Thursday, March 01, 2012

Raucous Caucus

You know, I really thought it would be over by now. And by "it" I mean the Republican nominating process. I figured people would calm down and get in line and go in the direction the party elders want them to go. Such has not been the case, and now Washington State is next in line.

I mean, wasn't this one of the reasons for sliding everything so far forward in the yearly schedule? Why Michigan and Florida are being punished (by not sending as many delegates to the convention as originally allocated) for moving their dates forward? That there would be a general threshing out and a knock-out blow for one candidate and then all good men and women would shoulder the wheel for the general?

It didn't pan out that way. Yeah, the long-running Clinton/Obama battle last time out made for both good press and tested each candidate, such that folk had a good idea of what they were voting for by the end of it. But this multiple-clown-car-pileup that is the GOP selection process has been going on way too long. The early primary/caucus schedule did not coronate a clear leader, but left an ongoing "Tune in Next Week" feature to the ongoing drama. The debates were just terrible, in that they revealed more about the mob than about the candidates (It is apparently OK to boo servicemen, the dying, the uninsured, the elderly, the media, black people, people who ask follow-up questions, and black people in the media who ask follow-up questions). The entire process has taken on a train-wreck nature to it all.

Now part of the current challenge, I have to admit, is due to the wonderful diversity of the primary/caucus process. If you like the idea of states have the right to do things their own way, this process is for you. Everyone writes their own rules. Some primaries produce delegates. Others do not, and are little more than beauty contests. Some caucuses produce delegates. Some do not. Some primaries and caucuses are open, which mean anyone can be a part. Others required some form of proof that you are of the party you claim to be. Some contests allocate delegates proportionately, while others are winner take all. Some require the delegates chosen to vote for their chosen candidate when the time comes, some release them after a number of rounds, and some place no such limitation on them at all (The entire Pennsylvania delegation will, apparently, go to the convention "Unpledged"). Add to this a cascade of missteps, miscounts, and media manglings, and it really doesn't show off the local-level political process or the candidates too well.

Indeed, almost every contest so far gets an asterisk for either a) some screwup in counting, b) some recognition that the vote does not directly reflect the eventual result, or c) is adjacent to a candidate's "home state" (and to be fair to the others, how many home states does Romney HAVE, anyway?). This is democracy at its creakiest, where we look like some small European province from a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera.

Anyway, Washington. Washington State has its GOP caucuses this year on Saturday, in part because the state didn't want to spring for primaries (our new motto is "As much democracy as we think we can afford"). The caucus process means that a bunch of folk get into a room and select delegates. But it doesn't stop there. These folk get to have a later meeting where they chose FEWER delegates, and so on until we get down to 40 delegates (with three more added on - party leaders who swill serve as "superdelegates"). These 43 go to the convention itself. That first day is important for the media (who "wins" Washington - there will be a non-binding straw poll), but the final selection happens much later (and is much quieter).

This type of selection process works for the more traditional members, since there is voter erosion as you go along. The more outspoken members get shuffled to one side and the more traditional ones take control. On the Dem side eight years ago, I went in as a Dean supporter, and ended up being a Edwards delegate (just to spite those Kerry supporters - the full tawdry story is here). Inertia helps as you move through the process, and for that reason the Precinct Committee Officers are important. Which is one reason that the Paul campaign is pre-complaining about potential funny business, as it doesn't matter who votes so much as who counts the votes.

I was going to rail on the various surviving candidates here, but this posting has gone on long enough, and to be honest, while I'd like to see a viable Republican with a solid message in the race, I'm really not going to vote for any of these guys. However, the Washington caucuses are kinda open, which means you have to sign a form saying you won't show up for the Dem caucuses, but otherwise it is available to all. But if you're a Dem, you shouldn't show up just to throw a monkey wrench in the works, which some have suggested. Why?
   1) It's kind of stupid.
   2) It never really works, in part because of the erosion effect I mentioned above.
   3) You wouldn't like it much if someone did it to you.
   4) It really is kind of stupid.

With that, I encourage those who plan on voting Republican in the fall to make their voices heard and their votes recorded, and go to the caucuses Saturday morning.

Me? I'll be sleeping in.

More later,