Search the Site

Has This Been the Best Primary Season Ever?

Coming into this very long, harried, and intensely reordered presidential primary season, there was a lot of talk about how poorly the nominating process serves the electorate. The common argument seemed to be that the acceleration and clustering of states’ primaries would create a chaos from which no electoral good would come.

I’d like to suggest an opposing view: this primary season has been remarkably successful at letting the public come to know the candidates and what they’re about. Why?

For one thing, there has been massive exposure to every significant candidate, thanks in part to the scattered primary schedule. There have been so many debates that a voter would have had to try hard not to at least read about them, let alone see them.

But the second reason is, I think, far more important. This year’s primary schedule has forced candidates to act a bit less like candidates and a bit more like managers — and, therefore, a bit more like an actual President.

Think about it. The schedule called for a dazzling array of primary variables: some were public caucuses and some were standard private votes; independents voted in some primaries and not in others; both parties held primaries on the same day in some states and on different days in others. And then there’s the intense clustering of many primaries in many states in a relatively short time.

So what have the candidates been forced to do? Strategize intensely, adapt to a slew of different circumstances and formats, and, most of all, figure out how best to allocate precious resources — money and time chief among them — in order to optimize their outcome.

Sounds kind of like managing, doesn’t it? And it sounds kind of like making the decisions that someone like a President makes, doesn’t it? Rudy Giuliani, for instance, decided to forego the early primaries and concentrate on Florida, a brash and highly untraditional cost-benefit decision whose outcome we’ll know shortly. Was he wise to not squander his resources on those first states? Or did he sacrifice precious momentum by sitting them out?

I am not saying that the nominating process is a great way to assess what kind of President a candidate would make; I’m not sure there is such a thing. But I do think that, for all the anxiety that greeted this primary season, the public and the media have gotten a truer taste of how each candidate responds to a variety of pressures, the need to make quick decisions and strategic shifts, and the allocation of scarce resources. It just might be good training for something like, say, putting together a financial stimulus plan that works.