Federalist Papers Suggest Ways to Improve Presidential Elections

Jennifer Rubin on how to improve presidential elections:

Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

Federalist 10: In attempting to address the problem of “factions” and the potential for oppression by the majority, the Founders understood that one could unwisely try to prevent factions (“by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence . . . [or] by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests”) or one could attend to the effects of factions. In picking the latter, James Madison in Federalist 10 warned that “a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction.”

He might have been talking about the Iowa caucuses, small state primaries and the Republican National Committee’s insistence that delegates are simply rubber stamps for the primary voters. All of these give disproportionate power to small groups of citizens whose concern for the “common good” or even electability may be minimal. In short, the presidential primary system is precisely the sort of arrangement that gives advantages to extreme, passionate elements that can be dominated by special interests (e.g. evangelical Christians, anti-immigration extremists). You could see that, in the 2016 GOP primary, this was hugely compounded by the number of candidates, allowing a small plurality of voters to determine the outcome time and time again.

How do we combat that tendency and move toward candidates with wider appeal? The Founders suggested less direct democracy (“refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations”) and increasing the size of the electorate (“as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried”).

In the context of the primary selection process, that would suggest combining states that have different interests and profiles into a series of Super Tuesdays.


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