The Purpose of Primaries and Parties

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Purpose of Primaries and Parties


If the goal of the primary process is simply to nominate a candidate, essentially to nominate the man or woman most likely to win in the end, then this primary season should be declared over. Clear the stage, and give it to Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich's promise to go the next 46 notwithstanding, you couldn't find anyone in Vegas to give you ballpark odds on his winning.

But that's not the only thing this process is about. If elections were only about picking winners, there would never be more than two people on a ballot -- and sometimes, in "safe" districts, not even that. Independents would be limited to Vermont.

I can certainly make the case that the two-party system, whatever the flaws of the two particular parties, ensures that a candidate will not be elected based on the support of an ideologically extreme minority (as everyone's favorite example Hitler was), and that a fractured result would effectively give such power to a small minority (as everyone's other favorite example the ultraorthodox have sometimes wielded in Israel).

But the Constitution protects the rights of losers to run and voters to support them. Ballot access must be afforded to every candidate who can show enough support not to win but to be counted.

Political parties are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, but in a series of landmark decisions, the Supreme Court has upheld their power to control the presidential nominating process, even against a majority will expressed by state legislatures. The party can limit participants to registered party members, even where the state demands that it be open to all. …

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