Once again, Americans are going through the motions of pretending that the Iowa caucuses are crucial to the presidential nomination process. Iowa is currently treated with reverence as a proving ground — a place where candidates can demonstrate their organizational might. But this is inaccurate. Iowa is a place where candidates demonstrate their Iowa organization — their ability to hire the right Iowa consultants, donate and make promises to the right Iowa state and local politicians, stop at the right Iowa restaurants and eat the right Iowa meals in the right Iowa towns, and support Iowa issues like the ethanol scam.
The winner in next week's caucuses will prove that he knows how to win the allegiance of Republican voters in a small state that did not even support the Republican nominee in 2008. A week later, followers of the political process will perform a similar act of self-deception as they watch for results in New Hampshire's first-in-the nation primary.
The current staggered primary process — which gives undue weight to a few small states over Ohio, Virginia and Texas, and which makes South Carolina infinitely more important than North Carolina — is an outmoded anachronism. It mightily benefits professional political consultants, but it brings a host of negative unintended consequences. It has, for example, precipitated a regrettable race to the front of the calendar, which in turn has lengthened presidential campaigns considerably. Not only is there hardly time to govern before the politicking begins anew, but the grueling, 20-month schedule has discouraged the best and brightest in the GOP field from participating for two cycles running.
The solution begins with real punishments for state parties that try to increase their influence by moving their nominating contests to earlier dates. Beginning in 2016, they should have all of their delegates excluded from the national convention altogether, with no exceptions permitted. Both parties should at least adopt this measure — there is no reason the Republican National Committee cannot do so before the convention. Beyond that, the primary calendar should also be reformed and compressed, although this is a much more daunting task. One idea is rotating, weekly regional primaries, beginning sometime in May. Another divides states based on size. Another is a one-day June contest in all 50 states.
All of these systems would mean voters in multiple states would act with the same information on the candidates. All would reduce the influence of fleeting “momentum,” which has no bearing on whether a candidate is a good nominee. All would produce a nomination process that doesn't exclude most Republican voters from any meaningful participation. All offer the possibility of exciting and clarifying brokered conventions, ending an era of infomercial-conventions, since only exceptionally good candidates — acceptable both to conservatives and the establishment — would be able to win the GOP nomination outright. If you are a Republican, write your state party officials and tell them you want them to adopt a process for next time that is more representative of the broad base of GOP voters nationwide.