Commentary

In 2024, serious presidential candidates need only apply | Jonathan C. Rothermel

If Americans want a higher caliber White House nominee, it starts with fixing the nomination process

January 5, 2023 6:30 am
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on Nov. 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in office and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With the midterm elections behind us, politicians are already setting their sights on the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 5, 2024. It is one of the drawbacks of a fixed-election system. In the U.S., the race to run for president begins earlier and earlier each election cycle.

Former President Donald Trump announced his intention to run in 2024 just one week after the midterm elections. While 80-year-old, President Joe Biden will seek re-election, there are some in the Democratic Party who are not convinced that this is a foregone conclusion. In the coming months, expect a barrage of presidential hopefuls testing the waters.

After formally declaring his candidacy for president, Trump teased the country with a forthcoming “major” announcement. Instead of being presented with a comprehensive plan for the future of our country, Americans were offered a non-fungible token (NFT) trading card of a superhero caricature depicting a 76-year-old, one-term former president selling for $99 a pop. It was a ‘jump the shark’ moment and a cringeworthy attempt at preying upon his supporters’ steadfast devotion to him.

This was not an impressive start to what promises to be yet another tumultuous presidential race. There are serious issues in the world today that warrant serious candidates, and Americans should set a high bar for presidential candidates. To navigate an ever-complicated world, candidates need to be highly knowledgeable, be able to think critically, and be appealing to the median voter.

Domestically, candidates will be expected to address the concerns of the people (economy, healthcare, infrastructure, security) mindful of the economic burdens placed upon them (inflation, taxes), while being cognizant of the long-term effects of these choices (debt).

On matters related to foreign affairs, candidates must portray strength and power without undermining principles, while adhering to the realistic limitations of the international political system. And they need to accomplish all this while representing the general will of the American people – no easy task in today’s hyper-partisan politics.

To put it candidly, the responsibilities, burdens, and expectations of a U.S. president are formidable, and the vetting process for viable candidates should be rigorous and thorough.

At a time when Russia is flaunting the rules of the international community, China is one crisis away from political turmoil, and most Americans believe that young people are less likely to be better off than their parents, the country needs America’s cream of the crop.

Unfortunately, the presidential candidate nominating system that formally begins almost a year prior to the presidential election with the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary is flawed. Voting turnout and participation in the primary process tends to be significantly lower than general elections, and that includes midterm elections.

According to the New York Times, in 2016, just 9 percent of Americans chose  Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton to be the main presidential nominees.

For various reasons, including primary voting rules and the length of the primary season (from February to August in 2020), the presidential nominating process does not optimize voter participation. For example, by the time Pennsylvanians typically vote in the presidential primary in late April, most candidates have dropped out of the race.

In addition, primary voters are more hardened in their political views (the antithesis of the median voter), which requires candidates to stake out more entrenched positions. Thus, candidates who assume nuanced positions rather than either-or propositions are less appealing to primary voters, even though 42 percent of Americans identify as independents, according to the latest Gallup poll.

The vetting process to be a presidential nominee of one of the major political parties is a marathon race that favors those with name recognition and money. To attract and sustain earned media, campaigns are forced to take on superfluous issues or launch ad hominem attacks on their opponents. It is no wonder that the average American becomes fatigued with the long and embattled presidential nominating process.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee have proposed some reforms to rearrange the Democratic primary schedule, which would put more diverse states ahead of the primary pack. However, this plan – if approved by the entire DNC in February – still faces some obstacles. It is, however, a step in the right direction.

If we want to raise the caliber of presidential candidates, the process by which the major nominees are chosen needs further scrutiny. Organizations such as Unite America are advocating for electoral reforms, including ranked choice voting and nonpartisan primaries, that account for rather than disadvantage independent candidates and median voters.

In the meantime, Americans should set high expectations and do their due diligence when it comes to screening prospective presidential candidates. The median voter cannot afford to wait until the general election to weigh-in. If come November 5, 2024, the electorate is given the option of simply choosing the lesser of two evils, then we will have failed.

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Jonathan Rothermel
Jonathan Rothermel

Jonathan C. Rothermel is a political science professor at Commonwealth University-Mansfield. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ProfJCR.

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