Idaho's Crossover Candidate Problem
Crossover voting attracts crossover candidates or RINOs. As it stands, Karl Marx could call himself a Republican and run as a Republican in the Republican primary.
The District 4 Senate Republican primary pitted a self-proclaimed globalist, gender equity
advocate, Tara Malek, against Ben Toews. Malek herself did not sign the Republican Party "Integrity of Affiliation" pledge, where she would have promised to support the party's platform. She had no real history supporting conservative causes. She was supported by the liberal group Take Back Idaho, even though she had never held elected office. She didn't seem to live in the district. Malek seemed to take her social media accounts private a few weeks before she filed so that her support of liberal causes would no longer be public.
Toews defeated Malek by a 60-40% margin in the May primary. The race raises a different, more important issue.
How could Malek get on the Republican ballot though she was no conservative and barely pretended to be?
Malek's candidacy illustrates the crossover candidate problem or what Republican partisans call the RINO problem. People who are Republicans In Name Only (RINOs) declare themselves to be Republicans and then try to win the Republican primary. If they win the Republican primary, they are often assured of general election victory in solidly Republican districts. They go to Boise ready to vote for all manner of liberal legislation protected by the Republican label.
Identifying Crossover Candidates
The Republican Party has common commitments. If a person rejects those common commitments, then that person is not a Republican. Consider Jim Jonas, a mythical leader of a mythical Taking Idaho Back coalition. This mythical creature Jonas fancies himself a pro-global-warming, pro-gun-control, anti-school choice, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-lockdown, pro-vaccine mandate, pro-mask, pro-BLM Republican. At some point, all Republicans can say, “that Jonas fellow is not a Republican.” The fact that he calls himself a Republican does not make him a Republican.
On the other side, there exists some level of diversity within the Republican Party or any party. More conservative members of the party might call anyone to their left a RINO. Consider Rep. Sage Dixon, who was branded a RINO by the Stop Idaho RINOs PAC this election season, even though Dixon was a highly rated member of Idaho’s liberty caucus. Perhaps Dixon is not conservative enough for some or perhaps people blame him for actions as Ethics Chair, but the idea that Dixon is a RINO—a Democrat or liberal pretending to be a Republican just to get elected—is not borne out by evidence.
How can a political party police the boundary between the acceptable and unacceptable levels of disagreement?
The Primary as an Inadequate Solution
As it stands, candidates can simply call themselves Republicans and get their names on the Republican ballot. Karl Marx could call himself a Republican and run as a Republican in the Republican primary.
The primaries are themselves vehicles for registered Republicans to decide what is acceptable and not acceptable disagreements. Primaries can accomplish this, especially assisted by proper filtering and guidance. Primaries are plagued by the crossover voter problem, however, which exacerbates the crossover candidate problem.
Interest groups or local county parties can help the primary electorate identify crossover candidates. Voting guides put out by Kootenai County or the ConservativesOf Nampa helped point people toward real Republicans in last month's primary.
Voter guides work best in areas where there are many, many more conservative voters than liberal voters, like Kootenai and Canyon Counties. In other words, they work best in places where conservatives have a natural advantage to mask the ways in which voter guides are inadequate. There is lots of slippage with voter guides. Malek still got 40% of the vote in Kootenai, for instance.
Voter guides help. But voter guides can be hijacked and they are not enough when there are more and more crossover voters.
Candidates can say anything, and the people never really get to see who the candidates really are. People are often fooled into thinking that RINOs are real Republicans. Endorsements from fake conservative groups like Take Back Idaho or Protect and Defend Idaho can mislead voters into backing RINOs, for instance. The traditional way of dealing with these issues in a self-governing republic is filtering devices, where a portion of the electorate gets to know the candidates and makes judgments on them on behalf of the electorate as a whole.
But that’s less than half the problem. Many crossover voters corrupt the integrity of primaries. The existence of crossover voters encourages crossover candidates with thoughts of nominations and general election victories.
Crossover elites can recruit crossover candidates, and promise to obfuscate on their behalf with ad campaigns funded by outside money.
The more crossover voting, the more confusion is sown among the electorate. Crossover candidates benefit from muddying the border between Republican and not-Republican. Crossover voting is a feature, not a bug of the primary system.
Platforms and voter guides lessen the crossover candidate problem, but they do not solve it. There is a simple principle here about getting on the primary ballot: Republicans should choose Republican candidates; Democrats should choose Democrat candidates. How to accomplish that is the key.
A more perfect solution would keep crossover candidates off the ballot in the first place or at least make it more difficult for them to get on the ballot. Self-identifying as a Republican should not be enough; some body must testify to a candidate's bona fides. The party caucus, practiced in many states across the union, can do precisely that.
Action Idaho will turn to the party caucus in the coming days.
See also Part 1 in this series: