Ed Morrissey writes in The Week that national political conventions are meaningless both in function, given that they no longer actually select the national candidate, and in form given that nobody outside of the political media and political junkies are paying attention anyway.
Let’s face it: The days when conventions controlled party nominations for the presidency have long since passed. Although every four years the political media wishes for an open convention, the last year in which a major-party nominee had to win the nod at a brokered convention was 1952, and the last time a nominee from a brokered convention actually won the general election was 1932 — 80 years ago. Ever since, the primary/caucus system has produced clear nominees for first-ballot victories, most of those pro-forma events.
Even when the national conventions did have the power to pick nominees, the process was anything but savory. State parties used the caucus system to choose delegates in the same manner that they chose nominees for state and local offices, a system that was rife with corruption and still to this dayproduces confusion and disarray. The primary system and the secret ballot provided much-needed reform to the electoral process at every level of politics, and a full adoption of the primary system along with bound delegates would make the conventions completely unnecessary in most cases, at least in terms of nominating presidential candidates.
Rasmussen had a poll out earlier this week indicating that few voters will be paying any significant level of attention to either the Democrat or Republican national conventions. So if Americans don’t really pay attention to the conventions, and if they don’t really serve any purpose within the party itself (a lot of the routine party business could be accomplished without a convention) then why even have them?
You could argue that the influence of the conventions goes beyond direct viewership. The political media, and even the rank-and-file political junkies, who eat it up tend to be pretty influential among voters who don’t concern themselves with such minutiae. You could also argue that the parties need their conventions to keep their base of activists engaged and fired up (though given the way Republicans have been behaving you have to wonder how much they actually care about that).
I’d like to see a return to a days of the brokered convention, with factions within the party duking it out to pick a candidate. I think that would be a more inclusive, if still far from perfect, process but as Morrissey points out it doesn’t translate itself well to success on the general ballot. Allowing intra-party squabbling to go on that long only weakens the candidate. The historical record bears this out.
So America’s national political conventions, much like Great Britain’s monarchy, will ultimately remain but more as a spectacle than anything truly meaningful.