Throw away the rule book—the 2008 nominating process has completely changed the way we choose our candidates. What will the fallout be?
The most significant change is that the proportional representation system has inflicted the same harm on the Democratic party as it did on the Italian political process and the French Fourth Republic: deadlock and an inability to declare clear winners.
The winner-take-all system we use for the Electoral College, congressional races and the Republican primaries eliminates confusion and bring contests to a quick close. The Democratic Party must make eliminating the proportional representation process its first order of business.
At the same time, it must sharply limit the role of superdelegates. It’s time to end the anomaly of a nominating process so finely tuned to a purely representative and democratic outcome that, at the same time, empowers 800 honchos with the right to vote as they please. Here are other lessons we must draw from this cycle:
The Internet is a better way to raise money than courting fat cats or special interests. Hillary Clinton could not run as the representative of change because she drowned in her own contributions. Fat cats, who did not attract the same level of voter antipathy, proved to be a poor source for funding a presidential campaign.
Without a winner-take-all system, don’t count on a knockout. The combination of the proportional representation system and Internet fundraising makes it very hard to score a knockout in the modern presidential nominating procedure. The old days—where the frontrunner would score a few primary victories and his opponents would surrender—are over. Now, a challenger’s money doesn’t necessarily dry up when his prospects for victory dim. Fat cats desert a sinking ship. Internet donors don’t. They send in more small donations. And, with proportional representation, it’s very hard to achieve a convincing majority before all the ballots are counted. Unless Democrats drop the proportional system, count on the process going the full 15 rounds from now on.
There is no such thing as private anymore. Everyone has a cell phone camera. So, unless you are in the shower—and even there—don’t count on privacy. Your private comments and unguarded moments will soon be world famous.
Field organizations matter. Television has met its match in the caucus system many states use. Only a field organization can get activists to the caucuses. Hillary, who relied on TV, was beaten in February by Obama’s caucus and primary victories, impelled by his field organizations.
YouTube is the new network. More than ABC, NBC, CBS or the cable stations, the best way to get a message out nationally is through your website, e-mail and YouTube. The Obama Girl did more for Barack than any TV ad.
Cable news matters. The Republican primary electorate watches FoxNews, while Democratic candidates can access their voters through CNN, MSNBC and PBS. Network television is for prime-time entertainment. But the daily exposure on cable news and public television is so intensive that it replaces broadcast television, particularly early in the process when the average voter isn’t paying attention.
Everything is a voting record. The days are long gone when the only things the public cares about are your votes in Congress. Barack Obama lost plenty of votes—and will lose more—over his choice of pastor. Mitt Romney even lost votes, including my wife’s, because he put Seamus, the family dog, in a cage on the roof of his car as he sped along at 65 miles an hour to get to his vacation. The poor pooch was blown away (figuratively) and so was Mitt.
In politics, you’ve always had to adapt to changes and new developments. But right now, it’s a new contest. Chuck the experience. It’s a brave new world out there. Dick Morris is an author and political commentator. To get his columns for free by e-mail several times each week, sign up at DickMorris.com.