EDITORIAL: Make it stop ... let's have a national primary

Staff report

Long before Donald Trump led the Republican Party off the rails and into the gutter, Americans longed for a simpler, quicker and fairer way to choose presidential nominees.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to members of the audience during a commercial break at a CNN town hall at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

If we can have a national election to select our president, certainly we can set aside a single day when all states nominate candidates for the job.

President Woodrow Wilson made the first call for a national primary day more than 100 years ago, and the idea is still alive and well.

A 2007 New York Times/CBS News poll found three-quarters of Americans favored a single day when the parties would select their nominees. Half of all of the respondents cited the outsized influence of small but early-nominating states like Iowa and New Hampshire on the final outcome.

We know that feeling. Pennsylvania has one of the latest primaries, and often the die is cast by the time we vote. Candidates know that, too, and they don’t usually spend too much time here, talking about issues important to us.

In the 2007 poll, Republicans were slightly less inclined to support a national primary, but we’re willing to bet more than a few in the GOP are rethinking their opposition.

The current train wreck that is the Republican nominating process began a year ago when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy. Sixteen candidates followed, including a certain hateful, egomaniacal former reality TV star who’s now threatening to destroy the party from within.

Trump has lent little to the national debate and, in fact, has shown little knowledge of or even interest in the issues affecting Americans. He did, however, clarify during a nationally televised debate that there’s “no problem” with the size of his penis.

The Donald’s antics have lowered the bar for political discourse and diverted attention from serious candidates – and there were some among those initial 17 candidates representing the largest presidential primary field ever.

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The longer the primary season dragged on, though, the more momentum Trump gained. He sucked the air out of the room, forcing other candidates to drop out one by one and leaving later-voting states fewer and fewer choices.

Now there are only three Republican candidates, and Trump is so far ahead in the delegate count leaders in his own party are reportedly frantic to block his path to the nomination. There’s even talk of a brokered convention to force him aside.

The fear is not just that Trump will almost surely lose a presidential race and possibly cost the GOP control of the Senate. There’s a very real sense we’re watching the disintegration of an American political party.

By the time they vote in the Keystone State’s April 26 primary, Pennsylvania’s Republicans could be relevant for a change if they can help force a convention showdown.

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We might be in a very different place at this point if all Americans had voted in a national primary in, say, February. With most candidates still standing, we doubt very much GOP voters from all corners of the country would have settled for Donald Trump.

Or maybe they would have, in which case – if nothing else – the primary season would have been shortened (mercifully).

There are potential downsides to a national primary election. For instance, lesser known candidates might have difficulty mounting expensive nationwide campaigns and run-off elections might become more common.

But compared to the exhausting chaos of the current, unfair primary system, it’s an easy choice.

We need all of our voices to be heard, all at once, on National Primary Day.