Continued from page 1

This intraparty debate has produced no resolution at the RNC’s biannual meetings over the years.

Many conservatives are hopping mad that Democrats voting in the June 24 Republican primary runoff in Mississippi helped give the nomination to Mr. Cochran over Mr. McDaniel, who is contesting the results.

Mr. Priebus made opposition to open primaries part of his successful first campaign for RNC chairman.

Many of the other 167 elected members of the GOP’s national governing body share his view that the party’s core reason for existence is to have its members pick the best representatives for them in general elections.

“The Mississippi primary shows what can happen when you have an open primary,” Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead said. “Most often it is for mischief. The Democrats who vote in our primary either want to support the weaker candidate so they will have a better shot at winning in the general election, or they have been coerced into voting in our party’s primary to elect a candidate more closely aligned with their party’s views and philosophy.”

Falling party membership

Membership in both major parties has been dropping as voters migrate to the independent or “no party” column. Open primaries may have something to do with that, some Republican leaders said.

“It’s self-evident that members of a political party joined that party for the very reason that they wanted to nominate candidates of their choosing, specifically and clearly excluding folks in other parties from participating,” said Missouri GOP Chairman Ed Martin. “This mushiness of open primaries accounts for the severe drop in party affiliation of late. There is no ‘value’ in belonging to a political party.”

Closing primaries may not be easy, said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who is also a former RNC chairman held in high regard by most of the national party’s rank and file.

“There was a time, many years ago, when some of us in the GOP advocated party registration and closed primaries,” Mr. Barbour said. “It went nowhere in the state legislature and the public didn’t like it. I believe today the public still prefers open primaries.”

Three states render the idea of a political party even more meaningless, some critics said, by holding “blanket” or “jungle” open primaries. In Louisiana, Washington and California, all candidates for the same office, regardless of party affiliation, run against one another simultaneously in one nonpartisan primary. The top two finishers then face off in the general election. Supporters say this process tends to favor more centrist candidates in both parties over more ideological rivals.

“There are probably some voters who would prefer a Louisiana-style open primary — not a majority and certainly not me,” Mr. Barbour said.

“For decades, the Mississippi Republican Party has said, including in our platform in years past, ‘We are the Party of the Open Door.’ We welcome anyone who wants to participate in our party,” Mr. Barbour told The Times in an email.

But the “open door” language lends itself to ambiguity.

At a meeting of state party chairmen Wednesday, some with larger Democratic populations opined that an open primary might help them pull some voters in their direction. But most chairmen from red states felt it would be advantageous to close the door to Democrats in Republican primaries.

Story Continues →