With a year and a half until the next presidential inauguration, Americans have already endured months of maneuvering by contenders to raise money, to get public attention, and to capture the nomination of one of the major political parties. There must be a better way to select presidents: more dignified, briefer, less dependent on big money, and more likely to produce competent chief executives for the world’s most powerful country.
Here is an example of a possible reform in pursuit of these goals, which I offer for your consideration and as a challenge for you to figure out a better reform:
First, only governors or ex-governors would be eligible to run for president. This would guarantee that presidents would come into office with chief executive experience. It would narrow the eligibility down to more manageable numbers and encourage people with presidential ambitions to seek to become governors and get some experience.
Second, presidential candidates would be picked by the respective party members in Congress. The Republican candidate would be chosen by the Republican senators and representatives meeting jointly, and the Democratic candidate by the Democratic senators and representatives.
Third, the presidential election would take place one month after the candidates have been selected. Election would be by popular plurality, and the Electoral College would be abolished.
Fourth, only current members of the U.S. Senate could become vice president, and the vice president would be elected by the House of Representatives. If the presidency is vacated, the vice president would not become president but would be acting president for a month or two while a new president is elected.
This reform, which would require amending the Constitution, would have important benefits. Campaigns would be short, reducing candidates’ need to raise huge amounts of money. Eliminating presidential primary elections would reduce still further the need to raise money while reducing the leverage of extremists in both parties. It would eliminate presidential nominating conventions, which have become boring and irritating spectacles. It would eliminate electing president and vice president in sometimes incongruous package deals.
Some people might object that this proposal prevents “third” party candidates from seeking the presidency. However third party candidates never win and sometimes help elect a major party nominee who is anathema to the very people who supported the minor party. One thinks of Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore. And of course if a third party gets some representation in Congress and among governors, it could nominate a presidential candidate.
Another obvious objection which might be raised is that this reform would be “undemocratic.” Eliminating presidential primaries and narrowing candidate eligibility would certainly reduce voter choices. But the true test of democracy is whether it maximizes public control over government actions.
The most important function of elections is to force leaders to consider public opinion and the electoral side effects of every decision they make. Incumbents are most likely to lose if votes against them are not divided among many candidates. Since the president will still be chosen by an election, public influence on his or her behavior will not be reduced and, with fewer candidates, may well be enhanced.
Again, readers who do not like my proposal should try to find a better one and present it for public discussion. My proposal is a “first word,” intended to promote public thought and discussion, not a last word. There must be a better way of selecting presidents. The question to be answered is: what is that better way?