Fri. Jul 12th, 2024

Republican Chris Christie has ambled through the news for a while now, but this past week he saw his name explode in lights as he coasted to re-election in the New Jersey Governor Race. In fact, his splash is so big it seems to be catapulting him right into 2016, and the media have been the first to recognize it.
Politico jokes, “Chris Christie couldn’t have been any more obvious about his 2016 intentions if he had begun his victory speech Tuesday with the words “my fellow Americans” and ended it with a balloon drop.”
The New York Times says Christie won “a victory that vaulted him to the front ranks of Republican presidential contenders and made him his party’s foremost proponent of pragmatism over ideology.” Several news sources have even gone on to compare Christie to Bill Clinton. So what is Christie’s appeal?
In New Jersey, a blue state where Obama won by 17 points in 2012, Christie swept through with 60 percent of the vote. Even more astounding was the way he did it. He easily crossed lines of gender, income, and education. He won 21 percent of the black vote, and took Latinos outright. He seems to have gone where no republican has gone before: he has championed moderation and prudence.
His moderation extends into endorsement for gun control and legitimizing the science of climate. He even calls for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, showing voters that he can cross party lines to get things done, and make the right wing relevant again in the modern liberal era.
It may come as a surprise now when I say that I am not writing in support of Chris Christie, or maybe even more when I say this article is not even about Chris Christie. No, in fact, Christie merely serves as an excellent example of a flawed system.
As quickly as headlines announced Christie’s future shot at the White House, the media delved into analyzing his strengths and weaknesses: the reasons he could win, and the ways he is likely to fail. One of which, is particularly interesting. Cliff Zukin, a political science professor at Rutgers University, NJ, voiced Christie’s challenge, “He can dominate and he can go across party lines, but with the Republicans, it’s the question of can he appeal to the very moralistic voters.”
Then comes the “aha” moment: to win, Christie first faces a Republican primary. Can a candidate who represents the majority of Americans in their quest for balance compete with the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in the face of Tea Party votes? Politico speculates that to be a serious contender in the primary, “Christie will be forced to tack so hard right… that he’ll be damaged for a general election, and his potential bipartisan appeal will be compromised.”
Why do we have this dilemma? Why does our system make the oval office a nearly impossible goal for a candidate that the majority of Americans: Republican, democrat, and Independent, can come together to support? Why do we depend on the extremes to choose a candidate that is supposed to represent the majority? I have two words: closed primaries.
Basically, primaries can be closed, open, or somewhere in between. The degree to which a primary is open or closed determines the amount of participation of independents and leaners in the election process. In other words, if a voter in Pennsylvania, say, a WCU student, is registered independent and wishes to support a republican, say, Chris Christie, he cannot vote for Chris Christie in the primary election. Only those voters registered republican are able to vote in the republican primary. Likewise, someone who is registered democrat but feels Chris Christie is a strong bipartisan candidate would also be unable to have a voice in the primary decision.
In the U.S., only 17 states hold open elections for the Republican presidential primary, the majority of which are red states. The effects of this closed system are exactly as Rutgers University Professor Zukin and Politico so adeptly point out. Campaign strategies must transform to meat the demands of a closed primary, or else they will likely fail. That means Christie would find himself forced to cater to strong partisans, in hopes of winning over the strictly ideological vote in the primary. A candidate who represents bipartisanship is likely to never make it that far, and if he does, he may have diverged too far from the center to recapture the essence of what he once stood for.
Daniel Hannan, member of the European Parliament, once said, “Open primaries are the best idea in contemporary politics. They shift power from party hierarchs to voters… They serve to make legislatures more diverse and legislators more independent.” Certainly in a perfect world, the Republican candidate for president most supported by voters across all party lines would face off against the Democratic candidate most supported by voters across all party lines, resulting in a candidate who represents the majority of voters and is able to make real progress in a currently stagnant pool of politics. Unfortunately, even open primaries cannot be the answer.
Again, in an ideal world where people participate in government because they feel it is their civic duty to ensure the voices of all Americans are as best represented as possible, open primaries would be ideal. Unfortunately, in the real world, open primaries fall victim to a practice known as raiding, when voters choose candidates of the opposing party because they are the weaker candidate in order to ensure more votes for their own party in the general election. Needless to say, such a practice undermines candidates ability to be genuine in the primary race just as much as closed elections.
The solution to the debacle is referred to as “semi-open” primaries. Quite simply, instead of registering publicly in a political party, voters decide on election day in which primary they would like to cast a ballot. Voters may not choose to vote in more than one party’s ballot, ensuring the absence of raiding as voters vote in support of a candidate rather than against one.
Meanwhile, voters of any political standing can vote for the candidate they perceive as strongest in the race, meaning candidates like Chris Christie can win the vote by attracting moderate voters who believe he can get things done in office rather than spending the primary trying to appeal to strong partisans. This also means that those candidates elected are more likely to be such candidates, independent of ideological party cores. The result: a legislature that might actually get something done. (Did someone say immigration reform?)
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that closed primaries are entrenched in our current government. The majority of those in office are the strong partisans that benefit most from this system. Any move that gives independents and moderate partisans more power also deflates their own influence, which they have worked quite diligently to secure. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California where house and senate primaries follow a “top-two” primary system, another form of primary that encourages moderate participation, stated, “When it comes to the open primaries, I can tell you, that is something that both parties hate. It’s not good for politics. But remember, what is not good for politics is good for the people. That’s the bottom line here.”
What Schwarzenegger means is that closed primaries produce candidates that are true to the extremely ideological core of party bases, candidates that due to such loyalties, are unable to be responsive to the constituents they represent. The shift to semi-open primaries is not one that current government will easily accept, but isn’t the old adage true that “anything worth doing is worth fighting for?” Strengthening the voices of all Americans is certainly worth the fight.
Joy Wilson is a fourth-year student majoring in communications with a minor in studio art. She can be reached at 

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