Sore Loser Laws are not the Problem

Under Virginia law, Eric Cantor cannot appear on the ballot in November because he ran in the primary and lost. If he wants to try to keep his seat, he will have to try to get people to write in his name, and that’s rarely a successful effort. It doesn’t appear that Cantor will even try to salvage his career, and that gives the editors at Bloomberg View a sad. They penned a column this morning opposing such “Sore Loser” laws. After all, Connecticut doesn’t have a Sore Loser law and that allowed the warmonger moderate Joe Lieberman to fend off a challenge from that notorious extremist Ned Lamont.

To be fair, the editors make some good points:

Almost every successful party primary challenge occurs from the far right or left, of course. And the constant, looming threat of a primary challenge leads incumbents to adopt hard-line positions that are often out-of-sync with the general electorate, which makes bipartisan compromise exceedingly rare. Fear of being “primaried” is perhaps the most powerful force in Washington today, and it is a leading cause of its dysfunctional culture.

Sore loser laws compound this problem in two ways. First, they encourage candidates — and incumbents — to cater to the extremists in their party. Second, they prevent moderate candidates who lose party nominations from appealing to the broader electorate.

The editors are completely correct about this. But, let’s think about things a little bit. My political positions are a little out of the mainstream, although the country seems to be moving my way on most social issues (excepting guns, of course, where I am actually not an ideologue). But why shouldn’t I have a party that represents what I believe that isn’t disadvantaged by laws that make ballot access extremely difficult? And why do we have a system where me voting for the party that best represents my views would actually be to the advantage of the party that least represents them?

I’d like to vote for a party that wants to do away with for-profit medical insurance. Throughout the last two decades, I would have liked to be able to vote for a party that supports gay marriage rather than waiting around for the Democrats to finally decide that the water is safe. I’d like to vote for a party that’s willing to take a tough line to force Israel to the peace table. I’d like to vote for a party that has a plan to share more responsibility with our allies for maintaining a stable world order. I’d like to vote for a party that is more consistent in protecting our civil liberties and more full-throated in opposing torture.

The Democratic Party has to attempt to appeal to a majority of the people, and that prevents them from taking clear and consistent positions on many things because they don’t want to alienate groups that they rely on for their majorities. I’m forgiving of this tendency because I understand the political battlefield and I don’t like to cede power to the right. But can we agree that this system is less than ideal?

The problem isn’t so much that Eric Cantor has to appeal to rabid lunatics who fault him for not destroying the nation’s credit rating. The problem is that there isn’t a party for folks who want to default on our credit rating that is separate from the Republican Party. If Louie Gohmert and Steve King and Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann belonged to the National Default Party and they had a few seats in Congress, this would not present too much difficulty. But they belong to the GOP and, increasingly, they are making the GOP act crazy.

In an ideal world, party membership would be much more important and politicians would do the bidding of the party that nominated them. Instead, the Democrats go trolling for anti-choice candidates they can run in deep red states and I have to be “sophisticated” and tolerate it because it’s smart strategy.

In other words, the problem is that we don’t have proportional representation. It’s winner-take-all plurality elections that are killing compromise more than Sore Loser laws. A party ought to be able to strike their own representatives off the ballot if they are unhappy with them. And Eric Cantor ought to be able to run for the nomination of a party that isn’t insane.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.