There’s no shortage of villains in the unnecessary and increasingly pathetic saga of the early caucus/primary calendar.
First on the list is Florida, the state that in 2000 screwed up the presidential election so badly that the true winner will never be known. When the Sunshine State decided to jump the calendar and move its primary to Jan. 31 — ahead of the traditional first four states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — everything fell apart.
Second on the villain list is the Republican National Committee, which is seemingly powerless to do anything about antics such as Florida’s. If the RNC was serious about enforcing rules, including its election calendar, it should gain the authority to impose some real sanctions for violations. I’m thinking of moving the convention location from Tampa, Fla., to San Diego. (Trust me when I say no candidate would complain about that change of venue.)
A lesser penalty could be refusing to seat any Florida delegates at the 2012 convention. The spectacle of a home-state delegation forced to sit silent at their own convention would be a powerful message to would-be future rebels: Don’t screw with the RNC.
As it stands, Florida may lose half of its anticipated 99 delegates, which is no penalty at all. Other early states — which understandably moved their primary/caucus dates into January to remain ahead of Florida — may also lose half their delegates, which hurts delegate-poor Nevada (estimated 28 total) especially hard.
But the third villain — New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner — should be singled out for special scorn. Revered by the political media for his decades in control of the nation’s first primary, Gardner combines arrogance and a comically inflated sense of the Granite State’s importance in mind-bogglingly equal measure.
Gardner objects to the new calendar, in which South Carolina will hold a primary Jan. 21, Nevada a caucus on Jan. 14 and Iowa a caucus on Jan. 3. Although New Hampshire could still have the first-in-the-nation primary Jan. 10, Gardner objects on the grounds of a New Hampshire state law that says no “similar election” may be held anywhere in the country for seven days after New Hampshire’s primary.
Setting aside for a moment the fact that we are as bound by New Hampshire’s silly laws as we are by the “Star Trek” prime directive, consider the (actual) reason for Gardner’s objections: He believes a week is necessary to absorb the meaning and import of the New Hampshire primary before the rest of us go to the polls.
Because, you know, the rest of us are curious about what the mostly white, snowbound voters of a northeastern state think.
Gardner cites the New Hampshire primary’s century of history, and he has persuaded a number of candidates to boycott Nevada’s caucus. (Curiously, they’re the candidates who had no chance of winning, which is a bit like me saying I’ll boycott the Las Vegas marathon unless they give me pie.)
Then again, if Gardner has saved us the sight of Rick Santorum in Nevada, perhaps we should not judge him too harshly.
Nevada officials are under increasing pressure to move our caucus date, perhaps to coincide with South Carolina’s, to give New Hampshire its space. That would be a big mistake. Gov. Brian Sandoval and Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian should hold firm on Jan. 14. They didn’t cause the problem (Florida did) and they are not responsible for solving it. Plus, it never pays to negotiate with terrorists.
Meanwhile, Gardner is threatening to move his state’s primary/temper tantrum into December. If he wants to combine voting and Christmas shopping, so be it. But the days of New Hampshire running the political world for the rest of the country need to end, and the sooner the better.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.