While Roy Moore’s failed Alabama Senate campaign may have resulted in the loss of a GOP Senate seat, Senate establishment Republicans nevertheless breathe a sigh of relief. As allegations of sexual misconduct began to unfold, Senate Republicans started to distance themselves from the potential of a party deadweight in future elections.
With clear calls for withdrawal having come from all but three Senate Republicans¹, many Republican Senators are fruitlessly blaming the seat loss on Moore’s poor performance as a candidate. The problem with putting the blame on poor campaigning is that it completely negates how a candidate like Roy Moore actually managed to get all the way to the general election in the first place. In order to understand how the GOP could fail in quite possibly the reddest state in the Union, spectators need only to look back on September’s Alabama GOP primary.
Despite being backed by establishment Republicans and President Trump, Sessions replacement Luther Strange still managed to lose by a margin of ten points in the GOP primary in September. Strange’s loss and the GOP’s consequent general election defeat prove that party primaries, far from being a means of reinforcing party legitimacy, have turned into a death trap for establishment Republicans and centrist politics.
In his public law research paper, Richard Pildes, a professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law, shares this sentiment, stating “Although primary elections were created to democratize the electoral process and take candidate selection out of the hands of party bosses, the problem that has emerged over time is that primary elections tend to have much lower turnout than general elections.” In some states, voter turnout for primaries ends up being well under a quarter of full turnout. Pildes goes on to assert:
“As low turnout events, primaries tend to be dominated by the most committed and active party members, who tend to be more ideologically extreme than the average party member. As a result, primaries tend to be controlled by the extremes of each
Democratic and Republican primary voters are fundamentally different from Democratic and Republican general election voters. Inherently, it isn’t a radical proposition to do away with the primary system. The United States is one of few consolidated democracies to use a party primary system; with the majority of consolidated democracies opting for party leaders to vet candidates for general elections—as was previously the case in the United States. Parties holding primaries has been a relatively recent development, becoming commonplace only within the previous century. Ultimately, party primary reform may very well prove to be a valuable undertaking in the struggle against American political polarization.
¹ tally and map do not include Senators Jim Risch of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Johnny Isakson of Georgia due to their role on the Ethics Committee—the panel that would investigate Moore if elected.