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Hashtag-BanPrimaries, But Not Yet

For a few days, it looked as though the Democratic primary system had truly been hijacked and rigged by Hillary Clinton and her machine. Subsequent revelations have cast doubt on the accusations of Donna Brazile and her credibility more generally. At this point, I personally afford her very little. Between what was alleged to happen in the Democratic Primary and the dissatisfaction of a lot of Republican leaders regarding how their primary went, the fundamental question of who parties belong to and what kind of system they have has come up again. Internationally, primaries of the sort we have are quite rare (though are becoming more common). Generally speaking, parties have historically belonged to elected officials. At some point, however, we stopped viewing it that way. And internationally, more people are beginning to question that.

Seth Masket and Kevin Williamson are not among them, however. Musket proposes a series of more moderate reforms, but with this rationale:

[T]he current primary process still gives too much power to the whims of the people. The Republican Party, in many ways, provided us with a real service last year by showing us what can happen when the party-democracy pendulum swings too far in one direction. The product of that is Trump, a man who not only rejects much of what his party believes in and actively undermines that party’s leadership, but who is also proving to be a highly flawed and divisive president and is facing an unusually strong chance of impeachment or resignation.

Arguing for less-direct voter control of nominations—or of anything, really—is a tough sell in American politics. But quite a few people are or will be open to dramatic reforms in the way we nominate presidential candidates this year. So it’s time to make the argument.

It might not be popular, but the lesson of 2016 was that parties should be allowed to be parties. They don’t have to make decisions in secret, but they should still make decisions, rather than outsourcing those decisions to voters.

Williamson takes a more holistic view:

There is a contradiction within American progressivism, which seeks to make the political process more democratic while pushing the policymaking process in a less democratic direction. For a century, progressives have championed more open primary elections and open primaries, popular ballot measures, referendum and recall processes, and wider voter participation. At the same time, progressives, particularly those of a Wilsonian bent, have sought to remove the substance of policymaking from democratically accountable elected representatives and entrust it to unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies in the belief that panels of experts immune from ordinary democratic oversight could make hard decisions based on reason and evidence rather than on short-term political necessity and popular passions. They regarded the political parties and their infamous smoke-filled rooms as embodiments of corruption and old-fashioned wheeler-dealer politics at odds with the brave new centrally planned world they imagined themselves to be building.

As it turns out, political parties are — like churches, civic groups, unions, trade groups, lobbyists, pressure groups, and business associations — part of the secret sauce of civil society. In much the same way as our senators — in their original, unelected role — were expected to provide a sober brake on the passions of the members of the more democratic House of Representatives, political parties exercised a soft veto that helped to keep extremism and demagoguery in check. Anybody can run for president — but not just anybody can run as the candidate of the Republican party or the Democratic party. Third parties face an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot prevail: The Republican party was a very successful third party, displacing the moribund Whigs.

I honestly think we’ve passed the point where parties can be displaced. There is too much written into our actual laws now regarding ballot access, nigh-universal party demarcation on ballots, and a national party culture. I have no idea what the two political parties will look like in 50 years, but I will bet good money that they will be called “Republican” and Democratic.”

As the co-owner of the #BanPrimaries hashtag, this actually disturbs me a bit because it makes getting rid of primaries somewhere between impossible and undesirable. In my ideal world, we would probably be like most of the rest of the world and give the parties more say in choosing their own leaders, but it would be easier to replace one party for another party if that party declined to remove its cranium from its posterior.

In Canada, for example, the Progressive Conservatives (PC) made one bad decision after another. A new party formed, became bigger than the old, and merged with (essentially absorbed) the PC. We don’t really have a mechanism for that here. Not because of First-Past-The-Post elections (which is also the case in Canada), but because of a combination of our political culture and the electoral college. It’s extremely difficult to imagine how we get from Point A to Point B. That gives all of us a stake in the existing parties, which makes getting rid of primaries a tough nut to crack.

Ideally, we’d have a presidential system that could efficiently handle third parties. That would mean a national popular vote with a runoff, like France, or theoretically an electoral college where the states got together and decided IRV until somebody got over 270 electoral votes (which would require more work than just scrapping the electoral college). But as long as we have only two presidential parties, the rest is likely to fall into line. Even if we had multi-member districts and proportional representation, everything would most likely fall behind the coalitions of the all-important executive elections.

Personally, I have historically favored a two-party system and have believed the supposed virtues of multiparty systems to be wildly overrated. They sound fine in theory, but in practice often lead to ambiguity in the outcome because you so often don’t know who is going to coalition with whom. Further, fringe parties can be ugly and keeping those people subsumed in larger tents (or enough of them so that those who continue to rebel are even more marginalized) has actually served us well over the years. At least, up until those elements gradually came to control one of the two parties. It turns out it was a lower-risk-higher-consequence situation. The situation abroad, however, also looks like it could teeter. Sometimes, no matter the system, you need good voters.

