The Presidential Primary System is  #$%&!! And LA’s Mayor Slips Into Campaign Mode

GELFAND’S WORLD--The 2020 presidential campaign has started and the stakes couldn't be higher. How do we know that we are officially in campaign season already? One clue is that Los Angeles will be without its mayor for the next two weeks. Eric Garcetti is leaving home to campaign in New Hampshire. Ostensibly, he will be campaigning for someone else, a person who is running to be the mayor of Manchester, a town that is 2568 miles from here and has a population of 110,000 people. I guess we're supposed to believe that the choice of who gets elected mayor of Manchester is a question of major importance to the people of Los Angeles. To dust off the phrase made popular by Jim Bouton, Yeah, Sure

I care about the choice of the newest appointees to the Los Angeles Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (hint: Garcetti got one out of two right). I care about traffic on the 110. Lots of Angelenos care about traffic on the 405. I'm not quite sure where Manchester even is. 

You can read the facts about Garcetti's trip in an article in the L.A. Times by Dakota Smith.  

The political system that put Donald Trump in power is the underlying cause that draws Garcetti to New England in this summer of 2017. I'd like to try to convince you that this trip by Garcetti and by inference the start to the New Hampshire primary season is an outrage because it perpetuates that system. The system may be the result of decades of tradition, but it is an outrage nevertheless. 

In a year when most Californians have become painfully aware that there is something seriously wrong with the presidential selection process, we are once again starting off in the same old way. We are letting a small, white, rural state with a lousy voting record have the privilege of vetting the primary candidates. 

As I've pointed out before, New Hampshire voters participating in the Democratic primary have an abysmal record in choosing candidates. They lack national focus. When you look at their record over the past half century, it is obvious that they discriminate in favor of locals -- that is to say, candidates from adjacent states such as Massachusetts, Main, Vermont, and the adjacent-once-removed state of New York. It's become so predictable that I just call them the MMVN states. 

In fact, when you ignore the years when an incumbent Democrat was running for reelection, the New Hampshire results are pretty uniform. In five out of six of the past eight Democratic primaries -- including only those without an incumbent Democratic president -- New Hampshire gave the nod to somebody from one of those four states in all but one contest. The sole exception was Al Gore, who was a popular vice president following a popular president. Along the way, New Hampshire voters chose Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, and John Kerry, all from the immediately adjacent state of Massachusetts, along with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders of New York and Vermont respectively. 

For the Democrats, 2020 will be in effect an open-seat presidential primary. Whoever gets the Democratic nomination is going to be a strong frontrunner for the presidency. Shouldn't the anti-Trump voters around the country get a chance at picking our champion? And by the phrase "around the country," I mean all around the country. I should point out that a lot of us are angry, even more of us are frustrated, and pretty much all of us recognize that 2016 did not go off in a rational way. And that's ignoring the trivial concerns over how the DNC assumed in advance that Hillary Clinton would cruise to an easy nomination. 

There might indeed be some decent candidates coming from Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and New York, but let them start out in a state or states that aren't part of the small New England/New York family. Let's have a fair contest. 

So why does the mayor of Los Angeles have to genuflect to New Hampshire voters? 

This is where Eric Garcetti's trip comes in. Smith's L.A. Times piece explains the arrogance of the New Hampshire voter: 

"The state traditionally holds the first presidential primary and is a key stop for politicians hoping to forge relationships with influential activists that would be helpful if they run for higher office. 

"Unlike in California, voters in early nominating states such as New Hampshire and Iowa expect to meet and question presidential candidates. Endorsements from influential party leaders as well as elected officials also carry more weight." 

It's a system that hasn't been working well. I don't think we need to belabor the point that Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the large mass of American voters. We need a better -- meaning more representative -- system for selecting our presidential candidate, and this means by necessity that the system has to be better from the early going. 

Meanwhile, our city's mayor and a lot of other political talent from all over the United States will be crowding into a place that is actually north of Boston and east of New York, in order to beg for the votes of some mighty picky folks who've never heard of a water shortage and don't really think about agriculture or the Pacific trading partnership. 

The fact that the Democratic National Committee (the DNC -- you know, that DNC) is merrily going along, not changing anything except the names on the doorplates, is evidence enough to me that we need big changes within the Democratic Party. The current party structure is too devoted to personal self-aggrandizement and not devoted enough to clawing its way to victory. 


For those old enough to remember the political fallout from the Viet Nam war, the current state of the Republican Party is potentially analogous. For those too young to remember, the political situation for elected officials became, in essence, impossible. Americans were divided -- either for or against the war -- and whichever position a congressman or senator took, he was going to annoy a large group of voters from the other side. It couldn't have been much fun for those in office. The end result of retirements and electoral defeats was that within a few years of the war's end, a substantial fraction of our national elected officials were replaced by newcomers. 

For currently serving Republicans, the situation may become just as uncomfortable. The question they have to answer is the following: Donald Trump, yes or no? 

There isn't a lot of wiggle room, and Trump seems to be doing his best to narrow the choice even further, witness his attacks on senators in his own party. This week, Republicans in congress had to decide whether to look the other way on Trump's statement defending Nazi's. I can't imagine that they are looking forward to Trump's next outrage. Their problem comes when they have to defend their position to the independent voters who provide the margin of victory or defeat. And if they go anti-Trump, they risk alienating the committed Republican voters. 

One other realization: To older citizens who lived through the civil rights era, the fact that some southern politicians criticized the president about his defense of racism is at least a little heartening. We don't necessarily believe that these politicians are against racism on the inside, but the fact that they felt it necessary to condemn racism in their speech is a major change from the days of the 1950s and '60s.



(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at