Julian E. Zelizer: It’s too early to name Bachmann, Perry front-runners
Source: Julian E. Zelizer, CNN, 8-22-11
- No votes have been cast, but some Republicans have been declared front-runners
- Julian Zelizer: Activists, media and donors usurping presidential selection process
- He says Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have been elevated to front-runner status
- Candidates with less appeal to partisan voters are losing out, Zelizer says
Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” (Times Books) and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush’s administration, published by Princeton University Press.
The meteoric rise of Rep. Michele Bachman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the competition for the GOP presidential nomination — combined with the rapid demise of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential bid — all before any caucus or primary has taken place, reveals how the presidential selection process is broken.
Pawlenty was a candidate who might have appealed to a broader selection of voters outside the Republican base. Bachman and Perry are less likely to do so.
Bachman’s victory in the Iowa straw poll, which is merely a measure of a small number of people who attended a fundraising dinner in Ames, was enough to propel her into the position of a front-runner. The straw poll, which Jimmy Carter famously used in 1976 to gain momentum as the dark horse candidate in a primary contest against well- known Democrats, has now turned into a decisive event that can make or break candidates. But in Carter’s case the straw poll only made him a name people recognized; he still had to win some caucuses and primaries to prove himself.
The increasingly rapid selection process, with more and more vetting taking place before the voting begins, is an acceleration of problems that have been affecting the primary and caucus system for decades…..
While early vetting can be useful, too much decision-making now takes place before the voting begins. Decisions are being made on the thinnest of measures that do not necessarily reflect what voters in the party would prefer, or who might be the strongest campaigner or president, as much as on who reporters find interesting or which candidate fundraisers perceive as stronger bets.
The fate of Pawlenty reveals the potential costs of this system. Even though he came across poorly in two debates, he may represent a more moderate, and politically mainstream view, than Bachmann — and he has much more governing experience.
In the early 1970s, political reformers realized that the candidate selection system was broken and that this hurt the democratic process. In 2011, the time has come to re-examine the process again and to figure out how the views of mainstream voters can be brought back into presidential politics.