The question is more or less academic at this point. I could make a case – and have been, in my mind – that a country with our regional demography and political diversity is a really hard fit for two countries. I could also consider that in a multiparty system we could have two leftward parties battling for control of Oregon, and two rightward ones in Idaho. But none of that matters with the presidency and the electoral college. The system in California was busted wide open, and what do we have? Democrats, Democrats, and Republicans. And rather than mitigating the problems we have with districts causing inverted outcomes (Democrats get more votes, Republicans more seats) that could actually be a bigger problem in a proportional system:

The grass is always greener and proportional multiparty systems often produce more undemocratic outcomes than the ones we complain about here.

The main interest here is giving people the tools to challenge the party apparatus. My ideal scenario might include more in the way of runoffs (instant or otherwise), non-partisan ballots, or blanket primaries, or some combination of the above. In the real world, though, we have primaries and that’s pretty much all we have. So long as that’s the case, I don’t have a problem with parties putting their thumb on the scale somewhat, but the people should retain the ability to overrule them without having to reinvent the entire system.

Please ignore the below, which is caused by a WordPress software fluke.

Notes:

  1. David Shor []
  2. David Shor []
  3. David Shor []

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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102 thoughts on “Hashtag-BanPrimaries, But Not Yet

  1. I disagree with some of the commentary re Republicans. Trump is not a republican, he is in name only. Anti free trade, pro ACA? That’s not what I recall republicans being over the last 30 years. He’s a hybrid at best. This just goes to show what fed up people dissatisfied with the current party options will do, when the alternative of crossing party lines is unacceptable, ie HRC.

    Hell, if I was still voting, I’d had voted for Bernie in the primaries and trump for the election, if only to piss everyone off. They deserve it.

    The parties should be about finding winning candidates that can carry forth the message of the party, and groom new entrants and new talent.

    As for Donna, I’ve only recently read her column but not the response. Welp, show me the paper work supporting both POV.

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    • 1. The idea that Trump is pro-ACA is bizarre, and runs contrary to everything he’s said or done on the issue since he entered office.

      2. This points to a fundamental problem with the assertion that Trump is a RINO. Trump won the support of rank-and-file GOP voters pretty decisively [1,2] and then won support from elected officials, which he still has.

      [1] Much more than any of his competitor in the primary.

      [2] While his support is a bit lower among Republican partisans than is typical for a President of the same party, that means it’s hovering around 80% or so.

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    • At this point people saying Trump is not a Republican have largely deluded themselves. Even if he was unorthodox during the primaries, it was all a gag. Even if there are parts of his worldview (if he has one) that don’t fit Republican orthodoxy, the GOP is either ignoring it and/or they capitulated to it and have changed.

      The GOP is now the party of Trump whether people want to realize it or not.

      Pillsy is right. Everything Trump has done in office has been a full on recall of Obama’s accomplishments or attempts at such. He couldn’t get the ACA killed in Congress so now he is killing it via executive action and neglect or just taking down the enrollment sites or the mechanisms that make it work.

      There has been an anti-immigration wing to the GOP for years and they won with Trump. The Christian right is happy with his judicial appointments.

      There are Republicans stepping down from Congress and denouncing Trump but they aren’t doing anything to stop him.

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      • You can either go along or get out. Might as well try and get something you want done. You sure as hell weren’t going to get it through with HRC as pres. I don’t see how you can call Trump a republican when he’s all over the political map. Political opportunist yes.

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    • Regarding Brazille, I saw where journalists were debunking her claim that she considered removing Hillary as party chair, saying she didn’t remotely have such a power, and that such a claim indicated she was delusional or just making stuff up. But then I saw where the journalists were just responding to what other journalists had claimed Donna Brazille said, not what she actually said in her book. In her actual book she said that she had considered triggering the long, difficult, and complicated process by which the DNC would replace a candidate.

      Journalists don’t really bother fact-checking anymore, or for that matter reading people’s books before they denounce the author’s imagined mistakes.

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  2. I take your point about the structural issues baked in to the American pie; but over-baked they are.

    I’m less interested in party purity than party accountability; and, if we can introduce a little more tension into the two party duopoly we’d see better governance (perhaps). If we take radical restructuring of the entire electoral process off the table, perhaps a baby-step approach might look a little bit like France.

    1. First we have Party/Faction Primaries… these are closed events and the slate is 100% determined by the party… here we’d see a proliferation of Parties/Factions
    2. Second we have National Primaries… only the two highest vote getters go on to the,
    3. National Election, complete with electoral college and all that good stuff.

    Adding Step Two allows for factions to make their case, test their appeal and actual voting block size; but still allow for a two party coalition to form for the National… Step Two, at a minimum, allows one vote where you can vote against “The Party” without “wasting” a vote, or worse, helping to elect the other team.

    Contra Step Two, one could argue we sorta kinda already have that with the party primary to which I’d respond sort-of, but as we saw with Trump, it was a lot easier to hijack the entire apparatus without a functioning movement; adding Step Two forces a certain amount of political movement building to even form a party, but doesn’t set the bar so high that it has to build it in the form of the Democratic/Republican monolith.

