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Desperately Seeking Consensus

By Jay Cost, Weekly Standard - September 20, 2015

Judging by the number of House and Senate seats, governorships, and state legislative seats it holds, the Republican party is stronger than at any point since the 1920s. Yet, going by the presidential nomination battle alone, the party is a mess. There are too many candidates, a few of whom are distracting the public with their self-aggrandizing shenanigans, spurred on by ratings-hungry cable-news networks.There are a lot of reasons for this problem, but a big one is the nomination process itself. The current rules of the game in both parties encourage distractions and hamper efforts to unite around shared values. Put simply, the system makes it needlessly hard for the party to reach consensus. The modern nomination system is certainly more democratic than its 19th-century forebear. Now, people choose the nominee by direct election, rather than leaving the choice to delegates chosen by state party leaders. The current rules, however, do little to encourage consensus. Instead, the nomination battle is aptly captured by the tagline for the show Survivor—“Outwit, Outlast, Outplay.” A would-be nominee does not need to garner the majority of his party’s support. He just has to win a plurality and hang around until the other candidates drop out. The media encourage fragmentation. Journalists love the internecine battle, regardless of the damage to the party. Worse, they declare candidates “winners” of primaries even if they barely squeaked by their opponents with less than half the vote. This creates inevitable pressure on the “losers” to drop out and turns the nomination into a war of attrition.

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