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Phoning in the circus

Democratic supporters cheer at the Nevada Democratic Party election night event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The Democratic Party announced this week that it was changing the rules for the first-in-the-west caucus, the focus of which, of course, will be selecting Nevada’s preference for the Democratic presidential nominee next year. This time, you don’t have to even show up – you can literally phone in your participation!

The attempt at including more people is laudable, at least theoretically. Caucuses are by their nature and design exclusionary. They have always been a way for the hard core party activists and aspiring Boss Tweeds to control and steer the electoral process. The more people participate in a vote, the more likely a less radical candidate is chosen who is acceptable to a broad coalition of people and interests.

It must be acknowledged that there are non-corrupt advantages to giving party insiders a heftier role, as long as said party insiders are sane. A candidate can broadcast policy positions to the general public. But the difference between an effective leader and a winner of elections is defined by various intangible qualities harder to communicate to the electorate, but more obvious to people more in the behind-the-scenes know. And requiring some investment and effort prior to casting a vote – even if that’s as little as remembering to register in advance and leaving your house to go vote or caucus – seems like a good way to select for a more diligent voting population.

This phone scheme, however, gives Democrats the worst of both worlds. The new process is just begging for technical and structural problems that will lead the inevitable losers to question the legitimacy of the outcome. It is a tacit admission that the caucus process is a terrible one, and that it’s time to get ourselves a proper primary again.

I am imagining (with some pre-schadenfreude giggles, I must admit) how many people will claim “disenfranchisement!” because of claimed bad cell signals. Private, politically connected firms are going to be doing the counting. In a year when Republicans won’t have a presidential primary to speak of, you don’t even need to be a Democrat to participate in the Democrats’ decision making process (surely, though, the party of Harry Reid cannot complain about schemes to meddle in the other party’s primaries…). The selections of the phone-ins won’t be used if there is no clear winner, and several rounds of balloting are needed to eliminate the non-contenders who nevertheless still siphon off a few votes. 

If you thought the Sanders/Clinton feuding in 2016 was bad, just wait and see how many metaphorical and/or literal chairs get thrown around this time!

This column is not an example of “concern trolling,” where someone not on your side pretends to care about your team’s welfare out of their concern for the greater good. The Democratic Party’s lurches to the left are dangerous, and will only be stopped by their own self-destruction. If you openly embrace socialism, a philosophy which has in its various real-world forms murdered or starved more than 100 million souls and impoverished and denied civil rights to hundreds of millions more, you are the enemy of life and liberty. (And please, spare us all the nonsense about the “differences” between “democratic socialism” and “socialism socialism” – it all comes to the same end where government bureaucrats control the means of production in the name of “The People” while the actual People see less and less of the fruits of their labors and more and more government control over their lives. They’re turning up the heat on the crab pot just a little slower, is all, but it will reach the same temperature soon enough.) So I am perfectly happy to watch the various Democratic circular firing squads begin to fill their magazines with rounds for as long as socialists threaten to seize any real power within that party.

No, I’m more concerned that it will not fail spectacularly enough to finally rid ourselves of the presidential preference caucusing before Republicans are stuck with it again in 2024. Because if widespread participation is your goal, and it’s a good one, then no caucus can take the place of a primary. And certainly it can’t compete with the integrity of an ordinary primary election.


This presidential race reminds me of another one, not too long ago, where the incumbent politician was so polarizing and deeply unpopular that everyone was sure he would lose. The opposition party had dozens of candidates pandering to the most radical fringe of its base, in the firm belief that the incumbent was so terrible that anyone could beat him, and so you might as well go for partisan broke. Those dozens spent primary season tearing each other to pieces, exposing and exacerbating rifts in the longstanding coalition that kept their party together. The incumbent did his own maneuvering to attempt to choose his opponent. When the incumbent won, his opponents were too consumed with recriminations and burned bridges to effectively rebuild their own former power, and the incumbent’s party 10 years later controls nearly every level of his state’s government power.

It’s no wonder, then, that Donald Trump and Harry Reid seem to share a mutual respect.

More and more Nevadans are opting out of either party, and it’s hard to blame them. But the result is that those who remain are ever more radical, and it’s those radicals who will increasingly – and detrimentally – shape the political outcomes we’ll all be stuck with. It’s time to ditch the caucuses as unrepresentative of Nevadans as a whole, and far more trouble than they’re worth.


Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at [email protected]

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