    But even bracketing Trump – [long digression]: my main critique of your argument would be that it is too consquentialist… we shouldn’t design a system that prevents Trump, we should prefer a system that doesn’t reward simple establishmentarianism, and right now the Parties are kinda the problem; so giving more control of the Primary to “The Party” doesn’t make “The Party” better… as I’ve joked before, there are enough Bushes (or Zombie Reagan’s if you prefer) around for “The Party” to provide “Republicans” with a full panoply of options, as long as its a Bush… and that’s why we got Trump [end long digression] – Step Two potentially reveals real contradictions/issues within a coalition/faction that would (hopefully) require addressing during the National…

    Certainly not a perfect solution, but I think it meets your main requirements that we not adopt proportional representation, and can’t change the fundamental electoral regime, and even acknowledges that the two final Parties in the National might still always be Republican/Democrat… albeit hopefully somewhat more intentionally and accountably aligned for each cycle. Maybe if only marginally so.

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  3. I kinda like the idea of primaries in theory.

    Hey, there are people who live and breathe this stuff. They care about politics, they care about getting deals done, they might even care about Good Government. Take the best and brightest of these and they’re going to volunteer for various crappy tasks about the party and they’re the ones who will get their hands on the machinery from time to time based on nothing more than the fact that they show up every week. They’re the ones who are going to be most familiar with the guys who want to run and they’re the ones who know who is good at this stuff and who is merely okay at it. They’re the ones who can see through the bullshit of the especially charismatic.

    So let them be in charge of figuring out who the candidate is going to be and then, come election day, we know that we have a really good candidate rather than an empty suit with a nice tan and capped teeth.

    “But what happens when this process gets captured?”

    “Gets what now?”

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  4. I think your analysis is spot on… If you want Trump.

    The problem is that the “smoke-filled room” approach is what gives you a third Bush and a two-time loser like Clinton. And I know that is not precisely what you are suggesting, but in my view, that is how it will turn out. And I think Williamson, per your quote, gives the start of that explanation:

    […] have sought to remove the substance of policymaking from democratically accountable elected representatives and entrust it to unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies in the belief that panels of experts immune from ordinary democratic oversight could make hard decisions based on reason and evidence rather than on short-term political necessity and popular passions. They regarded the political parties and their infamous smoke-filled rooms as embodiments of corruption and old-fashioned wheeler-dealer politics at odds with the brave new centrally planned world they imagined themselves to be building. (Emp.
    added.)

    The reason that Trump was able to win the primary, and then the general, is really simple. The parties weren’t giving enough of what the people needed. And at the same time, ridiculing the fears that go along with any change. OT has published many essays about the failures of Republicans while at the same time R’s were winning in State and local races to a level unheard of in recent times. That is a symbol of the disconnect between politicians and voters, a disconnect that causes outsiders to take control.

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    • This makes a lot of sense to my amateur mind. If the parties choose, they’re going to choose “safe” candidates and we’ll end up with lots of elections between two milquetoast folks not too far from the middle. Which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world some years. But it leaves open the possibility of folks — lots of folks — to say, “I’m bored with milquetoast… I want something spicy!” And you get Trump and almost Bernie.

      And even if you kept them at bay with the smoke-filled room, they could run from the outside.

      My uninformed hunch is that the parties will aim to choose not-losers instead of actual winners.

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  5. In Canada, for example, the Progressive Conservatives (PC) made one bad decision after another. A new party formed, became bigger than the old, and merged with (essentially absorbed) the PC. We don’t really have a mechanism for that here

    In our parallel though the Trump-populists just completed their take over of the GOP and absorbed the rump Zombie Reagan (I love that description @marchmaine) establishment. It all just happened intra-party and I’m not sure we’d be in a particularly different place if there had been an official party split beforehand. I’m agnostic on whether or not our current electoral system is the best we can do but I also don’t know that a different one would have prevented Trump. Even with multiple parties the vagaries of forming a government can still result in some weird/sub-optimal outcomes (see Berlusconi, Silvio).

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    • Yes and no.

      On the “yes” side is sort of what I was getting at where absent the ability to displace primaries as that’s the only way to hold the gatekeepers accountable. You need one or the other. Canada has one, we have the other. I *think* I like Canada’s better, though with a bit less friction

      On the “no” side it’s not clear what the “takeover” means in policy terms and actual direction. The congressional GOP is still the congressional GOP. The two priorities have been undoing PPACA and tax cuts. Trump has cracked down on immigration in the way other Republicans wouldn’t have, but that’s all that comes to mind. Protectionism hasn’t even gotten a vote and there is none on the horizon.

      Unlike a political party, a faction of a party doesn’t have its own platform for which it can be held accountable. Members of the party can kind of waffle back and forth. There isn’t anything decisive about it. The party’s chairperson is a Romney and its chief spokesperson
      (the WH press secretary) is a Huckabee.

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      • I think this works in a world where people are really evaluating performance based on policy implementation/legislative successes but I’m not sure thats happening even within our parties (I’d say it definitively isn’t in the GOP).

        Not to sound like a Marxist or something similarly crass but I think the disconnect between voters and politicians has more to do with economics and culture than the process thats granting power.

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    • Berlusconi is interesting in that people like him typically thrive in two-party systems but he came from a system at the other end of the spectrum. Italy tends to be a bad example because there is almost nobody who likes their system.

      Trump might be able to have a chance of winning everything in any system, but some systems are more favorable than others. A fractured plurality system with several parties, for example, is one where Trump do a lot better than our current one. For that matter, Trump might have had more breathing room in the British system than he had here. But likewise, there are systems where he would have done worse. Which, given the lack of breathing room he had, means he probably would have lost.

