I must confess to being a little surprised at the vehement reaction to the new Virginia Republican half-pledge for presidential primary voters. Leslie Carbone has been particularly scathing, but as she notes, she’s not alone.
This is not to say I think the pledge was a good idea. I think Doug Mataconis (a.k.a. Below the Beltway) hits the nail on the head:
Either change Virginia law to provide that only “registered” party members can vote in primaries or pick your candidate via convention.
Indeed, “closed” primaries (which is where only registered members vote) is the better course.
That said, I am surprised that there seems to be so little concern for Democrats influencing the GOP nomination process. Limited-government supporters in particular have been badly burned by Democratic meddling, which – contrary to the ridiculously ignorant reporting in MSM – has been going on for well over fifty years.
In 1952, the party faced an enormous and painful task. With the Democratic party divided and foundering, American voters were looking to the Republicans for leadership for the first time in twenty years. The GOP itself faced a dramatic battle between General Dwight Eisenhower (the candidate of the party’s pro-New Deal “left” wing) and Ohio Senator Robert Taft (the pro-limited government candidate and the favorite of the party’s right).
During the nomination battle (as noted by Stephen Ambrose in Nixon – Volume I: The Education of a Politician (1913-1962), Southern Democrats took over some state GOP conventions in order to send their own delegates (who supported Eisenhower) to the national convention. The state leaders (mostly loyal to Taft) disallowed them because they were Democrats. Eisenhower – who didn’t have a majority at the convention without the questionable delegates – convinced delegates from the other GOP candidates (Earl Warren – yes, that Earl Warren – and Harold Stassen) to support seating his delegates. He carried the vote, got his delegates, and cruised to the nomination on the first ballot.
Taft supporters were livid (many refused to support Eisenhower at all); more to the point, the best chance for a campaign on the wisdom of the New Deal (let alone the possibility of returning to the more limited government of the pre-1933 era) was gone. Eisenhower won the general election in a landslide, most of his southern “Republican” delegates went back to the Democrats, and the Eisenhower Administration largely aligned with the southern Democrats throughout the 1950s. As a result, federal spending began an upward spiral (it doubled – at least – in every decade from the 1950s to the 1980s).
For the record, I make no implication about Earl Warren’s subsequent appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As hard as it is to believe now, Warren had a right-wing reputation back then (he had been a strike-breaking Governor of California), and his appointment was widely supported.
For Republicans worried about Democratic interference (at least those of us with long memories or an above-average knowledge of history), there is no better example than the convention of 1952. However, there have been other Democratic shenanigans. Fairfax County’s history is replete with Democrats using the open primary to get the weakest GOP candidate nominated. Conversely, in the 54th House of Delegates District (my home district), supporters of tax-hiking Republican Bobby Orrock openly invited Democrats to vote for him in the GOP primary against his low-tax, limited government challenger (Full Disclosure: said challenger was my close friend, Shaun Kenney).
So the concern about Democratic interference is hardly paranoid or imaginary; on the contrary, it has a long history that should not be dismissed.
That said, the cure looks worse than the disease here. Since the VA Democrats are holding their own primary on the same day, cross-party interference is not very likely. Also, our primary is on the 12th of February, one week after the Super-Duper Tuesday of February 5, which just might settle both nominations. Finally, even if the GOP race is the only competitive one on the 12th (a scenario that is hardly impossible), it would take a lot of work for the Democrats to organize to the point of overriding the wishes of GOP voters, and it would be impossible to do so without it becoming public, and thus greatly devaluing the entire exercise. The conventions of old and local primaries were and are small enough for a concentrated group of outsiders to gum up the works; a statewide primary is, in my view, to big for something like that (otherwise, George Fitch would have done far better in the 2005 gubernatorial primary against Jerry Kilgore).
So, IMHO, the party should ask the state to change the voter law and allow voters to register with parties – on the condition that they can’t change their registration until the following year (which is how it was, and I think still is, done in New Jersey, where I grew up). You’d be surprised how many Democrats will stay away from a Republican primary so they don’t get labeled as a Republican for the ensuing twelve months (and vice versa).