Committee of the Maryland Republican Party...

THE EXECUTIVE

December 14, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR

THE EXECUTIVE Committee of the Maryland Republican Party voted unanimously a week ago to oppose David Duke's presidential candidacy.

In the good old days, that would have meant he couldn't get his name on the ballot here. Back then, even in states like Maryland that had presidential preferential primaries, the pols could still get together in those smoke-filled rooms, (which even some non-tobacco users and political reformers are beginning to get nostalgic for), and select delegates to a national convention, and dictate to them how to vote.

The Executive Committee is composed of all its officers, the state's national committeeman and national committeewoman and the "chairpersons" of the 24 local central committees, all of whom are elected. Why shouldn't they be able to say that David Duke, or whoever, is not a good Republican, or at least not a good enough one to run for president in the state?

Maryland law says the Democratic secretary of state can put any name he believes to be a serious candidate, based on his reading of newspapers, etc., on the Republican ballot. That means a Democratic editorial writer has more control over the Republican ballot than the state party chairperson. That's crazy.

The reason for that law (and for the proliferation of primaries) is that Democratic reformers after 1968 began treating smoke-filled rooms as if they were toxic waste dumps.

Primaries used to be testing grounds. Only a few states held them. Serious presidential aspirants entered only a few of them, to demonstrate to the party bosses their vote-getting appeal with the rank and file. Then at a convention dominated by delegates from non-primary states, the choice was made.

In 1960, Jack Kennedy's year, only 16 states held primaries, and Kennedy entered only seven. All told, in both parties' primaries, only 11 million voters turned out.

The Democratic reforms that began to flow after 1968 strongly coerced states to go the primary route rather than the state convention or smoke-filled room route.

Twenty years of reform has pushed that far beyond the point of rationality. In 1988, 37 states held primaries, 35 million voters turned out, and the serious candidates had their names on the ballot in -- and had to campaign in -- all the states. In 1992, there will be presidential preferential primaries, Republican and Democratic, in 39 states, In most states now, the Democratic reformers have imposed their reforms on Republicans.

You would think Republicans would object to this. They don't. And for a very good reason. Hating reform, Republicans write national rules that get around the worst features. Intoxicated with reform, Democrats write rules that make the reforms even worse. This results in weak nominees. As a result, in the five reform era presidential elections, Republicans have won four landslide victories. Their theory of reform is, it's broke, but why fix it?

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