In the last few weeks, Rachel Maddow has been hammering Fox news for the rules they’ve set for the first Republican presidential debate. 

Fox is offering a podium at the first debate to the ten Republican candidates who place highest in an average of national polls in the month before the debate. The issue Maddow and others have is that with almost twenty declared, viable, candidates, this rule up-ends how presidential primary campaigns have been run for most of the last century or so. At the moment, name recognition matters more than political viability. From Maddow’s perspective, Rick Santorum (a man she’d see in hell before she’d see in the White House) should be more viable than Donald Trump. So should John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, the state in which the debate will take place.

At one end of the scale, you have Trump, who has never held elective office, polling highest among declared candidates, on the basis of name recognition and sheer chutzpah. At the other end, you have several candidates who are statistically tied for three or four seats at that debate.

Historically, candidates prove their viability to voters, donors, and their parties by their competitiveness in the early primary/caucus states of New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina. Possibly not anymore.

The primary system has several built in flaws. The first is that candidates swing far to the left or right in the primaries to appeal ‘to the base’ and then back to the centre once the nomination is secured. Voters therefore have a hard time separating the BS spewed by the candidate to secure the nomination from any actual policy position. (Of course, nowadays, policy positions are themselves BS, because what politicians vote for or sign once in office has more to do with donations secured to the party than with responding to their constituencies. But we’ll put that aside for the moment.) 

The second is that nominations tend to be secured before the end of the primary cycle. If a candidate has locked up a sufficient number of delegates before, say, the California primary (usually in June), then voting in that primary is generally an exercise of the franchise for other reasons (such as determining candidates for Senate, House of Representatives, or the state legislature). The later primaries feel like having tickets to game six of the World Series when the winner wraps it up in five.

So, on the one hand, I love that something is shaking up the process. I can say, yay, the whack jobs are going to rise to the top and be voted down by people with a shred of sanity. Will Bernie or Hillary (or whoever else rises to the top of that milk jug) be able to smack down any of the top Republican contenders? I’m pretty certain the answer is yes. I know that the Republicans in the last half century have won their presidential elections through treason, treachery, and rigging the game. This state of affairs has only gotten worse in the last six years (Citizens United, gerrymandering, BS filibusters, and government shutdowns to name a few reasons). While I’m guardedly pleased at the job Obama’s done (especially under the circumstances of the hateful last three congresses), I also know that hope and change took a back on more than one occasion. That said, I don’t put it past any of the Republican possible contenders, no matter what tool is used to winnow the field, to sabotage another election, but there’s something to be said for changing up the system. I’m just disappointed that the rules of engagement are changing so quickly that several real contenders are left fighting the last war. 

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— They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. (Terry Pratchett)