Few events in American history make for a more compelling read than the 1924 Democratic National Convention. I am shocked Brad Pitt or George Clooney have not tried to make a movie about it. That convention had everything: political intrigue, sabotage, fistfights, Prohibition, two weeks of deals and counter-deals and, most comically, the Ku Klux Klan.
Held in New York City, the convention was supposed to be a unifying force against the GOP. Instead, it is remembered by historians as the “Klanbake.” Monumental fail.
The leading candidates for the nomination were former Treasury secretary William McAdoo and New York Governor Al Smith. McAdoo was a Southerner and Smith was a Catholic. And that is where the Klan came into play.
For those who think of the Klan as just a group of White supremacists, it might surprise you to know that they were just as feverishly opposed to Catholicism as they were to Blacks. And so when given a choice between a Southerner who was the son-in-law of the notoriously racist former President Woodrow Wilson and the hard-drinking Catholic from New York, the Klan not only made a choice, they took a stand.
The Klan showed up to that convention en masse. They made a public spectacle of themselves. They killed off Smith’s ambitions early. McAdoo’s refusal to repudiate the Klan’s endorsement cost him the nomination. After two weeks and 103 ballots, the battle-scarred delegates settled on former ambassador John Davis as their nominee. Calvin Coolidge buried him in the presidential election.
Much has happened since then. The primary system, which was a novelty in 1924, has become the established method of picking delegates. And the advent of the 24/7 news cycle made this process the nation’s first reality TV show.
But that reality show has manifested an unfortunate effect on the process. With America currently being a place where instant results are followed by lightning-fast and perspectiveless analysis, we want to brand winners and losers post haste.
Welcome to New Hampshire. Sometime, somewhere, a group of people who run things decided that New Hampshire would be the first state to give their voice to who should be the nominees for the two major political parties via a primary. And if you doubt this, or try to circumvent the Granite State from being first, the major parties threaten to limit your power at their national conventions.
I know what some of you are thinking. What about Iowa? Yes, they technically come first. But they use a caucus, not a primary. And, unlike New Hampshire, Iowa is insufferably boring.
Decades ago, this batting order was tepidly accepted. But now that any of us can go to Google Earth and zoom in on some guy’s porch in Manchester, we ask, justifiably, “Why them?”
And the state legislature of Utah has asked the more bromidic question, “Why not us?”
This week, the Utah legislature passed a bill that would allow the state to hold their presidential primaries for either or both the Democrats and Republicans one week before New Hampshire—regardless if the “Live Free or Die” state holds their primary in January of 2016, or sometime this summer.
This idea, while sincere in its desire to make Utah a power-player in the presidential process, is short-sighted in its design and futile in its expectations.
Firstly, the parties will hector Utah with threats of a diminished delegate count at their conventions for breaking the bizarre truism that New Hampshire goes first.
Then they will cajole the major candidates—using Godfather-esque tactics if necessary—to ensure that none of them will accredit Utah by campaigning here.
And if Utah is bloodied but undaunted, the parties will kidnap all of our children and torture them with endless hours of forced viewing of MSNBC—all the while allowing us to hear their screams of agony.
Personally, I like the idea of the state I live in going first in the process. As a two-time delegate to the Utah Republican Convention, I felt important having candidates woo me. And with Utah having a disproportionately high amount of Willy Wonky types, we certainly would grill the candidates at town hall meetings with a vigor we Utahns usually reserve for eating at crappy chain restaurants.
But, that is not reality. What is real is that the media would ignore us if the candidates did so first. And even if they did show up, it would most likely be to rip Utah for its far right wing reputation and to mock us.
I can see Rachel Maddow talking to a group of sister wives…half voting for Rand Paul and the other half voting for Ted Cruz. Or maybe it will be Lesley Stahl doing a “60 Minutes” expose on how difficult it is to get a drink at Chili’s. Or CNN will unleash Anderson Cooper on Paul Mero and Gayle Ruzicka.
Be careful what you wish for.
I never understood why Utah insists on trying to be important. Is it the Mormon thing? Are the people here so worried about acceptance that the compulsion to try anything to come off as normal and relevant becomes omnipresent? Why else would the state legislature put forth a move that is destined to fail in bringing Utah to the fore of political discourse whilst simultaneously making it toothless in the area where it matters most; that being, delegates.
Most Americans dismiss Utah as a domain of religious kooks. Deal with it!
The reasons why Utah is <em>politicus non grata</em> on the national stage are self-evident. We have no major media markets. We share nothing in common with large, diverse metropolitan areas. And, most damning, the majority of politicians from this state are predictably and extremely conservative. The GOP can get a much better read of where Americans are regarding the pulse of the nation by going to New Hampshire; a state where people are not sheep to a common theocratic ideology. And the Democrats? Well, what are they are going to learn from a state where they might be lucky to pull a third of the vote in a presidential election?
Utah, I love ya. I really do. And if you go first headlong into the Abyss, I go with you. But some ideas sound better when spoken amongst friends than they are coming to fruition. Going first in the presidential process will not gain us power or respect. Those lofty desires will only be obtained by being an independent electorate willing to buck the system and stand for principled government. In other words, we would need to become more like New Hampshire.