Fortunately, this weekend’s absurd spectacle in Ames will have little effect on the final outcome of the Republican nomination battle. Nevertheless, it is a stark reminder of how broken our presidential selection system is today.
Liberal, “New Politics” Democrats felt jilted after the 1968 nomination, believing that Hubert Humphrey was not the choice of the mass party electorate. They subsequently managed to gain control of the reform committee the party regulars had established as a sop to the lefties at the Chicago convention, and rammed through various proposals meant to democratize the nomination process.
As with so many other liberal reformers, the do-gooders on the “McGovern-Frasier Commission” badly miscalculated the effects of their efforts. They had hoped to create a more deliberative nomination process, but the final result was the bizarre carnival that we must endure every four years — one where big-money contributors, hack political consultants, biased journalists, ignorant pundits, and hardcore activists dominate the proceedings on both sides. The result is a process that favors the well-connected, the well-mobilized, and above all the most divisive elements among us.
Our nomination system is in desperate need of reform — and the proceedings in Ames this weekend demonstrate that fact as much as anything. I say: Let’s scrap the “democratic” system we have now and return to the good old-fashioned conventions. They were good enough to produce Lincoln, McKinley, and Eisenhower — how bad can they be?
Before I comment on the results, let me stand with those who hope this is the last time anyone pays attention to the Ames Straw Poll. As David Broder used to say and Dan Balz repeats today, how many times should a single state — and an un-representative one at that — hog the nation’s attention and have the capacity to doom candidacies and dry up contributions? Ronald Reagan, I recall, lost Iowa. He recouped in New Hampshire, unearthed his campaign staff, and the rest, as they say is “history.”
Bachmann did what she had to, and in ways that humiliated Pawlenty and revealed flaws in the Romney operation. Santorum and Cain pulled respectable showings, given their shortage of funds. Santorum’s decent showing comes after he distinguished himself in debate, revealing for all to see the “flat-earth” side of the Ron Paul (Iran is not a threat) foreign policy. That Romney, who won the Ames Straw Poll the last time out, could place behind not only Santorum and Cain, but last-minute entry Rick Perry, suggests that his ties in the state have weakened. He will have to campaign there should he capture the GOP nomination. He needs to start now.
Now that Perry has declared his candidacy, all eyes will be on him as summer turns to fall. Whether he succeeds in making this a two-man race or goes the way of aspirants such as John Connally and Phil Gramm is every one’s guess. As of Saturday night, this is his nomination to win or lose.
Oh, gosh, I never thought I’d be pulling for Rep. Ron Paul, America’s cranky uncle. But I was. Despite Michele Bachmann’s many appealing traits, I didn’t want her to win. Of course, she was always going to. There was no suspense. Like the Iowa straw-poll voters, I love her fighting spirit and resonate to her intensity — who else has been “at the tip of the spear”? And who else would put it quite that way? But Tim Pawlenty (who came in a distant third) is right: She has no executive experience. Not sure we should try that again so soon. I am also troubled by Bachmann’s strange way with facts — e.g., there is just no way you can make John Quincy Adams a Founding Father, as Bachmann tried to do. This is not a minor historical factoid.