For those of us concerned about the capacity of Congress to function on behalf of the American people, we should be glad that the House of Representatives finally has a new Speaker three weeks (and a day) after Kevin McCarthy was removed from the speakership by an unprecedented motion to vacate. But for those of us concerned about the extent to which the composition of Congress is genuinely representative of the voters who elect its members, the removal of McCarthy and his eventual replacement by Mike Johnson is confirmation that the nation’s electoral system urgently needs fundamental reform.
Specifically, the ordeal of the last few weeks demonstrates that the existing system of partisan primaries under current conditions of asymmetrical polarization–where Republicans have moved further to the right to the point that MAGA extremism is the dominant faction within the party–causes extreme Republicans to win their party’s primary against a more moderate Republican alternative and then, in a Republican-leaning district, defeat the Democrat in the general election. But a majority of all the district’s voters in the general election–Republicans, Democrats, and independents–would have preferred the more moderate Republican candidate defeated in the primary over the MAGA extremist sent to Congress to represent the district.
Arizona’s second congressional district illustrates this problem and how it affects the House’s current deficiencies. In last year’s midterm elections, a Trump-endorsed MAGA extremist—Eli Crane—won the Republican primary with only 36% of the vote in a race with seven candidates. The runner-up with 24%, Water Blackman, was a more traditional Republican serving in the state’s legislature who, unlike Crane, repudiated Trump’s election denialism.
In the general election, Crane beat the Democrat, 54% to 46%. Had Blackman been the Republican nominee, he almost certainly would have done even better, pulling some more moderate voters away from the Democrat. In any event, it’s clear that a majority of all the district’s voters—Democrats, independents, and Republicans—would have preferred Blackman to be their representative in Congress rather than Crane.
Yet Mr. Crane went to Washington, where he became one of the eight Republicans who voted to vacate Kevin McCarthy from the speakership and thus precipitated the governance crisis in the House. If Blackman had been the one sent to Congress to represent the district, there is no reason to think that he would have participated in this obstructionist stunt.Continue reading The Speakership Saga and the Need for Nonpartisan Primaries