Past as Prelude: Unity08 and the Story of Big Bad Iowa & New Hampshire
In the 2008 election cycle, the presidential bid called Unity08 started off its appeal for an online presidential nomination election in which it would run an election, count votes, and announce a winner all by itself. People were skeptical, so Unity08 tried to argue that it would be fairer than the current voting system, rolling out this claim:
“Did you know that 99% of American voters have NO say in who is picked to run for president on the party tickets? Unless you live in Iowa or New Hampshire, you’re left out in the cold. And everyone knows, these two races (and how filled the campaign coffers are) dictates what happens in the rest of the country.”
In the past, by the time Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voted, it was over — and 99% of the country has been shut out.
This was supposed to stand in contrast this to the Unity08 would-be “convention,” at which 10 million people were supposed to gather online and vote for a nominee.
1) Unity08 turned out to be a stalking horse for a Draft Michael Bloomberg campaign, not a neutral entity. Unity08 registered the web domain draftmichaelbloomberg.com back in July 2007. The Draft Michael Bloomberg Committee had the same mailing address as Unity08, the leaders of the two efforts were the same, and on top of that Unity08 gave the Draft Bloomberg Committee a contribution.
2) The trend that Unity08 referred to in its promotional materials doesn’t exist. Rather, presidential nominations are littered with Iowa and New Hampshire victors who didn’t get their party’s nomination. In 2000, John McCain won New Hampshire. He didn’t win the nomination, and the nomination battle between Bush and McCain lasted past Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2008, Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire. She didn’t win the nomination, and the nomination battle between Clinton and Obama lasted so darned long that by the end people were complaining about the number of contests they had to pay attention to. Only 4 out of the 7 New Hampshire Democratic victors in the past thirty years became the eventual nominee. Only 3 out of the 5 New Hampshire Republican victors in the past twenty years became the eventual nominee. These early contests are not a guarantee of sealing the deal.
When Republican and Democratic parties changed the primary schedule around to create a number of early contests, negating Unity08’s stated reasons for attempting its own presidential bid, what did Unity08 do? Change its reason, of course. Unity08 Chief Douglas Bailey explained the new reason for Unity08 to run its own candidate: too many early contests:
“I think, frankly, that the American public is just fed up with the game-playing of both political parties, and this is just another example of it. How stupid can you get? You don’t even have a very good sense of what the issues will be in the (general) election when you pick the nominee this early. This just feeds the public frustration.”
Push to the Present: As Americans Elect, Unity08 Brings Up Big Bad Iowa & New Hampshire All Over Again
Unity08 failed to attract enough supporters to do much of anything in 2008. But it morphed itself into a new entity named Americans Elect, sharing the old posh offices and many of the old posh leaders of Unity08 and pushing forward its goal of running a privatized online-only presidential nomination into the new 2012 election season. This time,
Unity08 Americans Elect doesn’t need big numbers of supporters — it has a small number of very big donors to fund its operations, the names of which it keeps a tight secret. But oddly enough, Americans Elect is issuing communications as if it has the advantage of a large number of supporters, even as evidence of broad support fails to materialize.
Just like its direct predecessor, Americans Elect says in a January 16 2012 press release that we should participate in its privatized presidential nomination because it’s not right that nearly four hundred thousand Iowa and New Hampshire voters bully their way into picking the president for the rest of us:
After Only 369,448 Votes, Half of the Presidential Field is Gone
Jon Huntsman is leaving the GOP primary race, after fewer than 400,000 Americans have had a chance to cast a vote. And Huntsman isn’t the first:
Abandoned bids for GOP nomination before a single vote was cast: CEO Herman Cain, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Gov. Gary Johnson, Gov. Tim Pawlenty
After 122,225 voted in the Iowa caucus: Rep. Michelle Bachmann
After 247,223 voted in the New Hampshire primary: Gov. Jon Huntsman
Still standing: Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Barack Obama, Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Rick Santorum
Is this really the best way to pick a president? Are you ready to settle?
The stats are a bit fudgy here: lots of presidential contenders always drop by the wayside before the first caucus or primary because they can’t attract supporters, just like the five contenders listed here. Heck, Thaddeus McCotter never really ever started his presidential campaign, at least not seriously. If you count just the presidential contenders who were still competing when the Iowa and New Hampshire contests started in 2012, a majority were still in the race after voting was done in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina.
On the 17th of January 2012, Americans Elect sent a similar message by e-mail:
Wait, is that it?
Only two states have cast their primary votes and already the parties and the media are sending us a message: like ’em or not, these are your choices.
But actual events have intervened to once again trample on Americans Elect’s narrative. It turns out that in the first three contests for the Republican nomination, a different politician has won each contest. Iowa went to Rick Santorum, New Hampshire went to Mitt Romney, and South Carolina went for Newt Gingrich. The race is actually wide open, a message that party voters and the media are actually communicating pretty clearly.
Participation is Americans Elect’s very own problem.
As for the numbers, the 369,448 votes in Republican elections have gone up to 970,401 with the addition of 600,953 voters in South Carolina. That’s for the less than ten candidates in contention for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, the number of people tracking the 10 most popular politicians in the Americans Elect system…
1st place: Ron Paul
2nd place: Barack Obama
3rd place: Jon Huntsman
4th place: Bernie Sanders
5th place: Buddy Roemer
6th place: Gary Johnson
7th place: Dennis Kucinich
8th place: Al Franken
9th place: Mitt Romney
10th place: Newt Gingrich
… adds up to just 31,218. That’s just 3.2% of the number of people who’ve participated in the Republican process so far. Over the last five days, Americans Elect has been adding 235 new tracks a day. That’s nice, but at that rate it will take eleven years for Americans Elect tracking numbers to make it up to the level of participation reached in the Republican nomination race so far. If you want to identify a process that’s generating low numbers in participation, Americans Elect would be the process to pick on.
As the number of people participating in the presidential nominating process continues to grow, don’t be surprised to see Americans Elect follow the path that it did as Unity08, ignoring the fact that its old reason for being turned out to be false, then plowing right on, fashioning some new reason that fits the moment.
I’m becoming less convinced as the days roll on that the American people will actually swallow whatever that new message might be. After all, to sell a presidential nomination process you have to actually have a presidential nomination process to sell. Americans Elect has blown 2 months and 16 days past the original date when Americans would be able to start drafting candidates to appear on the ballot for Americans Elect. The first ballot in the nominating process is just 2 months and 26 days from now, and still, as it has for 3 months now, Americans Elect reports that its system will be up and running “very soon.” How can a real, viable grassroots movement to draft a presidential candidate start up, organize itself and succeed on the ballot in just 2 months and 26 days — or in 2 months and 25 days come tomorrow? A real, viable grassroots movement can’t. With Americans Elect’s delays, only big money will be able to pull off such an effort now. Whatever legitimacy Americans Elect might have earned with a significant campaign period and openness about its funding seems impossible now. I expect what we’ll see now is a long, variably messy implosion.
The lesson that I don’t expect Americans Elect leaders to absorb: you can have gobs and gobs of secret dollars from hedge fund pals, and you get your public relations people to book you on all the right talk shows, but if you don’t actually engage with and really empower the American people, you’ll be only a paper moon flying over a cardboard sea.