Competition in Primaries

There are new stories in the Houston Chronicle and Amarillo Globe-News about the rising number of incumbents facing challenges in the Republican primaries.

Parties have a special kind of phobia about competition. Party leaders feel that nominating battles bring out the worst in party.  However, don’t blame competition–blame the competitors. The parties shouldn’t be telling potential candidates that competition is bad. Competition is good. Acting like a jerk is bad.

Party leadership should exercise leadership by weighing in whenever their candidates start behaving in a way that would embarrass any respectable political party. Leading an organization requires making some tough call and party leaders shy away from calling out candidates for bad behavior. Former  Ambassador Lyndon Olson pointed out in a speech that we used to get grades for “conduct” in first grade. Some teacher had to offer guidance, assign that grade, and tell our parents that we didn’t “play well with others.” That’s leadership that we learned from. Our school teachers realize that we need to be civilized so that we can learn. What does it tell us if our political candidates aren’t ready to accept these lesson?

The Republican party dominates Texas politics and it’s domination is even stronger in some parts of the state. If the Democrats are not providing much competition then someone has to. We need choices if we want to make change possible. Incumbents without competition in so many races doesn’t do democracy much good.

So, why should Republicans stamp out competition in their party? It’s no fun seeing your incumbents challenged. At the same time it’s not much fun when voters don’t have a choice. Competition can be healthy if it’s civilized.  The problem is not the little competition we have–it’s the lack of civility. Party leaders should spend more time talking about civility in democratic debates and less time trying to stop competition. If a party’s candidates can’t play well with each other, maybe they’re not the best choice for public service.


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