George Will Celebrates Crazy-Quilt GOP State Primary Rules — Then Proposes Ban on Open Primaries

Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals
The conservative columnist likes existing rules only when they help block candidates he doesn’t like. Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

For all the yelling and screaming and, above all, confusion over the Republican Party’s nominating process and the rules governing its convention, it’s interesting that there’s probably more talk about procedural reforms than there is in the Democratic Party, where all the convoluted issues over delegate allocation and selection don’t much exist, and nobody’s predicting “chaos” in Philadelphia. 

One reason there hasn’t been that much of a “rules-reform debate” in the GOP is that today’s convoluted system is making most of the GOP chattering classes happy by throwing obstacles in the way of Donald Trump’s nomination.  Conversely, not many actual reformers want to be associated with Trump’s whining and threats. 

But today comes the imperious conservative columnist George Will with a column that loudly celebrates the power of screwed-up and wildly inconsistent rules and procedures on grounds that they are designed precisely with charlatans like Trump in mind. 

[Trump] is theatrically enraged by two things he finds inexplicable and illegitimate — the spirit of federalism and the wisdom of “The Federalist Papers.” He is offended that states have the right to have different delegate-selection processes. And he is scandalized that some states have chosen processes that establish what the authors of “The Federalist Papers,” and the Constitution’s framers, recommended — indirect democracy (the framers wanted only House members directly elected) that tempers opinion by filtering it through multiple layers of deliberation. Complex delegate-selection processes test candidates’ abilities that are pertinent to governing, including skillful staffing and an aptitude for long-term planning.

Yeah, and also abilities like backstabbing, making false promises, and maybe offering bribes.  I would have thought Donald Trump might excel in these competencies, but apparently not so much. 

In any event, halfway through his column Will abruptly shifts from his traditionalist hymn of praise for whatever the hell states want to do to a proposal to take away state party control over their most central privilege: to define their own membership.

[W]hen this year’s competition is, like Trump, just a fragrant memory, state parties that have open primaries should rethink this practice. It makes parties susceptible to free-floating voters and freebooting candidates who are, like Trump, lightly — if at all — invested in the party’s historic mission and its future. Open primaries are not unconstitutional but they are discordant with a First Amendment value — the freedom of the individual to associate with like-minded persons in political parties to advance a particular political doctrine.

In a nice switcheroo, the great Tory thinker (who wants to shroud state abandonment of basic democratic principles in the mantle of Tradition) seems to be arguing that it’s unconscionable to expose an individual Republican to the indignity of standing in a primary polling booth next to an independent. 

As it happens, I tend to share Will’s disdain for open primaries if and only if re-registration rules are loosened so as to make it easy for anyone who wants to join a party prior to voting to do so.  You want to vote in my primary, you have to risk sharing my Republican or Democratic cooties, O ye self-righteous indies!  But if former independents do join the party, then the willingness to share cooties should go both ways.  

I fear George Will will only be truly happy in a party of one, and a caucus in a room full of mirrors.

Will Changes His Mind Mid-Column on GOP Rules