New York Republicans voted on Tuesday in an expensive presidential primary election that didn't matter and that was largely ignored. Fortunately, the reason for that is that the moderate candidate that most New York Republicans favored, Mitt Romney, was already assured the nomination.
But what if he wasn't? What if Rick Santorum or Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry or another candidate clearly out of the mainstream of Republican politics in New York had sewn up the race to represent the party in November's general election? Should New York, the nation's third-most-populous state, be shut out of the process by which either party selects its presidential nominee?
It should not. Something has to change. New York Republicans, especially, should not be content to stand by as the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan is ridden into the ground by a right-wing gaggle that cares less about governing a complex and pluralistic society than it does about scratching an ideological itch. You can't influence the game after the match has been called.
In the past two presidential elections, New Yorkers voted earlier in the year, while the nomination was still unsettled. In 2008, they voted on Feb. 6, with Republicans supporting Sen. John McCain over Romney and Democrats backing then-Sen. Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. In 2004, New York Democrats voted on March 3, backing John Kerry over John Edwards. (With then-President Bush seeking a second term, Republicans had no primary election.) In both years, New Yorkers were able to exert an influence.
It is true that there can be advantages in a later primary. Santorum only recently dropped out of the race -- before he had a chance to lose in his home state of Pennsylvania. Had he remained in the race, New Yorkers might have had the chance to ensure the party fielded an electable candidate.
But while it may sometimes be beneficial to vote later, it is always helpful to vote earlier, especially as the primary season becomes ever more front-loaded. New York should permenently move its presidential primary to an earlier date -- if possible, within the context of a national rethinking of the primary system. A national primary has obvious advantages, although it also tilts the nomination toward whichever candidate has the most money. A series of regional primaries could also be useful, perhaps with the regions voting in a different order in successive elections.
But the bottom line is that a state as powerful as New York should not be relegated to the sidelines in a matter as critical as selection of either party's presidential nominee.
Either a new national model needs to be drafted or New York, on its own, should permanently move up its primary. The risks are too great for the nation and for the state's Republicans, whose party is steadily drifting into extremism.