There is a reason the Los Angeles Dodgers don’t get to pick the starting pitchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they play against them. If you want to pick the D-Backs starting pitcher, you need to play for the D-Backs. I think most rational people would agree. The question is: do they agree when it comes to picking presidential nominees?
A recent op-ed by Al Bell (Everyone should have a vote in the presidential preference election) lays out a self-contradicting argument for why people who are not a part of any political party ought to have the same say as to the identity of that party’s nominee for president as members of the political party. Mr. Bell describes himself as “a leader in the independent voter movement in Arizona,” and he really wants voters who aren’t Republicans to pick the Republican nominee and voters who aren’t Democrats to pick the Democrat nominee. Naturally, his idea is wrapped in the flag and what it means to be a great American.
Except it’s a terrible idea.
The Republican and Democratic parties are different. Very different. They hold wildly divergent positions on profound issues and, when left to their own process, they generally produce candidates who offer the voters two very different directions for the country (or state or locality) to choose from. There are also myriad other party nominees (Libertarian, Green, etc.) and independent candidates as well who show up at election time, each offering their own platform. The voters get to choose from all of these options.
“Everyone should have a say” sounds great as an ideal (and I completely agree for general elections), except even Mr. Bell has not suggested that Republicans should be allowed to pick the Democratic nominee or that Democrats should be allowed to pick the Republican nominee. I assume it is because he knows the opportunity for gamesmanship or sabotage would be too great. We have plenty of historical examples of states – where independent voters are allowed to participate in presidential primary elections – being the scenes of organized efforts to get voters who are hostile to the GOP to vote for the least electable GOP candidate and vice versa with the Democrats. Those are cases of independent voters actively working to ensure the country the worst possible choices in the general election – a far cry from Bell’s claim that their involvement would somehow produce improvements. Bell himself accidentally acknowledges this when he writes, “Some independents are clearly anti-party,” so why would the parties invite anti-party voters into their selection process?
It is also logical that if the voter pools for both the Democratic and Republican primaries become so ideologically blended that they are mere reflections of each other, the nominees chosen will be equally similar, offering the nation not a choice, but an echo. That would also serve the nation poorly. Blend the primaries together enough and why bother having a primary at all? Mr. Bell will eventually have us in something akin to a two-round general election.
In Arizona, independents are allowed to vote in legislative primaries, and many do. Come the general election many voters complain that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans they get to choose from. That’s not a complaint you heard for Bush v Kerry, Obama v Romney, or Trump v Clinton. Part of the reason is that the party primary process is an audition for who best can champion the values of a political party and at the presidential level it is still dominated by closed primaries.
As I mentioned before, Mr. Bell doesn’t think Republicans should get to vote in Democratic primaries and vice-versa, so he doesn’t really want “everyone” to have a say. He just wants to be an independent voter so that he can keep a distance from the organized parties, while helping himself to all of the benefits of membership in those parties. That is neither patriotic nor consistent with any founding ideals.
Constantin Querard is founder and president of Grassroots Partners.