prairie fire of right-wing populism, so long as it scorched the Democrats. But now that it threatens to consume their beloved establishment, they may be powerless to stop it. They keep waiting for the kooks to calm down, sober up, and nominate Mitt Romney--whose idea of a Tea Party involves dainty watercress sandwiches on Beacon Hill, not radical revolutionaries in Boston Harbor.

But what if the GOP primary system, which has been changed for this election cycle, continues to propel a right-wing insurgency? Process matters. Rules matter. And campaigns adapt to them. The Electoral College is essentially a winner-take-all system: if you carry California by one vote, you get all 55 Golden State electors. There is thus very little incentive for Barack Obama to run up the score in the biggest blue state--nor for the GOP to campaign hard in Texas. One may not like the Electoral College (I don't), but I don't like the fact that a basketball rim is 10 feet off the ground either.

Being generally less sentimental than Democrats, Republicans have traditionally had a primary system that mirrors the Electoral College: winner take all. That's a very Republican notion: binary, simple, absolute, and pitiless. Democrats, on the other hand, are the party of Mr. Rogers. Their primaries are like the awards ceremony for 5-year-old T-Ballers: Johnny gets a trophy and Billy gets a trophy and Gracie gets a trophy! Everybody's a winner!

Proportional representation has its merits. …

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