      But, to repeat myself, this isn’t about Trump. even if a system takes Trump out, that doesn’t mean that someone else carrying that baton couldn’t win. It’s mostly a matter of likelihoods.

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      • This is fair (and apologies for the Trump diversion, it just seems so… topical). Maybe putting candidate selection in the hands of parties generally does a better job vetting but it seems like the risk in a two party system like ours is the parties becoming sclerotic/unresponsive to the people. Like aaron said above it could exacerbate the crisis of legitimacy going on all over the West. I guess your solution would be the abiliy of a hypothetical third party to displace the other(s) with a straightforward alternative agenda?

        Someone like Corbyn makes me think that it isn’t as much the selection process as it is the circumstances of the polity in question. He’s both been vetted by a big party but also often cited as part of the populist revolt.

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  6. I’m with you in the vein that as long as we are stuck with two parties, the parties need to be much more democratic. If the parties want to be able to exert more control over their own candidates, then they need to do the legislative work to make the system more open to third+ parties. Even if those parties never get to the Oval Office, they can drive more coalition building.

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  7. I’m leaning to InMD’s side. I am not sure a stronger nod against primaries would have banned Trump or taken him off the running. There would still be a lot of disaffected GOP voters who disliked the picks offered by the party bosses. Trump won because the GOP primary voters really like the reactionary juice he was selling and screaming. He tapped into the ID of the far-right and they won.

    Trump is the logical conclusion of decades of the Long Con. There was always this element in American politics. You see it in Rick Perlstein’s books on mid-century conservatism. Orange County had lots of whack-a-do conspiracy theorists on the Right. Their mid-century Congresscritter would talk about “Bare-footed Africans” training in Georgia to take over the United States. The GOP played footsie with these voters for years and eventually the dam broke and we got Trump because the far-right voters just wanted action and Trump gave them and gives them action. We might see him as an incompetent failure in Congress but he can and does use ICE to make the lives of immigrants miserable. Josh Marshall pointed out yesterday that incompetence and authoritarianism might go hand in hand naturally because incompetents don’t have the tools to succeed in liberal democracy, they need to rely on brute force.

    And the far right voters of Orange County just founded their own utopia in Northern Idaho. Note how many of these new Northern Idaho right-wingers were former residents of Orange County and/or retired LAPD members living on their blue-state pensions in rural Idaho.

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  8. I don’t see this as a structural issue.
    The animating force behind the Trump Republicans is inchoate resentment.

    If the main policy preference of a large portion of the electorate is to piss people off, reshuffling the parliamentary rules isn’t going to yield a better result.

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    • This post isn’t about Trump. It’s jumping off point is Bernie. And beyond which, election rules determine how nationalist (or hard left) movements are handled. They actually matter a great deal. If France’s parties adapted to our system, LePen might be president right now. Her ceiling is due in part to the fact that there is no party loyalty from the other conservative parties.

      (This is all involving the second part – two-party vs multiparty and so on – which was mentioned in the OP primarily as a way to look at how party leaders are chosen, which is even more of a structural issue.)

  9. First, how do you own a hashtag?

    More importantly… this made me question a lot of what I think or even understand about the topic.

    As I turn this over in my head, the primary (no pun intended) question I keep returning to is what is a political party? A set of ideas? The party leaders? The people who identify as members? Some combination of those? I really don’t know any more and it seems the answer to that goes a long way towards determining what we ought to do.

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    • Basically by using it when nobody else does. I use it, Scotto uses it, and Rohit sometimes uses it.

      Structurally, political parties belong to office-holders and candidates. In political science class we’re taught “The purpose of a political party is to win or influence elections.” Nothing ideological or idealistic.

      Primaries alter that somewhat, wherein people think that the parties belong either to its members or everybody. Which, as long as we have a two-party system that’s propped up by our system, does not seem entirely unreasonable.

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      • There’s that, and there’s also the question of whether primaries help parties win elections. I can think up a number of plausible mechanisms which might allow them to do that, but they wouldn’t actually be rooted in any sort of data, knowledge of political science, or anything else that could generously be called “expertise”.

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        • They are presumably not holding primaries out of the goodness of their hearts. So they see some sort of competitive advantage. It’s probably the case that if one party had primaries and the other didn’t, the party with primaries would draw a lot more people into their process and that would lead to more people identifying with the property.

          Arguably, Christine O’Donnell is just the price you pay for that.

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          • My two biggest arguments in favor of primaries revolved around the 2008 and 1952 Democratic nomination processes. Maybe the 1980 Republican primary. Though in all three cases it probably didn’t effect the outcome (Kefauver would have lost, GHWB and HRC would have won). With the recent tight elections we’ve had, it’s easy to forget that most of them aren’t really close.

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          • This brings up an interesting question…

            If Hillary won the nomination in 2008, how does that election go? And what happens to Obama?

            Let’s imagine Hillary wins in ’08 and ’12… do we see Obama in 2016? Does Trump rise?

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            • Kazzy,
              Trap still closes on the immigrants. We lose Social Security, probably get HillaryCare, which is about what Baucus wanted.

              Do we still get Trump? Probably not.

