By Mark Bauer
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
This James Madison quote came to mind when I read about Democrats meddling in Republican primaries in states expected to have tightly contested general elections. Democrats did it in 2016 by attempting to legitimize far right candidates like Trump in order to have a better shot of beating them in head-to-head campaigns. While there’s nothing illegal about it, per se, it does wreak of cynicism.
This is where it would be easy to paint Democrats as Machiavellian—duplicitous and cunning. James Madison might even call them devils. Depending where you fall on the political spectrum, perhaps you believe all those things to be true. But a good faith argument posits that these Democrats are simply overzealous, and in their eagerness to win they’re leveraging the electoral system to give them whatever competitive edge they can muster.
In other words, don’t hate the player, hate the game.
And if there’s one thing we hate at Rank the Vote, it’s the game. We spend a lot of time on this blog writing about how the electoral system is broken and produces candidates who aren’t actually representative of the electorate.
UniteAmerica explains why party primaries are so problematic: Due to geographic self-sorting and partisan gerrymandering, 83% of congressional districts lean so Democratic or so Republican (“safe”) that the only election of consequence is the primary election. As a result, in partisan primaries, a small minority of voters decide the vast majority of congressional elections — fueling political polarization and preventing problem-solving.
That means that a mere 17% of congressional districts are actually competitive in the general election, and one way to tip the scales in your favor is to elevate a candidate that holds unfavorable ideas that are likely unattractive to the broader electorate. Hence why Democrats are paying for TV ads that promote a Trump-endorsed Republican against Rep. Peter Meijer who voted to impeach the former president.
Former Democratic leaders have blasted the practice as “risky and unethical.” While it’s not our place to make character judgments, it is the highest form of cynicism to attempt reducing an already limited political supply from 2 choices down to 1. This doesn’t expand democracy, it shrinks it.
Ranked choice voting and other electoral reforms seek to expand democracy by opening the free market of political ideas–making primaries more competitive, and giving voters actual choice by giving them a lineup of candidates more likely to appeal to a broader audience in the general election. And these reforms would be less easily exploited by the gamesmanship offered by Democrats in the last two election cycles.
Men may not be devils, but they’re certainly not angels either. And when the governing framework–in this case, the electoral system– ceases to work for our common good, it’s necessary that we reform it.
Mark Bauer is a producer, entrepreneur, day trader and former Independent candidate for Congress in Texas. Previously he spent 10 years as a legal journalist covering the legal market in Texas and regulatory issues in Washington DC.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Rank the Vote, its members, supporters, funders, or affiliates.