The Washington Post

Campaign 2012: Designed all wrong

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands during a campaign stop on Saturday, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Also, I’m wondering: When will this Republican race ever end? Emotionally I have moved on to other things, like trying to figure out why there’s this one type of weed with little white flowers popping up everywhere in my yard.

I am sure there are people out there who are happy with the protracted nature of the Republican campaign (now universally referred to as a slog). The TV stations in Illinois must love the infusion of Romney ad dollars in advance of Tuesday’s vote. And anyone working for Obama’s re-election must love this.

The Republicans themselves have to realize that this is not helping them. Romney remains the presumptive nominee but daily is bashed by fellow Republicans and is forced to focus on the Republican base rather than on reaching independent voters who ultimately decide elections. Romney needs to be campaigning now in, for example, Ohio, which he might win in the fall, rather than Illinois, which he won’t.

I don’t think Romney is even halfway to the number of delegates he’ll need to be nominated. The Santorum folks are hoping for a brokered convention. That’s kind of like hoping that Sonny Jurgenson [or Jurgensen, better yet --JA] will come out of retirement and play quarterback for the Redskins. Ain’t gonna happen. There is no such thing anymore as a brokered convention, just as there’s no such thing as an afternoon newspaper (and, someday soon, there may be no such thing as ... oh, never mind).

A convention is a television show. A convention is an advertisement. Conventions don’t decide things anymore. By the time the GOP gets to Tampa the only decisions left will be on camera angles and lighting. And even those will surely have been nailed down.

I’m told by Chris Cillizza that former GOP party chief Michael Steele had the idea of doling out delegates on a proportional basis in these primaries. Maybe the idea was to let more states have a say in the process. And it’s true: You don’t want the whole thing to pivot on a couple of early states. It shouldn’t be Iowa, New Hampshire, done. But this system strikes me as having a design flaw. It doesn’t really favor the challengers, because they’ll never catch up in a proportional system. But it also doesn’t favor the frontrunner, because it takes him forever to get the delegates he needs.

A design flaw in a nominating process is one thing, but it’s worse when there’s a design flaw at the heart of government. Please read yesterday’s excellent piece by my Post colleagues on the collapse of the “grand bargain” last year during budget negotiations between Obama and Boehner. Although the leaders were close to a deal, neither could necessarily have sold the terms to his party’s base, and thus maybe there was never much chance of legislation getting passed. But both sides recognize that they have to make a deal eventually, because the debt it heading toward unsustainable levels (close to 100 percent of GDP).

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a design flaw in the mix. I’m not saying it’s a constitutional flaw (ours has been going strong for a very long time), but maybe we need to find some mechanisms that protect future generations a little bit better. Action on long-term problems is now stymied by fear of short-term political punishment. The future becomes a slush fund for current priorities. In the short run, you can roll over debt, and although people get squeamish about it, disaster is still always somewhere in the distance. Whereas an election is never more than a couple of years away.

Partisans will say: It’s the other side’s fault, always, totally, and we just need to drive those folks from power. But that’s never going to happen: A two-party system is here to stay and this kind of issue is always going to be around. Somehow we have to design a system that decouples some of the long-term fiscal decisions from the short-term political process. It needs to be almost automatic, and not the stuff of grand bargains and midnight deals and political warfare.

Yeah, that sounds easy. Someone get cracking on that, okay? (I’ve got weeding to do.)

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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