              Does it matter? No, other than Harvey Weinstein doesn’t get prosecuted. And a few other incidentals.

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            • Personally, I think we would have seen a Clinton/Obama ticket in 2008.

              Given that anybody would have beaten the Republican nominee in 2008 (like, *ANYBODY*), it’s not that useful to imagine a 2008 Clinton/Obama ticket.

              Because, seriously, they would have DESTROYED whomever the Republicans put up.

              The Republicans could have nominated Zombie Reagan and Zombie Reagan would have lost.

              So the question is over whether Clinton/Obama would have beaten Mitt Romney in 2012. Here’s the 2012 election map.

              You can flip Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire and the Democrats still win. You have to flip Florida too in order to get Mitt squeaking by with 270 EVs.

              While possible, it doesn’t strike me as particularly likely.

              Which makes Obama the presumptive nominee in 2016.

              I’m not sure that Trump gets nominated in that scenario. But we’re dealing with waaaaaaay too many hypotheticals to keep straight at that point.

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              • If the assumption is that party leadership has significantly more control over the nomination process, Obama is not going to be selected by party leaders. The corollary to Obama not liking politicians is that many Democratic politicians didn’t like Obama before 2008.. He also threw his hat in the ring in 2008 in order to stake out a non-Clinton alternative, which he wouldn’t have done in an insider-system, and thus he would not have had the political cache of someone who had won the Iowa primary.

                If the assumption is that in an insider system, internal factions can exert demands for VP that they may not through a primary system, I think I agree that it would be more likely that a black might be nominated for Vice President, though probably before 2008. Depending on the election, someone like Douglas Wilder, Willie Brown or Jesse Jackson, Jr.

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            • That’s a really intriguing question that causes my brain to split into so many directions I don’t know how to answer. I guess the smart money would be on her riding the backlash against Bush into office but who can say? Her vote to invade Iraq loomed a lot larger then (I think people forget how much Obama’s early opposition helped him) and her close relationship with big finance would’ve been a general election issue instead of a squabble mostly confined to the broader left.

              If she actually was POTUS for 8 years I think history would just be too different. My guess is that Obama’s star would have long since faded but thats pure speculation. Who knows what would be going on in the GOP but my bet is their same general strategy and predicament would be similar. The trajectory into reactionary populism was already well under way.

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              • The questions become stuff like “does Clinton/Obama do as well in the House/Senate in 2008 as Obama/Biden did?” followed by “does this moderate such things as Obamacare which would moderate such things as the 2010 House/Senate losses?”

                Too many questions on top of questions by the time you get to 2016.

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                  • A dozen years ago, my prediction was that 2016 was going to be the “throw the health insurance companies under the bus” election. Employer-provided coverage was going to be either crappy or so expensive most workers couldn’t afford it. Everyone was going to have an aunt or cousin or friend who had been bankrupted or simply died because they couldn’t get coverage. The care providers were going to be running scared that they were going to get punished for the insurance companies’ egregious behavior. Even Republicans were going to have to accept either single-payer or very heavy-duty regulation of the insurers if they wanted to get elected. Instead we got expanded Medicaid and modest reforms that haven’t really fixed the insurance companies eight years too early, and maybe lost any chance at going farther for a generation.

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                    • And this is precisely why there’s absolutely zero appetite for ‘repeal and replace’ even with the payors. They know very well they were never going to get away with some of the more egregious crap forever. Without Obamacare or something very much like it a day would come where political support for ending for profit health insurance as it exists reached critical mass. If the exchanges aren’t stabilized that might still happen, it’ll just take longer.

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                      • The fascinating thing that I’ve noticed is that a very particular and important debate has been won without much fanfare.

                        Remember back when some people were arguing that it shouldn’t be the job of the federal government to provide health care? The “We just need to repeal it!” crowd?

                        They’re gone now. Everybody agrees that it is right and proper for the federal government to provide health care.

                        It’s not about repeal anymore. Only repeal and replace.

                        Which seems to mean “Obamacare it is”.

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                        • I think the ‘it shouldn’t be the job of the feds to provide healthcare’ crowd has never really understood how our system, or any modern system, for paying for care functions. The federal government has been involved in it since the 40s and very heavily so since the 60s. There’s no real way to turn that back. Even Republican leaders I think tacitly admitted that when Medicare Part D was passed.

                          I do think you’re right though that we may be living through a watershed moment on how the issue is looked at by the public at large.

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      • So as I think about this, I see two (primary… no pun again) routes that might emerge…

        1.) Parties belong to the office holders. They choose candidates. Voters do not belong to nor are members of a party. Rather, they support parties. If I don’t like a given party’s candidate, I look to another party’s candidate.

        2.) Parties belong to the voters. They choose candidates. In doing so, they control or seek to influence the direction of the party.

        So, imagine I’m a liberal but I don’t like Hillary for policy reasons. Route #1 tells me that Hillary is the Democratic Party candidate so I may need to look at the Socialist Party or Green Party or other liberal parties for a more suitable candidate. Route #2 tells me I need to push hard for Bernie in the primary.

        I see a logic to both but think Route #1 feels a little righter.

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    • Fair enough… Masket does… but why are we reverse engineering to exclude Syriza? Not my political party of choice, but they caved good and proper to Germany just like any other party?

