Does anyone like the redesigned "Sunday Review" section of the NYT? I haven't, much. Except it seems to furnish more and more opportunities for cranky blogging. Such as this week's "Dialogue" about reforming the nomination process.
Why does it make me cranky? Because all the reformers in the discussion miss the basic point of nominations: they are how parties make their most important decisions. Not all citizens, and not all people who might eventually vote for the party's nominee. The parties, themselves. Party actors have a lot at stake in these contests. If there are internal differences, nominations are a key place where those differences are fought out or settled. If there's agreement on policy, party actors need to coordinate on a candidate best prepared to enact those policies. And, at the same time, the nomination process allows parties to force candidates to bind themselves to the party. You'll read sometimes, and quite correctly, that it doesn't matter very much what Mitt Romney really thinks because if he's elected he'll have little choice but to govern as a conservative. That's true -- but in large part because the nomination process is leading him to make promises to conservatives in order to win. Remove party actors from the nomination process, and perhaps that doesn't happen. The classic case is still Jimmy Carter, elected when the newly reformed process was chaotic, and then unable to work well at all with Democrats once in office. Which wasn't a surprise; the lessons he had learned in being nominated were to avoid dealing with Democratic party actors.
So: the "problem" of the nomination process isn't that voters in June primaries don't have as much influence as voters in New Hampshire...it just isn't very important that they don't. The nomination process has to satisfy party actors (which it will if it allows them to compete and coordinate effectively), which I think it currently does. The rest of the nation has a stake in the process being permeable, which I believe it is. The rest of the details? They can matter, but only in the context of party decisions and party permeability. Any outsider who tries to design a nomination system without putting those goals right up front is doomed to irrelevance or worse.