The Spirited Reasoner used to believe that the only thing weirder than the Electoral College was our system of party caucuses and primaries, wherein insignificant electoral states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, suddenly flexed their muscles, bouncing frontrunners into the dustbin of history while launching the campaigns of relative unknowns.
Those of us of a certain age can recall the shock of Eugene McCarthy’s strong finish in the New Hampshire primary of 1968, a result which led to the almost immediate entry of Robert F. Kennedy into the race and the decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to exit soon thereafter. Four years later, the shock came from Iowa, where George McGovern’s surprising finish shocked the frontrunner, Edmund Muskie, whose campaign proceeded to self-destruct (in New Hampshire, of course).
But now, it seems, the weirdness of caucuses and primaries is being trumped (pun intended?) by a system of pre-caucus and pre-primary opinion polls and fundraising targets, a system apparently designed to ensure the primacy of money in American politics.
Most of us had grown accustomed to the odd quadrennial ritual, whereby a host of ambitious politicians would descend upon small towns in Iowa and New Hampshire to shake hands with unsuspecting strangers and kiss perfectly innocent babies. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the moments when those same invaders disappeared from the early caucus and primary states (but only temporarily) to find themselves the center of attention at receptions hosted by some of the ritziest donors in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, New York City, Miami, and Chicago.
Not that there is anything wrong with any of those travel destinations. It’s just that what began as a fundraising symptom has now blossomed into a disease. Our budding candidates must now prove their fundraising mettle months before the Iowa caucus is even held, this as a way of justifying their entry into the campaign.
As of today, and despite the Iowa caucuses not being scheduled to occur until February of 2020, there appear to be only thirteen Democratic presidential candidates left standing from what was once nearly double that number. What happened to the others?
It appears they were unable to find the number of donors required to justify their inclusion on whatever debate stage happens to be scheduled next.
Those still standing, in their approximate order of popularity, are as follows:
Joe Biden – polling between 20 and 33 percent in most polls.
Bernie Sanders – polling between 12 and 24 %.
Elizabeth Warren – polling between 14 and 21 %.
Kamala Harris – polling between 4 and 10 %.
Pete Buttigieg – polling between 3 and 8%.
And then there are O’Rourke, Yang, Booker, Gabbard, Castro, Klobuchar, Bullock, and Williamson, all polling at 3% or less.
What’s unfortunate about this new “system” is that it appears to place the importance of television ratings ahead of our nation’s need to choose a candidate with the right presidential character traits and command of public policy. Is it really too much to ask that we all take a deep breath and hold off on the elimination process until at least one or two states have conducted actual caucuses or primaries?
Or have we all watched one too many episodes of Survivor …