A year before the election the news is dominated by the presidential race, and has been for months. Nowadays campaigns begin years before the election date and cost huge amounts of money, so it is no wonder that politicians spend more time running for office than they do actually governing. While Republican candidates have engaged in an endless series of debates, the current occupant of the White House has all but given up on governing in favor of campaigning. The chronic campaign produces two results- a dysfunctional government and elected officials who are good at campaigning rather than governing.
Permanent campaigning is a relatively recent development largely due to primary elections spread out over many months and geographic locations. Primaries are a result of the efforts of the progressive movement in the early part of the twentieth century, but only became decisive in 1960 when John F. Kennedy used them to prove his viability as a candidate and win his party’s nomination. But it is worth noting that Kennedy did not even declare his candidacy until January of that year. Nowadays it has gotten to the point where the next campaign begins the day after election day. We are subjected to all politics all the time. Is there any way to end this electoral cacaphony?
Contrast this with Britain, where campaigns are brief once elections are called. I am not suggesting we adapt a parliamentary system, but rather find some way to limit campaigns to a set time in order to end constant campaigning. There are of course parties with a vested interest in extended campaigns, including the media, campaign consultants, pollsters, fundraisers, political junkies, and activists. But how long should we allow the system to be hijacked by these groups?
One way to reform the process would be to have candidates nominated by elected officials such as members of congress, the Governors, and representatives of state legislatures. Who after all best constitutes the party if not elected officials? This would likely produce better candidates who would also be better able to work with other elected officials. Those having the respect and confidence of their peers would be in a better position to lead the country. Primaries also give too much weight to activists who are ideologically rigid, when government of necessity requires consensus and compromise. Would scrapping the primaries not limit the chances of outsiders? Not necessarily. Dwight Eisenhower was nominated and elected president despite never having served in public office. Generals were often nominated in the 19th century long before primaries. Any charismatic figure who could garner support could be nominated, but for the most part we would be better off with public officials who are known to others holding office. We might, in the process return to some of the character displayed by our first five presidents, who would find openly seeking the presidency unseemly, relying instead on the regard and respect of their peers.
Under these circumstances campaigns would be much shorter and the cost of elections much lower. It would also give rise to people whose main talent is not in raising money and running for office, but in governing effectively.