An op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post was panned, and its headline later changed, after it called for “elites” to have a “bigger say” in choosing a president.
As part of a series on “how to improve the presidential nominating process,” Marquette University associate professor Julia Azari said the “flawed” 2020 Democratic nominating process has had a “rocky start,” pointing to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., having won the “popular vote” while former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg led the delegate count in the Iowa caucuses.
The headline, which originally read, “It’s time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president,” was changed to “It’s time to switch to preference primaries” without any editor’s note after the op-ed was blasted on social media.
In the piece, Azari called for a reassessment in how candidates are chosen.
“Finding an answer means thinking about the purpose of presidential nominations, and about how the existing system falls short,” she wrote. “It will require swimming against the tide of how we’ve thought about nominations for decades — as a contest between everyday voters and elites, or as a smaller version of a general election. A better primary system would empower elites to bargain and make decisions, instructed by voters.”
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While she said the primary process is “great at testing candidates” on presidential skillsets, Azari also said that “choosing among many candidates” is “not great” and suggested that “elected delegates” who represent constituents should be able to “bargain without being bound to specific candidates,” something she claimed would “produce nominees that better reflect what voters want.”
“Democracy thrives on uncertainty — outcomes that are not known at the beginning of the process. But uncertainty doesn’t help parties strategize for the general election,” Azari wrote. “Elites try to shape the decision early on. Everyone is doing guesswork about what others want. Reforms to the process should try to make that guessing a bit more informed.”
She pointed to the election of President Trump as “proof that nominations shouldn’t be too democratic” because he lacked “conventional qualifications and appreciation for democratic norms” versus previous nominees such as former President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
“The quality of the system can’t be measured solely in terms of the kinds of nominees it produces. Instead, we should think about how it reflects the preference and values of the different components of the party coalition,” Azari explained. “A better approach is to think about how voters and elites could best play their different roles: to make their political parties more representative while ultimately narrowing the nomination choice down to one person. And the best way to do that would be through preference primaries.”
She continued: “Preference primaries could allow voters to rank their choices among candidates, as well as to register opinions about their issue priorities — like an exit poll, but more formal and with all the voters. The results would be public but not binding; a way to inform elites about voter preferences.”
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The piece’s original headline was slammed on social media.
“The Democrats are losing their minds trying to rig this election. See the [Jeff] Bezos/Amazon Washington Post headline below,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Wednesday, knocking Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.
“This is real op-Ed in the Washington Post. I don’t know what to say,” journalist Yashar Ali wrote.
“I thought this headline was satire. Wow guys,” GQ political columnist Laura Bassett said.
Many people linked the op-ed to Sanders’ recent surge in the polls, including Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir.
“‘Bernie is doing well, therefore people are stupid and we must save them from themselves.’ Points for honesty and for saying it out loud. It is a prevailing view in too many elite quarters. But change is coming,” Shakir wrote of the op-ed.
“S— people say when Bernie Sanders takes the lead,” The Hill’s Krystal Ball tweeted.
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This isn’t the first time that Sanders’ campaign manager has sounded off on alleged bias against the 2020 front-runner. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Shakir alleged that MSNBC was trying to “undermine” Sanders’ candidacy and how the network is “among the last to acknowledge that Bernie Sanders’ path to the nomination is real.”
“You can feel the disdain they have for Bernie Sanders’ supporters,” Shakir said. “It’s a condescending attitude: ‘Oh, they must not be that intelligent. They’re being deluded. They’re being conned. They’re all crazy Twitter bots.’ My view is that there’s a bit of detachment from MSNBC and the people who this campaign gets support from. It feels like they’re covering progressives from an elitist perspective.”
Shakir told Vanity Fair that Fox News has been “more fair than MSNBC.”
“That’s saying something,” he added. “Fox is often yelling about Bernie Sanders’ socialism, but they’re still giving our campaign the opportunity to make our case in a fair manner, unlike MSNBC, which has credibility with the left and is constantly undermining the Bernie Sanders campaign.”
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