Could Meg Whitman have won as an independent? What about under the new open primary rules?


...I know what I have to do next time, my loyal subjects...

Calitics’ Robert Cruickshank first ponders how different it may have been, or may not have been, for Queen Meg, if she had run as an independent and spared herself the trouble of courting the extreme right wing just to get through the GOP primary:

Would Meg Whitman have won if she ran as an independent candidate?

That’s the question that comes to mind after reflecting on the collapse of the California Republican Party. With a base that refuses to accept 21st century reality and demands fealty to an agenda of white supremacy and feudal economics, Republican candidates are going to struggle to win statewide elections in a state where a clear majority of the population has rejected that base’s extremism.

In turn, that means Republican statewide candidates will always face the dilemma that helped bring down Whitman – they cannot please the right-wing base and have any chance at winning a statewide election. Whitman had to appease her base’s hatred of Latinos, and as a result lost the election by 13 points.

But what if Whitman didn’t have to run as a Republican? What if she spent her money to get herself on the ballot as an independent candidate? Whitman would have been free of the need to appease the right-wing base, and could have made a credible bid to win Latinos and other Californians who refuse to support the Republican agenda.

This thought experiment can only go so far, of course. Whitman didn’t just attack Latinos and threaten to destroy the state’s public services because it was necessary to win a GOP primary – it’s what she actually believed. Even as an independent candidate, Whitman’s same personal and political flaws would have enabled Jerry Brown to win – especially if Whitman bled votes to an actual Republican candidate. So an independent candidacy would, on its own, not have meaningfully changed things…

It’s easy to forget though, that California’s elections are going to be a lot different starting in 2012.  Remember Prop 14 from last June, the “open primary” aka “top two” or “jungle primary?”  Conservative Republicans were against it, progressive Democrats were against it, Libertarians, Greens, and other third parties were against it, but still most of you-all voted yes on it – at least those of you who bothered to vote.

It was sold to you as a way to get more “moderate” candidates in, and encourage more “bipartisan” co-operation, but what does that really mean in practice?  It means more socially-liberal, corporate-friendly DINOs and RINOs just like the folks who dreamed it up – Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abel Maldonado.   The most “moderate” and best funded Republican in a red district will end up winning, as will the most “moderate” and best funded Democrat in blue districts.  That’s not what conservatives want, and it’s not what progressives want, and it locks out third parties even more than before.  But it does seem to be a system tailor-made for a candidate like Queen Meg, socially moderate, corporate-friendly, and hell of well funded.  Robert continues:

…What about the top-two primary?

That’s where things get interesting – and worrisome. It would not be difficult for corporate elites to back statewide candidates who run as independents in a top-two primary. These would be candidates in the mold of Michael Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Britain’s David Cameron – accepting the social liberalism of the electorate (rejecting the religious right, the anti-Latino right, and the anti-gay right) while espousing right-wing, neoliberal, corporate-friendly economic policies.

With enough money behind them, it is possible that such a candidate could place in the top two in the primary, alongside a Democrat, and pose a formidable challenge in a general election. Arnold Schwarzenegger showed how such a candidate could win in an election without party primaries (the 2003 recall). It’s a new party – the Corporate Party – that you don’t want to see.

At the same time, this effort would encounter some significant obstacles. Voters showed that they really don’t like wealthy self-funders, and are tiring of right-wing economic policies that undermine the public sector basis of prosperity.

Additionally, there really isn’t any electoral base for this kind of candidate – California’s electorate is divided into a large progressive bloc, a sizable right-wing bloc, and a very small number of people who aren’t solidly in either one, but who nevertheless gravitate toward one or the other. Wealth alone can’t cobble together a coalition that can give an independent corporate candidate a second-place showing in the primary.

Still, this represents the best, and perhaps only, hope for the corporate elite here in California. With an unelectable Republican Party, gaming the top-two primary gives them a shot at blocking Democrats from governing California.

Of course, Democrats themselves have work to do – namely, laying out a progressive agenda and vision for California that can consolidate Democratic victories. But that’s the topic for tomorrow’s post…

So what do you-all think?

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