- - Sunday, December 14, 2014


The Republican establishment, which gets so many things wrong, is trying to manipulate the party rules to make sure it gets the presidential candidate it wants in 2016. The party chiefs put it another way, of course: They’re just trying to make sure that the party nominates a “respectable” candidate who won’t be mortally wounded before it’s time to fight Democrats. Some of what Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wants to put into place makes sense, but many of the suggestions from other quarters don’t.

In the run-up to the nomination four years ago, Republican candidates trooped across the country to appear at so many “debates” that the candidates, having missed the last streetcar home from the vaudeville circuit, resembled third-rate entertainers at the county fair. They all looked foolish, peddling stale one-liners and trying to one-up one another, and soon the only audiences were half-full houses of bored junkies.

Mr. Priebus has been working to reduce the number of such debates and to reform those left, and to eliminate “moderators” trying to force the candidates to talk about the issues they learned at politically correct moderator school, and little about what voters were really interested in. The chairman’s reforms would enable the candidates to talk about what they want to talk about, and that makes sense, too.

What doesn’t make sense is rigging the system to cook the primaries to get the result the establishment wants. A number of the contributors with gilt-edged checkbooks, who yearn for a rerun of the Romney campaign or who think that America is crying for a third President Bush, want to find a way to silence pesky primary and caucus voters who have wishes and wants of their own.

The Republican establishment doesn’t get it, and neither do the big donors, who got rich and imagine that guarantees success in politics. Nominating a president is messy if it’s done right, which is why Democrats have so much fun. Republicans don’t like to make scenes. Nevertheless, it’s the “scenes” that gives the folks who make up the party faithful a chance to nominate a candidate who reflects their views, not those of the elites.

The long road to the nomination educates the candidates, developing their insights into the diversity of America and how to deal with diversity. Ours is a large country and it exerts heavy pressures on candidates. The messy route to the nomination gives voters the needed opportunity to measure and judge the men and women who offer themselves to lead. Some candidates excel and some don’t. Better for the party to see the weak and the indecisive eliminated lest they see them shredded by the opposition in the general election campaign. That’s the way it should be.

There’s always the temptation to tinker with the system, sometimes for good and usually for ill. The party establishment worked feverishly in 1976 to jigger the rules to stop Ronald Reagan, by preventing his mounting a strong campaign against Gerald Ford, the incumbent president. Mr. Reagan’s manager, John Sears, finally cried out in frustration and exasperation: “Just tell us the rules of the game so we can play.” Jerry Ford prevailed, but in November so did Jimmy Carter.

John Sears was correct. The rules may not be perfect, but they’re all that imposes order on the chase. Victory goes to the candidate who plays by them as best he can, and leaves the whining to the losers. Soon the game begins anew.

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