Open primaries were meant to combat hardcore candidates, but will they do the opposite?

donald trumpI’ve been open about my contempt for open primaries since they first appeared in California:

Once the votes are counted, the two candidates who got the most votes go on to the November ballot.  Everyone else vanishes from the scene.  In states that have a heavy party majority in one direction or the other (as is the case with Bright Blue California), the practical effect is to banish minority party candidates from the November ballot.

Those who support Open Primaries contend that it is an efficient way to ensure that, when people are really paying attention, the majority of voters get to pick from the two most favored candidates, without having the airwaves — and their brains — cluttered with advertisements and speeches from candidates who don’t have a realistic change of winning.  Those who oppose the Open Primary process — and I am one who does — contend that it effectively shuts the minority parties out of the political debate.

Without regard for such issues as political speech and representation, those people who pushed for open primaries justified the move as a way to shut out extremism by forcing people towards the middle:

Carl Luna, a professor at San Diego Mesa College, said the hope is that the new way of voting will increase voter turnout and will lead to election of more moderate candidates.

“Since anybody can vote for anybody, you might have to appeal more toward moderate candidates, toward independents,” he said. “So you get two Democrats who win in one district, they go to the general election and the Democrat that can get Independents and even moderate Republicans to vote for them has a better chance to win.”

A few months ago, I spoke with one of the driving forces behind the open primary initiative.  He spelled out that point in more detail.  As he saw it, under the old system, parties would use the primaries to elect purist candidates who represented the extremes of their position.  Come the election, there were no moderate candidates on the ballot.  He saw this as the reason that California was such a fiscal disaster:  Because Democrats are the majority, nothing tempered them.  He believed that, open primaries, when financial moderates from either party were on the ballot, ordinary people would be drawn to these candidates, and would even cross party lines to vote for them.  Only moderate and fiscally sound candidates who appeal to the masses in the middle would win the top two spots on the November ballot.

The man who told me this is a delightful, intelligent human-being, and something of an old-fashioned Kennedy Democrat, so I know his motives are good.  At the time I spoke with him, I disagreed with him strongly for the reasons I stated above:  in a political system based upon parties, party members ought to be able to choose their candidates, even if the candidate is a losing one, simply so that they can get their ideas out there during the political season when people are actually listening.

Were I to speak to that man now, I would add something to my objection to open primaries:  They may help extremists candidates who have an issue that appeals to members of both political parties.  Case in point:  The Donald Trump phenomenon.

Despite a lifetime as a Democrat, and strong support for Democrat candidates and positions, Donald Trump rose to fame in the last months espousing a single extreme view:  bar all Muslims from America.  I’ve said before that I think his view his actually more nuanced than that (I assume he wants a temporary hold on immigration while we put into place systems that can help distinguish the delightful Indian fashion designer who wants to go into business in Los Angeles from the Syrian 30-year-old who just happens to have ISIS literature on his person and is heading to Dearborn to see his “friends.”)

Whether Trump’s immigration ban is nuanced or not is actually irrelevant, though.  What matters for purposes of this post is that the media is marketing it as an extremist view on immigration.  Extremist it may be, but not only are a lot of conservatives support it, even more Democrats are doing so.

This support might be because, like Trump, his Democrat fans are single-issue people:  They like welfare, Obamacare, détente with Iran, universal free college, eminent domain, government unions, etc., but they’re getting scared of Muslim immigrants and they’re not so thrilled about all the other immigrants taking their jobs.  Some of them might even like owning guns, so they’re a little unsure about the Democrats’ push to disarm Americans.  But really, they’re not conservatives.  They like Big Government — they just want it done their way.

In states without open primaries, these Democrats will not be able to vote for Trump.  They’ll be limited to deciding between Hillary, Bernie, or that other guy no one remembers.  This means that the Republican primary will proceed without these people canceling the votes of genuine conservatives.  The latter (like me) appreciate how Trump has obliterated political correctness, but feel that his fundamental politics are on the side of Big Government.  It’s likely that in closed primary states, Ted Cruz will win because he’s the most consistent constitutional conservative running this year.

In states with open primaries, though, the door is open for Donald Trump.  A coalition of Leftist Republicans and Rightist Democrats may provide just enough heft to get Trump into first place on the ballot.  Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants if a Republican candidate the media has dubbed an “extremist” because of his views on immigration ends up winning in open primary states because the vast middle ended up being populated by Democrats who are worried about open borders?

For the time being, it appears that Cruz may have taken the lead in California, but there’s really no telling what will happen when Californians get in the voting booth.