Rather than an outright divorce, Republicans ought to consider a different approach. Right now, Tea Party activists are pledging to launch a new round of primary challenges against Republicans deemed “squishy.” The big problem with primary elections, however, is that they attract relatively few voters, and even fairly well-informed party members often know little about the candidates on primary ballots. Knowing a candidate’s party is tremendously useful — it offers a quick shorthand as to what candidates believe. Primary ballots are bereft of this kind of useful information. Yes, you can generally be assured that the candidates running in a GOP primary are Republicans. But which kind of Republican?
In “Informing Consent: Voter Ignorance, Political Parties, and Election Law,” Christopher Elmendorf of the UC Davis School of Law and David Schleicher of the George Mason University School of Law propose providing primary voters with on-ballot guides to candidates’ issue stances, as well as endorsements. For example, if a Tea Party candidate runs against a regular Republican, she can include endorsements by current officeholders (like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul) or widely-recognized political groups (like Tea Party Express). Republican primary voters would have a much easier time making a meaningful choice between candidates if they knew that one had been endorsed by the Tea Party Express while the other had been endorsed by the centrist Main Street Partnership. This wouldn’t make the GOP’s warring factions fall in love all over again. Indeed, it could intensify intra-party conflict by encouraging the formation of new pressure groups. But it would help settle the question of whether Republicans want to be the party of Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz or of Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. And that’s not nothing.