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Plug up the primaries

Open primaries should be eliminated. Not only should members of political parties be allowed to select their own nominees, but open primaries provide too many opportunities for mischief by their political foes. 

We saw this in 2008, when Rush Limbaugh organized “Operation Chaos,” urging his listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries at a time when Barack Obama had seemingly wrapped up the nomination. I led a similar campaign during the Michigan primary — which was meaningless on the Democratic side — urging my readers to vote for Mitt Romney as a way to try and extend a Republican primary that had been pretty much locked up by John McCain.

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And it will happen again in 2012. 

Obama clearly faces a tough reelection fight, so what better way to improve his chances than to give him the least electable Republican opponent? Assuming Sarah Palin runs, she would be a popular choice for Democrats who have nothing better to do during primary season then try to sabotage the GOP. 

A trio of mid-December polls shows why Democrats everywhere are rooting for a Palin nomination. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that just 8 percent of respondents would definitely support Palin for president, compared to 59 percent who definitely would not. A Marist poll found that Obama would easily beat Palin 52-40, but would be locked in tight battles against Romney and Mike Huckabee. And an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll pegged Palin’s ratings at 28 percent positive, 50 percent negative. 

No other Republican runs this poorly against Obama, or is so clearly disliked by the broader American public. And early polls of the Republican primary show Palin’s popularity flagging even within her own party, generally trailing Romney and Huckabee. But in a fragmented field, it won’t take many extra votes to give Palin the edge. And the 2012 primary calendar provides plenty of opportunities.

Iowa will open the 2012 season, and while ostensibly closed to non-Republicans, voters are allowed to change their registration at the polls. The caucuses feature dismal turnout as a norm — just 239,000 Democrats chose their nominee in a record-breaking 2008, less than 8 percent of the state’s population. The Republicans had less than half that show up at their caucus. It wouldn’t take many votes to swing the results Palin’s way.

New Hampshire has a somewhat closed system — registered Democrats wouldn’t be able to vote in the Republican primary, but independents could. There could be some room for mischief there. 

The Nevada caucuses are closed, so Republicans can make their own choice, but that’s not the case in the last early state — South Carolina — which features an open primary.

In an ideal world, Democrats would choose their nominees, and Republicans would choose theirs. If a voter wanted a say in the matter, he or she could register as a member of that party and have a voice in the decision. But about half the states have decided that it’s better to undermine a party’s ability to determine its own path forward.

Hence, we have the situation where Rush Limbaugh cynically tries to meddle in the other party’s primary, and in justified retaliation, Democrats will cynically do everything in their power to foist Sarah Palin on a GOP that will likely want nothing to do with her. And why not? The system allows it!

There’s an easy solution to these shenanigans: get rid of the open primary.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.


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