Primary Problems, No Way to Pick a President

As I write this, there are 69 shopping days until Christmas. It’s a sure thing. Something you can take to the bank.

Christmas, this year, like last year, like four years ago, will be on the Dec. 25.

When the Iowa caucuses will be is anybody’s best guess.

Or the New Hampshire primary.

Or the contest in South Carolina.

Today’s latest news is that the Iowa Republicans are aiming for Jan. 3 (no hangovers for the political crowd), but not necessarily the Democrats.

The South Carolina Republicans are set for the Jan. 19, but the Dems are planning to go a week later. Maybe.

What do independents do?

What will New Hampshire do?

Can we really expect to be voting for our choice for the next president before we unwrap the Christmas presents, light the Hanukkah candles, sing my favorite Kwanzaa songs?

Imagine trying to plan a medium size wedding this way.

But what the heck, it’s just the contest for the next leader of the free world.

Have we all lost our collective minds? Yes.

I spent years, literally, inside various back-rooms, many of them long enough ago to actually be smokey, working out the details of how we should select the nominees for the presidency. In those days, I was what was known as a "rules jock," a nice name for a hack who knew how to manipulate the game and thought, usually wrongly, that altering the rules could affect the result in some predictable way.

We tinkered and toyed to no end, and almost always produced results that were exactly the opposite of what we intended. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, not really knowing what was going on in those rooms, repeatedly ruled that it was up to the national parties, and their state affiliates, not the legislatures of the individual states, to set the rules for delegate selection.

The First Amendment right of association, they used to say. The First Amendment right to insanity, I’m beginning to think.

But at least there was agreement, most of the time, that it made sense for Democrats and Republicans to hold their contests on the same day, and for the official process to be "delayed," if you can call it that, until the calendar year of the election.

Say goodnight to that consensus, Gracie.

In the never ending battle to be first and most important, we’re heading for December contests. In the complicated calculations of all of my successor minor league Machiavellians, the even minimal consensus that Republicans and Democrats should vote on the same day (giving Independents-- at least in states where they’re welcome to participate-- an equal shot at both sides) is soon to be history.

Is this any way to pick a president?


Can the candidates afford to be the ones to say that, to tell off the states who are changing the rules every time you turn around with all the soundness of mind and seriousness of purpose of toddlers racing in the schoolyard?

Absolutely not.

Who wants to offend all those voters? Not anyone who wants to win.

There is only one solution to the problem. It would be obvious, it would go without saying, it would be considered eminently sensible, were it not so, well, ridiculous.

There is only one institution that can really put together a national schedule that makes sense, that the Court would recognize as legitimate, that the states could be considered bound to follow, that both parties would have to take a role in.

That one institution is, however, unfortunately, the least respected political institution in American politics today. It is even more disliked that the Democratic National Committee or as we like to call it, the DNC, which most people still assume is a gynecological procedure. It is even more hated than the Republican equivalent, the RNC, which most people still assume Karl Rove must be running, from somewhere.

That insitution is, of course, the United States Congress.

Congress to the rescue of the political calendar shenanigans? Dream on. And keep your calendars handy.

Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless. "

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for

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