Just whose primary elections have we been following so closely? If you think they were Republican affairs, think again. Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina all allow crossover voters — independents and Democrats — to vote in the Republican primaries. In Florida, only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary. Though Florida isn’t a typical Red state, it will be the first real barometer of Republican voters’ thinking.
There’s a reason no clear leader has emerged from the crowd: so far, only a tiny minority of Republicans have actually voted, and the results do not reflect any Republican consensus. Why? In Michigan, for example, the Kos Kidz were very active pushing hard for Dems to vote in the Republican primary to cause whatever mischief they could manage. We are left to wonder how the crossover voters have skewed the result. Were they decisive or did they just affect at the margins?
According to a Fox News exit poll, 32% of the Michigan Republican primary voters identified themselves as independents or Democrats. Another Fox exit poll showed 20% of the South Carolina Republican primary voters said they were either Democrats or independents. In Michigan, Gov. Romney won with 39%, Sen. McCain was second at 30% and Gov. Huckabee third at 16%. In South Carolina, John McCain won with 33% of the vote, Mike Huckabee had 30% and Fred Thompson had 16%. Given those margins, it’s pretty clear that the Dems and independents controlled the result in both states.
To win the Republican nomination a candidate has to capture the votes of 1191 convention delegates. So far, Romney has 42, McCain has 28 and Huckabee has 35. The total of 105 represents only 9% of the total. On February 5, Super Tuesday, 22 states will vote and 1132 delegates — 95% of the total needed to capture the nomination — will be at stake. Between Super Tuesday and the June 3 primaries in Montana, South Dakota and New Mexico, another 1061 delegates will be chosen. In most of those states, only Republicans will be able to vote in the primaries.
By June 4, it’s almost certain that the nominee will be effectively chosen. But there’s a long time — almost five months – before June 3 goes into the record books, and in that time it’s still anyone’s game.
The value of the early primaries is diminished enormously by the crossover votes. They preclude the determination of a consensus candidate. But they do enable the media to spin an imaginary consensus around the early winners and around the issues the media – not Republican voters — believe are most important.
Too many people are saying that Sen. McCain’s South Carolina victory shows he has made peace with conservatives on illegal immigration, the single hottest issue for conservatives. But that conclusion is flatly wrong because it’s reached on the basis of a primary in which Democrats and independents controlled the outcome. The Republican Party risks losing in the fall if they accept that erroneous analysis.
If you listen to the media-controlled “Republican” debates — and to the candidates who are cornered into responding to the issues the media pose in them — the biggest issues now are the recession and economic relief for sinking industries. In the bizarre Iowa “Des Moines Register” debate, the hyperliberal moderator took the Iraq and illegal immigration issues off the table. She limited the agenda to liberal issues such as global warming.
Any Republican voters who aren’t disgusted with the primary process to date haven’t paid enough attention to it. It’s bad enough that McCain and Huckabee have signed on to the global warming nonsense. But it’s worse that candidates who sign on to liberal positions aren’t taken to task for it.
The Republican Party has allowed its opponents to capture the primary process. If Republicans are going to choose a nominee they can rally around, they have to compel the candidates to take stands on the issues that matter to them most. Unless a candidate does that, he can’t possibly win in November.
Republicans lost the 2006 election by compiling a record that pleased only Democrats and avoiding taking hard positions on what matters most to their base. Republicans will lose the 2008 election if they don’t choose a candidate who is a solid conservative and campaigns on conservative issues and principles.
It’s probably too late to reclaim the television debates from the liberal media. But it’s not too late to reject the Republican contenders that would most please the Democrats. But if we, as conservatives, speak out as actively and forcefully in the primaries as we did last summer on the illegal immigration issue, Republicans could still choose a winner.
We of the conservative media and you — in the local events when the candidates appear personally — can demand answers to the questions that matter most to us. Here are a few.
For Sen. McCain: Since your immigration reform bill was defeated last summer, you’ve said that you learned the lesson that border security must come first. Will you agree with conservatives that the borders must be secured — and the security proved objectively for at least two years — before there is any more talk of “guest worker programs” or “paths to citizenship”?
For Sen. Thompson: What is the biggest mistake you think President Bush has made and precisely how would you remedy it?
For Gov. Huckabee: You told us that you support the concept of a “cap and trade” system by which carbon emissions would be limited and permits for them bought and sold. First, do you believe that man-made global warming is a crisis demanding government action? Second, how would “cap and trade” work without strangling the American economy?
For Mayor Giuliani: You have said that states and cities should be able to decide on their own gun control measures. Do you believe Americans’ rights secured by the Second Amendment vary in accordance with where they live?
For Gov. Romney: Your approach to helping the automobile industry sounded a lot like a big-government approach to interfere with the free market. How do you reconcile your proposal with the conservative principle of keeping government out of the business of business?
Those are a good start. Ask the questions, demand the answers and talk about them to everyone who will listen. It may be the last chance we have to affect this absurd primary process.