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Editorial Commentary: Ken Ciboski

Our Political Primary System Has a Big Problem

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Carla Eckels
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KMUW/File Photo

Senator Bernie Sanders says that the campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is too personal and that critical economic and foreign policy issues are not being debated.

I believe this is also true of the Republican nominating process. During that party’s presidential debate last week, Governor Jeb Bush pointedly attacked Senator Marco Rubio’s attendance record in the Senate and suggested that he should consider resigning his seat. Governor Chris Christie expressed outrage that they were discussing the regulation of fantasy football and not foreign, defense and fiscal issues. Senator Ted Cruz also lamented the lack of a substantive discussion of policy issues.

This is what happens with the primary system of elections for choosing a candidate to run for office. Primary elections are more about candidates and less about issues. This is why some candidates look for openings for personal attacks they think will help them win the party’s nomination. Also, candidates run their own campaigns and they are not always guided by the party platform on issues. Parties have little or no control over the primary election process. This makes it difficult to integrate a candidate’s selection with a party’s program. Candidates for president are expected to run on the party platform that is adopted by the respective party conventions.

For most of the 19th century and up until the 1970s, party delegates at nominating conventions actually decided a party’s candidate for president. This contrasts with today’s conventions ratifying a choice determined by a string of presidential preference primaries and party caucuses before the convention. Perhaps it is time to consider turning to a more structured party convention with a greater emphasis on the role of parties for selecting nominees and having more order in the presidential nominating process.