The Campaign for Primary Accountability declares itself against incumbents, though in the Kaptur-Kucinich race they targeted the more powerful of two incumbents, perhaps with an eye of giving "Joe" a weaker opponent. As a SuperPAC, the CPA exercises the rights confirmed by the Citizens United decision to counterbalance the recognized advantage incumbents have against challengers in almost every primary. Because Ohio has been redistricted, CPA probably had a better chance to make a splash and claim a scalp there than anywhere else this season. The group's mastermind, Eric O'Keefe, is a deficit hawk and advocate of term limits. He also has some revisionist ideas about the evolution of political parties that should be of interest to regular readers of this blog. He recorded some of those ideas for a 2007 talk uploaded to the YouTube channel of his Sam Adams Alliance.
In short, O'Keefe sees the purported democratization of the party-nomination process through direct primaries as a kind of coup perpetrated by elected officials against party "activists." On one level, this is a bizarro-world or mirror-universe interpretation of the movement for direct primaries 100 years ago, which sold itself as the empowerment of the rank-and-file at the expense of dictatorial party bosses. One of the biggest advocates of primaries 100 years ago was a former officeholder, Theodore Roosevelt, who had become an insurgent. He believed that primaries gave him the best chance against the incumbent advantage enjoyed by William Howard Taft, and he promoted primaries on the assumption that they empowered the rank-and-file to overrule bosses. On the other hand, we should take the movement's own propaganda with a grain of salt. One can see why an elected official might resent a boss's decision that it was someone else's turn in office, and why he might want to appeal over the boss's head to the people. The question for a revisionist like O'Keefe is whether he goes too far in idealizing the old process simply because it resulted in more frequent rotation in office, which he regards as an end unto itself. If such a system were back in place today, would it give more power to "activists" or to a new generation of bosses? It may not matter to O'Keefe as long as the restored system enforced rotation in office, but it might matter to the rank-and-file as it did to all those partisans of a century or more ago who resented bossism. In any event, O'Keefe's observations help a little to clarify my own thinking about how the state embedded itself in the party-nomination process, even if I don't agree with all his conclusions on the consequences. He may not be welcome as a SuperPAC provocateur, but his underlying ideas about the party system are worthy of further discussion.