David Frum, former speech writer for George W. Bush, wonders aloud: When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality? The German weekly Der Spiegel carries this article in its English-language edition: A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses. Even if this is rhetorical overkill, the Republican Party’s range of would-be presidential nominees is rather less than impressive. Those who were skeptical of Obama’s deliberate cultivation of messianic expectations in 2008 hoped he would face a credible opponent in 2012. But thus far the GOP has yet to deliver and shows no signs of doing so any time soon.
It is long past time to repeal the internal party reforms of the early 1970s. It used to be said that any boy could become president. Even if we update the gender reference, we should not be happy with such a possibility. Do we really want just anyone to be the CEO of earth’s remaining superpower? I sure don’t. When I was a child, delegates to a party’s convention actually chose its candidate for president. Party leaders in state, federal, and local politics did their best to put forward a candidate they believed was qualified for the position and had a good chance to beat his opponent. Yes, there were smoke-filled rooms. Yes, there was wheeling and dealing. Yes, the occasional Warren G. Harding would somehow make it past the filtering process. Nevertheless, obvious incompetents were generally weeded out before they got too far.
That all changed four decades ago when Democrats and Republicans sought to more thoroughly democratize their candidate-selection process through a series of binding primary elections and state caucuses. Now by convention time everyone knows who the party’s candidate will be. No genuine choices have to be made. If the voters have chosen a weak candidate, the party convention is nevertheless obligated to give him or her its backing. Not to do so would be perceived as undemocratic.
Philosopher Yves R. Simon observed that a democratic constitution needs non-democratic elements if it is to survive and flourish. There is truth in the ancient Greek and Roman preference for the classical mixed constitution, combining the best elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy into a stable and enduring form of government. That the current crop of Republican candidates is being taken seriously as presidential contenders is a sign that things have got out of hand. It may be time to make the candidate-selection process within the parties a little less democratic for the sake of preserving the competitive character of electoral politics in the United States. It may be too late for 2012, but let’s shoot for 2016.
David Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College and is the author of Political Visions and Illusions. He has recently completed a book manuscript on authority, office, and the image of God.