Foreigners watching the recent Republican primary race to select their presidential nominee may be forgiven for being perplexed. At a time when most Americans were hardly paying attention, the Republican Party was engaged in a marathon series of twenty seven televised debates, forty primary elections, and seventeen caucuses. All featured a bewildering array of candidates, some of whom were barely known even to the party's own voters. Critics, and there were many, complained that the process was long, confusing, boring, and ultimately futile since the Republicans wound up with the result that had seemed likely from the start.
Yet, in the end, this marathon highlighted and put in sharp relief the skills and limitations of the various candidates whose prospects rose and fell with dizzying speed during the process. While accentuating and arguably overstating the importance of rhetorical skills and gimmicks, it also revealed gaping limitations of knowledge and uncovered disqualifying character and leadership flaws in a number of candidates. In short, the process worked and did exactly what it was meant to do.
The American Presidential Primary System: A Brief Primer
The American presidential primary system is a devilishly complex mixture of party rules and state laws for both Democrats and Republicans. In some American states only registered party members can vote in their respective party primaries. In other American States members of one political party can vote in another parties' primary. And of course caucuses, like those that took place in Iowa and resulted in Governor Romney winning by eight votes only to have that result later overturned by awarding the most votes to Rick Santorum operate by a wholly different set of administrative rules.
And, if this weren't difficult enough even getting on a state's primary party ballot is no easy matter. It requires the filing of petitions, the gathering of signatures, recruiting slates of delegates who have strong local name recognition and the support of state party officials, and paying close attention to administrative deadlines. There are also different classes of delegates some of whom are pledged to a particular candidate, some of whose allegiance extends only to the nominating convention's first ballot, and others of whom are elected but not specifically pledged at all. And, finally, some State and party rules award all a states' delegates to a winning candidate, while others award delegates proportionally... | read more |