By NEWT GINGRICH
February 15, 2008; Page A15
Democrats are headed for a trainwreck in campaign '08 that threatens to produce a tainted Democratic presidential nominee and, worse, a divisive and delegitimized presidential contest.
Recall that when Michigan and Florida moved up their primaries in defiance of Democratic Party rules earlier this year, the party bosses decided to punish them by unseating their delegates. The Florida and Michigan primaries were turned into beauty contests.
At the time, it seemed like a good move since everyone assumed that the Michigan and Florida delegates wouldn't really matter in the nomination battle. The conventional wisdom was that one Democratic candidate would emerge early in the contest, and arrive at the convention with a comfortable margin of delegates for the nomination.
But the one constant in campaign '08 so far is that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Instead of a sprint, the Democratic race has turned into a slog. And it's now looking more and more likely that the Democratic presidential fight will not produce a clear and decisive winner.
So here's the run-away train careening toward the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August: If the delegate count of both campaigns is still close by the time of the convention, Florida and Michigan's combined 366 delegates will suddenly become very relevant. Instead of uniting behind a nominee, the party will be at war with itself over whether to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates. And Democrats know from hard experience that chaotic, contentious conventions and the nominees they produce (remember Chicago in 1968? San Francisco in 1972?) do not bode well for success in November.
One of the great ironies of this election season is that the very mechanism created by Democrats to avoid contentious conventions like those in Chicago and San Francisco promises to create further chaos in Denver this year.
Superdelegates are really "politician delegates." Superdelegates are technically uncommitted party insiders who can vote for whomever they choose. They were created by the party that prides itself on supposedly representing the common man to be the palace guards of the Democratic establishment. Bill Clinton is a superdelegate, as is Al Gore. They are Democratic Party insiders whose purpose is to put down insurgent campaigns and protect the interests of Democratic politics as usual.
The closeness of the delegate count has set off a furious race between Sens. Clinton and Obama for the superdelegates. But any attempt by either campaign to win with these party insiders what they couldn't win with the voting public would destroy not only the prospects of the "victorious" candidate, but the prospects of the Democratic Party itself.
So the Democrats are caught in a double-bind: Disenfranchising the voters in Michigan and Florida while allowing party insiders to pick the party's nominee has all the makings of a Democratic civil war.
You might think that as a Republican I don't have a dog in this fight, but I do. All of us do. A tainted or "stolen" Democratic nomination has the potential to delegitimize the election itself and its outcome. And tainted victories produce hobbled administrations. Much as I might have agreed with the outcome of the 2000 general election, the rancor and vitriol it produced created divisions among Americans where none naturally existed before, irreparably damaging the Bush administration.
Contrary to the political consultants' handiwork and the mainstream media's mythmaking, America is not a nation fundamentally divided between red and blue. We are surprisingly united on the core values that make us Americans and the practical solutions to the challenges we face. We need an election process with the integrity to produce a nominee who can lead this natural majority.
The question is: How?
Giving the Michigan and Florida delegates to Sen. Clinton -- particularly in light of reports that she bent the Democratic Party rules against campaigning in both states -- is a recipe for even more chaos.
On the other hand, leaving the Florida and Michigan delegates unseated runs the risk for the Democrats of alienating two big states they want and need to win in November.
The answer, for the integrity of the process, is a do-over: Hold the Michigan and Florida Democratic primaries again.
The voters -- not the party insiders -- have the moral authority to choose the nominee. Democratic voters in Michigan and Florida should get that chance. Then in November, we'll have a fair fight. And I'll be honest -- it may not help the chances for a Republican victory in the fall. But it will help something even more important: the integrity of our political process.
Mr. Gingrich, former speaker of the House, is the author of "Real Change: From the World that Fails to the World that Works" (Regnery, 2008).