The 2024 Speculation Has Begun, Here’s Some Suggestions To End Perpetual Campaigning
Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, but who will be the Republican nominee in 2024? There are already reports that Donald Trump will try to pull a Grover Cleveland and run again. Then there’s Ron DeSantis, but what about Kristi Noem, who has made a name for herself in recent months? Of course, there’s also Nikki Haley and Larry Hogan has floated a trial balloon or two.
If this all seems ridiculous, that is because it is. In 2020, Elizabeth Warren, after forming an exploratory committee on December 31, 2018, formally announced on February 9, a full year before Iowa and 21 months before the general election. Obviously, she was not alone.
The first debate of the 2020 primary was on June 26, 2019 or just under six months before Iowa. The first votes were cast in Iowa on February 3 and the last votes were cast in Connecticut on August 11, although by at time the vote was just a formality.
If we take Warren’s announcement date — as she was the first major candidate to announce (sorry, Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard) — the primary alone was well over a year.
The biggest step to end perpetual campaigning would be to address this. As it currently stands, the presidential primary system as conducted by both parties is a relic of the 1970’s, an age before the internet, social media, and the 24 hour cable news cycle.
The Iowa Caucus and, to a similar extent, the New Hampshire and South Carolina Primaries as well as the Nevada Caucus, have become Pete Worden’s self-licking ice cream cone.
Why does Iowa go first? Because it always has. Why has it always gone first? Because it’s Iowa.
Neither party has an incentive to change the system, because then the other party will say that “Republicans don’t care about Iowans, vote for Democrats” or vice versa.
But instead of having a nine month voting process (although this year’s was extra long due to COVID concerns), shrink the process and reboot the calendar.
Divide the country up into regions including one for D.C. and the territories and have one or two from each region go every week for five or six weeks from the end of April to the beginning of June. Have each week’s vote take place on a Saturday in an order determined by random draw in late February.
Instead of having Iowa go by itself, and then New Hampshire all by itself, and so on and so forth until Super Tuesday, no state will be privileged. The other 46 states will have a voice in choosing the nominees and in four years the order will be re-drawn.
By not knowing the primary order ahead of time, candidates can not just camp out in one or two states hoping to become the President of Iowa or the President of New Hampshire. Or even more embarrassingly, celebrate finishing third in one of those states.
In 2016, 17 Republicans ran for the nomination, in 2020 over 20 Democrats did the same. The one state at a time primary feeds this. Before the explosion of social media, a candidate could come in second or third in Iowa and New Hampshire and that could be their national coming out party. However, in the modern world, by the time Iowa votes, these candidates are known commodities.
But the myth of the good, but not top, finish remains. Because every candidate thinks they have a chance, they have no incentive to go anywhere even though nobody has them in their top three. All they need to do is wait until somebody drops out and they can be the anti-whomever alternative.
Because the parties are warry of appearing to put their thumb on the scales in favor of certain candidates, this encourages vanity candidates. Over the past two cycles in both parties we have gotten candidates who do not really want to be president, so much as they want a platform to talk about their pet issue or to make it clear that they do not like this candidate or that candidate.
Changing the length of the primary will discourage the vanity campaigners as they will have less time to campaign and oxygen to steal from the serious candidates. Additionally, parties can make debate entry more difficult. Sorry, but the country is not dying to hear from George Pataki or Julián Castro, if that upsets their five supporters, then that’s just too bad.
The first debate should not take place until after the draw. If candidates want to have a “breakout” moment then this is their chance, a month or two before the vote, not a six or seven.
By contracting the calendar and having parties put in rules to discourage also-rans, we just might be able to end perpetual campaigning. People might say, that the campaign takes a long time and that this is a good thing because the president of the United States is a serious job and it should be deliberate, which is true. But, an eight or nine month campaign is still grueling and deliberate, but has the advantage of not being a 20 month-long joke.