When California formally enacted legislation last week moving its 2008 presidential primary to February 5, it took a big step towards making that day not only by far the earliest and most massive Super Tuesday in history, but perhaps a de facto national primary that would almost certainly end the nominating process for both parties.Today’s New York Times has a handy-dandy chart listing the 8 states already scheduled for a February 5 (AL, AR, AZ, CA, DE, MO, OK and UT), the 8 additional states considered likely to go there next (FL, IL, KS, NJ, NM, NY, NC, and TX), and 6 more that are thinking seriously about it (CO, GA, MI, MT, RI and TN). On the Democratic side, if all 22 states went on February 5, they would award 59% of all 2008 delegates, nearly double the prize for the end-it-all 2004 Super Tuesday, and also nearly a month earlier.This, folks, is simply crazy. February 5 is nine months before the general election, and roughly six months before the nominating conventions. The heavily front-loaded 2004 schedule was rationalized by some Democrats as necessary to give the nominee time to take on an incumbent; there’s no such excuse for the far more front-loaded 2008 calendar. It virtually guarantees that three factors—money, name ID, and success in the earliest states, especially Iowa—will determine the outcome. And it may well snuff any serious chance for the lower-tier candidates in both parties, who must now somehow simultaneously combine relentless campaigning in Iowa with the massive fundraising necessary to compete in the incredibly expensive February 5 landscape.Most importantly, the emerging calendar will provide zero opportunity for second thoughts after the early rush has anointed nominees. It could be a very long spring, summer and autumn if a nominee commits some major blunder, or some disabling skeleton jumps out of a closet.For Democrats, the only silver lining is that their top-tier candidates are probably closer to being bullet-proof than those on the other side. Giuliani and McCain are very weak front-runners at this point, but with no one else appearing in position to catch fire rapidly, GOPers may get stuck with one of them in much the same way that they shrugged and unenthusiastically nominated Bob Dole in 1996.But there’s no doubt that this crazy early national primary represents a failure of national Democratic leadership. A revolt against the Iowa/New Hampshire duopoly that emerged right after the 2004 elections led to a weak and ultimately counter-productive “solution”: allowing one state (NV) to move between IA and NH, and another (SC) to move up to right after NH. This had the effect of honking off NH, which could produce an even greater calamity by moving its primary ahead of IA (probably spurring an insane competition that could move the whole process into this year), while luring half the country into moving up to the “window” right after SC. Meanwhile, IA’s more important than ever.You can’t really blame the individual states for this happening; it’s a classic apes-on-a-treadmill situation. What could have happened, and what should happen before the next go-around, is a truly national approach. Whether it’s a lottery, or a carefully matched series of states around the country, or regional primaries, or just the kind of spread-out process that prevailed until recently, it could be imposed by the DNC through a combination of (a) strict rules against seating of delegates chosen outside the calendar guidelines, and (b) an aggressive effort to recruit all candidates in advance to support the decision, with ejection from DNC-sponsored debates, or if necessary, a ban on speaking opportunities at the Convention, being the stick.But if we don’t get seriously angry about this abomination right now, we’re going to find ourselves in the same situation four and eight years from now.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
In looking at the trajectory of the 2022 midterms, I noted at New York a theory that suggests we’d better get used to close elections that defy history:
With six weeks to go until Election Day, the midterms aren’t unfolding as we all expected earlier this year, when Republicans were better than even money to retake the Senate and a lead-pipe cinch to flip the House by a substantial margin. There are, of course, plenty of reasons you can cite for this change in the political climate, from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to somewhat better economic news to Donald Trump’s continued presence on the campaign trail to bad GOP-candidate selection. It’s nerve-racking, of course, because with Democrats holding the slightest of majorities in both congressional chambers, very small micro-trends in just a few states or districts could have enormous consequences for the parties and for the country (the consequences extend, of course, to state-level positions, not just governors but election-supervising secretaries of State).
“In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. ‘Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,’ they write. ‘In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.’
“Moreover, they write, voters are ‘less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.’ This calcification of our partisanship ‘produces rigidity in our politics — even when dramatic events suggest the potential for big changes.’
“In other words, if every election is an existential fight, then every election will be close. Or, as the Democratic strategist told me, ‘notably competitive.’”
If true, this would mean not only fewer “persuadable” swing voters to produce big shifts in the results from election to election, but likely a reduction in the sorts of “enthusiasm gaps” thought to affect partisan turnout patterns in the past. Elections would be more like a series of huge pre-mobilized armies meeting in a series of huge clashes with no prisoners taken (and little cooperation across party lines between elections). Even if that’s an exaggeration of the degree of gridlock from which our government and our electorate is suffering, we might truly be entering a period in which swings in party voting are limited. And as Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck note, the “calcification” of party and ideological divisions can become self-perpetuating:
“Calcified politics and partisan parity combine to produce a self-reinforcing cycle. When control of government is always within reach, there is less need for the losing party to adapt and recalibrate. And if it stays on the same path, voters have little reason to revise their political loyalties.”
To be clear, very close elections can have variable outcomes. And in our winner-take-all system, the stakes will remain high. It will obviously make a great deal of difference which party wins the White House in 2024. Control of the Senate, moreover, depends as much on near-accidents of landscape than on the overall voting strength of the two parties, since only one-third of senators face voters each cycle. Democrats are benefiting from a modestly positive Senate landscape this year. Republicans should have a big Senate advantage in 2024. There is no guarantee either party can muster a governing “trifecta” in the future. As Republicans learned in 2017–18 and Democrats have learned in 2021–22, a trifecta isn’t all that if you can’t rigidly discipline all your troops all the time.
When white-knuckle time arrives just before Election Day this year, the odds are pretty good there will remain a lot of uncertainty about exactly what will happen when the votes are all counted (assuming we can get bipartisan buy-in on the results as officially certified, which is hardly a safe assumption at present). If Democrats managed to hold onto both congressional chambers, they may well feel vindicated by voters and go on to undertake an ambitious agenda in the next two years. More likely we will have a return to divided government and even more uncertainty and gridlock as we enter still another momentous election cycle.