George F. Will: For GOP substance, deregulate

Published: March 24, 2013
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Supporters of Sen. Rand Paul, or of any other candidate thoroughly unenthralled by the policies and procedures that have resulted in Republicans losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, are understandably suspicious of any proposed changes that might tilt the nomination process against the least known and less-lavishly funded candidates. They are especially apt to squint disapprovingly at the RNC's suggestion of regional primaries.

The party, however, must balance two imperatives. One is the need to enlarge the number of voters participating in the process. Hence the suggestion that primaries should replace all nominating caucuses and conventions — events where ideologically motivated activists and insurgent candidates can more easily predominate.

The party's second imperative is to preserve opportunities for less-known and financially challenged candidates to break through. This is where government restrictions on campaign contributions restrict the range of candidates from which voters can choose.

Existing restrictions on large contributions to candidates are commonly called “post-Watergate” reforms. This is more accurate as a matter of chronology than causality. Democrats began advocating contribution as well as spending limits years before Watergate concluded in 1974. They were appalled that large contributions from a few wealthy liberals made possible Eugene McCarthy's 1968 anti-war insurgency against President Lyndon Johnson, and propelled George McGovern's doomed nomination in 1972.

Suppose political contributing were deregulated, which would deregulate political speech, the dissemination of which is the principal use of campaign contributions. This would make it easier to design a more compressed nominating process, with a reduced role for the first four states, which also would allow marginal candidates a financial opportunity to fight their way into the top tier of candidates.

Anyway, tinkering with the party's political process is no substitute for improving the party's political substance. No nominating process featuring an array of candidates as weak and eccentric as the Republicans' 2012 field would have produced a much better result. So the party must begin whatever 2016 process it devises by fielding better candidates, which should not be so difficult.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP