(Bloomberg View) -- Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was taped attempting to push a Democratic candidate in Colorado out of a primary election. Let's try to bring some clarity to this.
- First, the notion that party actors attempt to influence nominations should be entirely noncontroversial. Parties, as organizations, have every right to control their own destinies, and nominations are the most important decisions they make.
- Second: Since most U.S. nominations are decided through by primary elections, it's often necessary for parties to act before the primary in order to have any influence.
- Third: Those party actions often must be taken informally, through agreement within the party network, rather than through formal organizations.
- Fourth: In fact, a lot of party-actor influence over nominations is widely accepted. No one objects to activists working for a candidate in a primary. Few object to endorsements. Of course, many people object to campaign donations regardless of who they are from, but relatively few think that money from party actors is particularly venal. No one I know gets upset when candidates hire campaign staff who are part of the party network.
- Fifth: On the other hand, it's perfectly reasonable for parties to set up service organizations that are intended to be available to all candidates, and if that's the case, then it's a fair complaint if those organizations tilt toward one candidate. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may cause problems because it sometimes claims to be a neutral broker within the party, and sometimes doesn't.
- Sixth: There are also complex relationships between the national and state or local parties. If the national party (or people within the national party network) tries to intervene in local party decisions, it may cause more trouble than it's worth. That's true even if the nationals attempt to intervene only after local party actors have more or less reached a conclusion.
- Seventh: At least on the Democratic side, the national party has a history of oddball and flat-out poor decisions poorly implemented in ways that often seem to feel intrusive to the locals. They chase after fads — one cycle it's rich self-funders, the next it's veterans, the next it's moderates. And they notoriously have concentrated resources on a very small number of key races, leaving no candidate at all in contests where it appears that the party's chances are only slightly worse.
- Eighth: In some cases, there is a pressing need for pushing nominations to a resolution before the primary. California's top-two system requires gaming. In other states, there may be a consensus at all levels of the party against a candidate who still has a chance to win the primary if others split the rest of the vote.
- Ninth: On the other hand, sometimes the national party seems eager to shut down nomination competition when there's little reason to believe that it risks hurting the party in November. The literature on the effects of hard-fought primaries suggests that any general-election effect is small, and it's even possible that a combative primary might help in the fall by mobilizing voters.
- Tenth: Again, it's perfectly normal that party actors should seek to control nominations. But doing it in an awkward and insulting way doesn't do anyone any good.
Bonus point: Since I think liberals should be targeting Steny Hoyer and leave Nancy Pelosi in place, I have to wonder whether this story might spark a Dump Hoyer movement, even though technically it probably shouldn't.
2. Emily Thorson on what Americans don't know — and how the news media could be better at helping them learn.
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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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