Commentary
11:32 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Last Word On Our Primary

We now know just about everything there is to know about the presidential primary we held last week. The votes are in, the robocalls have stopped, and the candidates are gone, most, probably, for good. The nominees will be back after the national conventions.

And as I look over what this campaign cost and what we got out of it, I am forced to the reluctant conclusion that the Michigan presidential primary was an overwhelmingly expensive failure.

Here’s why I think that. Eighty-four percent of the registered voters in this state did not bother to show up. Eighty-four percent! Five out of every six people who could easily have voted, didn’t.

The primary, which cost the state $10 million, was utterly meaningless for Democrats, since they don’t have a contested race, and, even if they did, wouldn’t use the primary to pick their delegates.

They are doing that in private caucuses two months from today. The Republican primary wasn’t much more meaningful -- and may in fact have done the party more harm than good. First of all, the national party took half of Michigan’s delegates away for violating party rules and holding a primary too early in the season.

Then the two top candidates divided the state’s congressional districts evenly, and, according to the rules state Republicans set for themselves, should have split the two at-large delegates.

But the state party credentials committee voted to ignore their own rules and give both to Mitt Romney. Former state Attorney General Mike Cox protested, saying that looked like something a third world dictatorship would do. And Cox was a Romney supporter! The Santorum campaign  called it “backroom political thuggery.”

Meanwhile, surveys now show that a small but possibly significant number of Democrats voted in the Republican primary, most for Rick Santorum. That’s because they thought he would be easier for President Obama to defeat in November.

Romney supporters said, with some justice, that this cast doubt on the legitimacy of the entire primary. But something else throws an even bigger shadow over the result.

Not only was an obscene amount of money spent on TV advertising, most of it wasn’t even spent by the candidates’ campaigns. Instead, it was spent by super PACs, such as the Red White and Blue Fund, which supports Santorum, and Restore Our Future, which backs Romney.

The super PACs supporting those two candidates spent nearly $3.2 million on TV commercials alone. Where did those committees get that money? They won’t tell you, and under the law, we have no right to know. It could have come from anywhere.
It certainly comes from people who have an agenda, many of whom are out of state. So a vast amount was spent to buy an election in which few of us bothered to take part.

Rich Robinson, who runs the non-partisan, non-profit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, observed “I don‘t know how you can reconcile this with any conventional notion of democracy.”

Well, that‘s because you can‘t. Nobody is a bigger believer in voting than I am. But unless we can find a way to hold a primary that isn't bought by special interests, messed with by saboteurs and mostly ignored by the voters, I’m not sure it’s worth the expense.