As Texans headed to the polls to cast their votes on Super Tuesday, we’d be lying if we didn’t say we find it curious and even a bit crazy how the presidential primary system is organized.
Consider these facts. The early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — are intentionally smaller states where candidates can conduct retail politicking. Somehow meeting with average voters, hearing their concerns, traveling to rural communities and, in the case of the latter two states, engaging in more diverse electorates is supposed to allow voters to kick the tires on each candidacy. And when all of it occurs in the glare of the national spotlight, this process should allow voters of every stripe to take each candidacy for a test drive and decide how comfortable they are with that person attaining the most powerful political position in the world.
Iowa’s epic caucus chaos this year is, of course, now legend. And count us among those who believe that the primary system should be revamped to create a process for ensuring candidates emerge who have put forward their ideas in full — including how to pay for them. But there is another defect this year that needs to be pointed out, and sadly this defect comes from the haphazard process work as designed.
Ideally, the early states in our primary system narrow the field as they ferret out candidates who might have good ideas but for a variety of reasons should halt their campaigns. These reasons might involve simply the fact that one candidate needs to emerge. Or it might involve such facts as the candidate isn’t ready for prime time, isn’t made of presidential timber or doesn’t have a comprehensive view that will serve as a successful vision of this larger and diverse country.
The problem is that this year, the winnowing happened after millions of people cast early votes. Approximately 800,000 people in North Carolina, for example, cast ballots before Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer ended their campaigns. How many people in the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday wish they’d known those candidates would call it quits before they cast their ballots?
Ending a campaign doesn’t mean the candidate will never prove to be a strong candidate down the road. Ronald Reagan famously took President Gerald Ford all the way to the Republican convention in 1976 before losing the nomination. The Gipper came back four years later to win the big prize. Similarly, other candidates on both sides of the aisle often require a practice run before putting together a stronger campaign.
If one aim of our a protracted primary calendar is that we can all get a close look at a candidate before they are entrusted with a major party’s nomination, why isn’t there more time built into the calendar for the early states to winnow the field before Super Tuesday?