      Why isn’t Corbyn better than the non-Labour Labourites? What’s the point of Labour then?

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      • Fair enough about Masket. His wasn’t really about Trump specifically either, though it does so happen that was the best portion to blockquote. The preceding paragraph was about Clinton/Sanders.

        Some of this (Corbyn in particular) goes towards the exchange with Kazzy. Who does a party belong to? Corbyn is quite the problem for Labour politicians. If it’s their party, then it’s a problem. If it belongs to the people, less so.

        The other part, and Syriza, is definitely subjective depending on one’s political point of view. If somebody prefers insurgencies from this side or that one, then they want a system that is most likely to produce that. I am, at heart, more establishmentarian than not – especially in the Western context – and want a political model that tempers such things. In a system (or set of systems) with more dramatic need of reform, I might see things differently.

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        • I get it; maybe I’d recast it slightly as fighting over a Brand not a Party. So what we have right now are disproportionately valuable Brands… Republican and Democratic which are strangely morphing into lifestyle choices – more like Byzantine Greens/Blues than Political parties – which only enhances the Brand affiliation.

          So yes, the parties aren’t Political parties anymore, but its not because leadership doesn’t have control, that’s what leadership wants. That’s why I’m suggesting we need to weaken the Brands by allowing space for new Political Parties to emerge… which I think you wouldn’t oppose in principle?

          That good politicians can channel democratic demands into workable policy may be a reasonable sub-premise… but we go too far if we think that good politicians will determine democratic demands.

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        • Corbyn did a lot better in the most recent UK election than the Blairite wing expected him to and while he is not prime minister, he did significantly weaken the Tories. So it implies the Labour’s leadership was out of step with the party base and mood of the electorate in general.

          What do you think would happen if strong parties could frequently stop the desires of the base? It seems like it would be a disaster eventually.

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          • What do you think would happen if strong parties could frequently stop the desires of the base?

            Parties across the world can. Ours is among the exceptions.

            You’re right that there is only so much moderating a political party can do. One of the great lessons of the last few years has been that you have to be careful on certain subjects (like immigration and austerity) or you risk a backlash. The same applies to questions of competence.

            The form that backlash takes will depend a lot on the system. You do need something. But primaries are only one potential mechanism for it.

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            • Fair. What I think gets lost in the Bernie Sanders view is that the Sanders wing is a large chunk of the Democratic Party but not a majority. HRC won the primaries by millions of votes because she had a strong hold in areas and with groups that were Bernie skeptical. The biggest of these were African-American women and somewhat older women. A lot of Sanders supporters don’t realize that they are only a faction and not a majority in the Party.*

              But I think over the past few years were have seen that elites (of the center-left and center-right) are good at confusing their own self-interest with the national interest. I’m generally pro-expert opinion but it would be nice to see more awareness from the technocrat set at how they benefit from their own “best policies.” This is nothing new. Elites in the past did the same thing.

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              • Saul,
                Bernie actually had a majority of supporters motivated to head to primaries and caucuses.
                Clinton kicked a good deal of them off the rolls, and then there was the general “throwing money and favors” at the Usual Suspects.

                But, wait, tell me, do you know the most corrupt part of the Democratic Party?

                … because if you don’t know that, you’re missing out on why your argument is so fatally flawed.

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              • Yeah, this. I think this is complicated a little bit by two axes that are more or less orthogonal in play at the same time.

                Bernie had the younger, more radical, less factually engaged supporters and also a lot of more conventional libs who are turned off by the Clintons’ corruption and the corruption of the Democratic Party in general. That created the illusion that Bernie had more support that he really did.

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                  • Well, the simple answer was — he was the other candidate.

                    Clinton’s got a lot of baggage, and she tried to cast herself as “continuing Obama’s legacy”, but she was — at best — dogged by the 90s triangulation stuff, necessary as it might have been, which is a poor fit for today.

                    Certainly a poor fit for any vein of populism, and there’s certainly a sizable wing of the Democratic party that feels the Democrats are too conservative.

                    There’s also the dynastic feel.

                    In short, if you summed up the people who felt Clinton wasn’t liberal enough, the people who didn’t like Clinton for various reasons (anything from policies to history to not wanting to pass the Presidency around from husband to spouse), the people who wanted the Democrats to change, the populists… you…pretty much got a huge chunk of the party. 40ish percent or so.

                    In the end, it wasn’t a particularly close primary. Democrat’s proportional delegate system makes them all look a lot closer than they are. Clinton had won handily by Super Tuesday, even if it took a bit of math to explain why.

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                    • In the end, and putting the delegates aside, it was the second closest primary in recent history. A lot of people have convinced themselves that 40-45% was inevitable, but it really wasn’t. It was either a reflection on Clinton the candidate, or that the party is ready for a change. Most likely some of both, but could draw much more substantially from one than the other.

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                      • It followed on the closest primary in recent memory, though, and the closeness of the ’08 primary was not a sign of ill health in the party. I’m not saying we weren’t all fooling ourselves about Clinton in a variety of ways, but if so, there were a lot of reasons to be fooled.

