If there is one conclusion to be reached from this year’s reality TV presidential circus it’s that we must change the way we select nominees. Big money, television and consultants have hijacked what is a most important and serious decision-making process.
What we’ve evolved into is made-for-television debates, nauseous interviews with political operatives and incessant analysis, all hyped as “breaking news.” This might serve network ratings but certainly doesn’t serve the electorate, leaving us to question where the candidates stand on important issues like education, healthcare, infrastructure, defense, jobs and commerce, and what candidates hope to do if elected. Instead we get posturing, bragging and framing opponents, but little specificity. We’ve created television personalities, not statesmanlike leaders.
We don’t advocate yesterday’s backroom bosses deciding who becomes the party standard-bearer but, come to think about it, that couldn’t be much worse than what we’ve experienced this year.
Maybe the national parties are irrelevant and unnecessary. In recent years, the nominee has been determined before the national party conventions, leaving them as yet another rubber-stamp TV event. Many remember the days when the party convention was exciting, must-see TV and we hung on state-by-state roll calls to determine the nominee.
Today states line up to be first, or at least early, in holding primaries. Serious candidates with value to add to the discussions are effectively winnowed out before the rest of the states have a chance to vote. Candidates that are the most bombastic, spew the most vitriol or repeat carefully rehearsed, focus-group tested sound bytes get the most TV coverage and those not winning these early beauty pageants are forced to drop out when donor money dries up. What we’ve ended up viewing is more like American Idol, The Amazing Race, Survivor or The Biggest Loser, where winners move to the next round, instead of a thoughtful, deliberative selection process.
Let’s consider some options to reform this process to serve voters instead of serving the candidates and networks. Why must we be limited to only two national political parties where candidates to pretend to cling to one or the other party? Those parties have become little more than money laundering machines fed by lobbyists, wealthy individuals and special interests, but seldom representing mainstream America.
We’ve enjoyed this year’s Town Hall format, where one candidate at a time submits to vetted questions from journalists, then takes questions from the audience. Town Halls help us learn more about the candidate, what he or she believes, how they respond in unrehearsed settings and what each hopes to accomplish. Regional or state-by-state Town Halls could be aired on networks and online, helping voters make better-informed decisions in lieu of the constant inane debates.
Why shouldn’t all states have the same date for presidential primaries? Candidates would be forced to go to all states, then the top two or three vote getters go to the national conventions, make their cases and let the all the states select the nominee. Or perhaps we do away with the conventions altogether, allowing the General Election to be the opportunity for voters to choose the next president. Maybe there are other, better solutions.
We vote to change the process. It can’t be any worse than the disgusting and disgraceful performances we’ve endured in 2016.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of N.C. Spin.