Keeping RINOs off the Primary Ballot
Conservatives are frustrated about Republicans-in-name-only (RINOs) running in the May 17th primary. Idaho is a heavily Republican state. Ambitious people often pretend to be Republicans during the primary and then they can govern as people of the Left when in office.
Just as there are RINOs running for office, there are RINOs in the electorate: RINOs in the electorate vote as Republicans in the primaries in order to elect candidates who embrace the Left’s agenda. A few thousand Democrat voters statewide have changed identification to vote in the Republican primary on May 17th, though all have been egged on by Democratic partisans to do so (as Redoubt News shows).
Citizens can easily be misled into thinking that the "R" behind someone’s name means the candidate is conservative. The "R" signals something but it does not signal enough.
An exchange on Twitter between an obscure progressive and Treg Bernt, a Republican candidate for Senate in Meridian, shows the problem. When the moderate Mary Souza entered the race for Secretary of State, a twitterer calling himself “progressive fighter” decried “Republican crazy” and said that “people like her are the reason I register Republican.” Treg A. Bernt replied “1000%. . . .!” Bernt outs himself as a RINO to win in a conservative district, but he will undermine conservatism when he governs.
It appears that Bernt has scrubbed his Twitter account of this tweet and has changed his username since tweeting this out in 2021.
Tara Malek in District 4 is more subtle, but also RINO-ish. She has written two articles for the left-wing Idaho Capitol Sun, both criticizing conservative Republicans and adopting the Left’s narrative on events. Criticizing conservatives on leftist websites shows who she seeks to impress and who governs her heart. Strike one for both.
Many Idaho candidates like Greg Chaney, Steve Syme, and Jim Woodward will not even sign the Republican party platform. That in itself should be "strike three" in a Republican primary.
RINOs are with us. They will always be with us.The question is what can a partisan electorate do about RINOs?
Getting candidates on a ballot for November elections is tricky. Many methods have been tried. In olden, "smoke-filled-rooms" days, party insiders chose general election candidates in pre-election party conventions. Informed partisans, it was thought, best knew who was a real Republican or a real Democrat. Those informed activists had an interest in promoting the party's goals while balancing electability and ideology.
During the 20th century, primaries came into vogue because citizens worried about the hold the parties had on elected officials in office. Under this new system, Republicans or Democrats would choose who would represent the party in general elections. Party insiders still pre-screened primary candidates before the primaries, but the electorate made the final choice. Parties weakened in the late part of the 20th century. Now, candidates identify themselves, get on the primary ballot, and can hide who they are with no pre-screening.
Idaho sagely moved from an open to a closed primary in the early 2010s in part to deal with the RINO problem. An open primary is when voters can participate without declaring a party affiliation before the primary. A Democrat voter can just vote in a Republican primary on the day of the election when there was no competition in the Democratic primary. A closed primary requires people to register as a partisan well before the primary election, minimizing the effect of Democrats selecting RINOs in Republican primaries. (About half the states have open primaries and half have closed primaries.)
This move from open to closed primaries is not enough. Parties should once again involve informed activists in the process. Utah, among seven other states, allows political parties to use the caucus-convention method of selecting candidates. During election years, precinct committeemen are elected at neighborhood caucus meetings, as are County Delegates and State Delegates. All go on to the statewide convention where delegates select candidates. If no one gets 60% of the vote in the caucus, there is a primary between the top two vote getters. Such a method could be adopted at the local district level and for statewide offices.
There is no fool-proof way of keeping RINOs off the ballot. Old wisdom points the way forward to a better election system. Insiders and activists can vet candidates before the citizens weigh in. Part of the old wisdom, however, is also this: there is no substitute for an informed citizenry. So know a RINO when you see one.