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                        • I don’t think the closeness of the primary spells doom at all. It could (if the party is about to have a civil war) or it could be a good sign (Clinton was an awful candidate and guess what she’s not running again!).

                          I do think in the case of Clinton/Sanders it may have ideological implications that didn’t really exist to anywhere near the same degree in 2008.

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                          • Well in 2008 there were very few differences between Obama and Clinton to even talk about. The flamewars that engulfed online Dem fora were even more vitriolic and pointless than the ones between Sandernistas and Clintonites this time around.

                            Which is another reason I didn’t take the split terribly seriously.

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                          • I don’t think the closeness of the primary spells doom at all.

                            It looks more like doom when coupled with Dem performance at the state and local levels over the last 10 years. Clinton, seems to me, represents the politics and policies of a party that has lost over 1000 seats across the country to Republicans. It’s true that HRC was an uninspiring if not downright disliked candidate, but it’s also true that people don’t like the Dem Party and that people do like Bernie and his vision going forward.

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                            • linton, seems to me, represents the politics and policies of a party that has lost over 1000 seats across the country to Republicans.

                              You spelled “Obama” incorrectly.

                              I mean he was the head of the party, in charge of the DNC and the various Democratic party organizations, etc during that time frame.

                              (I find that 1000 seat thing to be…well, let’s just say it ignores some pretty big elephants in the room. But if we’re going to trot that out as a party failure, the person to blame is…the one in charge of the party, and that wasn’t Clinton. The year she ran for President actually saw Democratic gains, after all.)

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                  • Narrow field, a more capable politician than your average protest candidate, and ideological polarization making someone who presented himself as too far left for the Democratic Party [1] unusually palatable.

                    Unfortunately, we can’t run a variety of comparison primaries to figure out how much each factor mattered.

                    [1] I think a lot of Bernie’s “democratic socialism” was canny marketing guff, like “hope and change” or “compassionate conservatism”. He just happened to use appropriate the name of something really fringe to describe something much less fringe.

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                  • I think what Morat said is spot-on. Another illustrative look might be the Cuomo-Teachout primary from a few years ago in NYC. Cuomo is vastly hated by a certain kind of upper-middle class professional/good-government liberal. They seem him as both too conservative and too corrupt.

                    But Cuomo easily won the primary like HRC easily one the primary below by winning urban voters who are usually people of color and more working class.

                    What are the reasons for this? I think there is probably more sorting in the Democratic Party where various groups just don’t know each other personally or socially. So a lot of Teachout-voters don’t talk with the people who voted for Cuomo very often. It could also be that the good government thing is not a concern to Cuomo voters and Teachout voters had a horrible time at convincing rhetoric.

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                  • Far and away, the most important question for the Democrats in 2020 is how Bernie got as many votes as he did. Which is one of the reasons people haven’t stopped litigating the 2016 primaries.

                    IMO, it’s not that complicated, at least on the Left. The sectarian libs and the Clinton fans convinced themselves that the Bernies/dissident Left was talking a big game, but would get in line when push comes to shove. And that the left the dissidents in the unfortunate situation that there was no other option to show their displeasure other than to sit out The Big One.

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                    • koz,
                      Except that’s NOT what we’re seeing!
                      We’re seeing people who voted for Obama voting for Trump.
                      This is not a “sit it out” crowd. This is staid old pennsylvania, who shows up to vote, dammit!

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  10. Shor’s last point is kind of silly – there’s a difference between getting 46% of the vote and a larger amount than the coalition that actually is installed in power and being in a PR system where you get 34%, but the opposite coalition wins 2nd through 4th place and has over 50%.

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    • I believe he’s looking at blocs, not specific parties. His middle tweet, for example, refers to leftward parties getting more votes than the rightward, but still being kept out of power. His point is that one bloc (either leftward or rightward) got more votes but nonetheless didn’t take power either due to thresholds or some of the leftward parties joining a rightward coalition or vice-versa. The latter case being like how center-left parties in Britain won a majority of the vote but Cameron became prime minister.

      That’s one of the vulnerabilities of proportional representation and my main apprehension. You often don’t know who is going to coalition with whom. Until Shor mentioned it, I hadn’t even thought of how much the thresholds could throw things off-balance.

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  11. Clinton and the DNC most certainly did rig the primary.
    Notably, there were interesting discrepancies in who was kicked off the primary voting rolls, indicating a concerted data mining effort.
    Also, there’s the fact that Clinton won in the most corrupt areas of the country (measured by Dem corruption, not corruption in general).

    You can ask for “no more primaries” but…

    Primaries provide free advertising, and Get Out The Vote helps people to commit to voting in the fall.

    If you want people to vote, you want primaries.

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      • I’d think the better natural experiment would be turnout in states with primaries vs. states without, since there other quirks of the US system probably drive down turnout relative to other countries.

        Still, I think probably means primaries are good for getting your partisans to turn out to vote. Parties are (at best) indifferent to high turnout overall.

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      • Maribou,
        In Eastern Europe, there was one favorite day of the week for voting…
        (Spoilered so you can guess)
        Saturday.

        America allows immigrants and the underclass to vote, by and large. Thus, we have strictures in place to allow the Powers that Be various and sundry ways to get who they want elected. (Note: they’re not the smartest people ever.)

        Germany, to take an example, is sitting at over 10% non-citizens.

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  12. One of the things that was used to criticize Colonialism was that Colonialism had no moral authority because legitimacy was granted via “the consent of the governed“.

    As the Wiki points out:

    Article 21 of the United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”.

    If you want a government where the will of the people is channeled properly and the people only really get to give their input once the sausage has been made, well, that sausage had better be pretty g-darn tasty.

    If it ain’t, you’re going to find yourself with a populist backlash. If you’re lucky, it’ll only be about the culture war. If you’re unlucky, the newspapers will be printing articles talking about how your society has achieved the “eating zoo animals” stage of whatever government you happened to install.

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    • Jay, maybe you can clear something up for me, and this is only framed half in sarcasm.

      How is it that one faction can claim a movement of ‘we the people’ or ‘it’s good democracy’ and then point at a different movement and say ‘Why that’s just awful populism’ ?

      Am I the only one that noticed that, I chuckle, but people are dead serious about it, like straight faced and everything.

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      • Tribalism, probably.

        When people like me wish to associate with people like me, that makes sense. We read literature rather than genre fiction, we consume things that require taste to appreciate rather than pablum mass produced for hoi polloi, and other things that we hold ourselves in high esteem for preferring to consume.

        Those people? They prefer people like themselves. What can be said about that amount of fear of diversity?

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          • Joe,
            I think it’s that the people who praise diversity haven’t ever had to live with it.
            Not really.
            I mean, who has neighbors that perform blood sacrifices? Who has neighbors that mutilate their offspring (on purpose or by accident)?
            Certainly not the upper middle class.

            Every country is rich in the same way. Every country is poor differently.

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          • I think people have different needs or desires, often don’t realize that their needs aren’t universal, and a lot of strange political (non-)conversations happen as a result.

            This includes whether they find diversity challenging, and if so whether it’s a good challenge (like rock climbing and Dark Souls) or a bad challenge (like emptying the paper shredder without getting shreds of paper everywhere).

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          • I don’t think it’s really *FEAR* of diversity.

            I’d more compare it to the mild preference for the familiar.

            Go to any college campus and walk into any college cafeteria.

            The white kids will be sitting with white kids. The black kids will be sitting with black kids. The Asian kids will be sitting with Asian kids. (Or, at least, that’s how it worked in the 90’s.)

            I don’t think it’s an accurate description of the phenomenon to call it “fear”.

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            • J,
              not at my college.
              Black kids were spread apart, Asian kids generally ate spread apart too, except if they weren’t native speakers (in which case they often ate with people who couldn’t understand them, but at least looked like them).

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      • I think the biggest myth about populism is that it represents the authentic People versus some inauthentic elite.

        In reality, all the populist movements I am aware of seem to be more about dividing the populace into Us versus Them.

        And for some reason, the dividing line is rarely about economic classes, but usually ethnic or cultural groups.

        This is something even my leftist friends have a hard time grasping, that even the rich elite have a legitimate stake in politics.

        Edited to clarify-
        Mostly I’ve seen populism striving to delegitimize some group, to strip them of even the status of national belonging.

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        • Yeah, “populism” is not just a belief in democracy, and can be really damn anti-democratic as well. It’s easy for ideologues of all stripes to convince themselves democracy is bad, as today seems particularly intent on reminding me.

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        • That’s a major facet of what I see. In the scenario I run, on ‘how to disassemble factions’, it’s an obstacle. Maybe in the same vein as tribalism, maybe in another vein of pure convenience, maybe at times, as Jay points out, fear.

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          • (My use of the word “fear” was ironic. It was playing with the concept of “Of course I prefer people like myself to hang out with. It’s rational for quality people to hang out with other quality people. Those people over there who only want to hang out with people like them, however, (irrationally) fear diversity!”)

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    • Moderation in all things, especially democratic impulses!

      More seriously, I agree with this up to a point. When Brexit passed, my perspective was that it could be thwarted but by doing so you haven’t gotten rid of the 52% of people who voted for it. There is only so much you can stem a particular tide. You might can (probably can) do it against 52%, though you have to make sure an additional 10% or so aren’t offended by how you’re doing it.

      But that’s not really what we’re talking about here. Here we’re talking about how to translate preferences into governance. The populists we’re talking about? They’re not crushingly popular. They don’t even have a majority, really. Not the Trump supporters, not the Bernie supporters, not Syriza. They might get more than half of the vote, but mostly as a result of the options available, which itself is a result of the election systems. (Neither do the mainstream factions, FTR.)

      In this post, I am mostly looking at “Do we handle these factions by giving them a voice in one of a couple permanent parties, or do we give them a chance to form their own party with their own more disciplined vision?” I don’t think doing neither is really an option, for the reason you allude to. But some options may be better than others. More fundamentally, how do you parse the diverse will of the people? Again, some options may be better than others.

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  13. A somewhat moderate GOP Rep has said on the record regarding the tax cuts that the donors say “pass it or don’t call again”

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/7/16618038/house-republicans-tax-bill-donors-chris-collins

    This a GOP Rep from NY who knows his constituents need the various exemptions or benefit from them and will see a tax hike without them. Do you think that no primaries just gives more power to the wealthy donors?

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