Welcome to the Top-Two Bloodbath

California is now in the middle of the second round of its reformy new two-round general election system.

The first round, what I call the clusterfuck, finished in June. That was when voters tried to sort through long lists of candidates they had often never heard of to narrow down the field to two for the November runoff.

The second round is what I call the bloodbath. It is the moment when some districts will conduct an election between two candidates of the same party.

Since these same-party districts typically have a large majority of voters of one party, both candidates have a strong incentive to appeal to the issues and values of their base voters. They also have an equally strong disincentive, when trying to win support from voters of the minority party, against saying anything that would lead their majority base voters to doubt that they are a real Democrat or the real Republican.

So how are they to campaign? By inventing trivial issue distinctions that don’t touch partisan nerves. (“When I go to Sacramento/Washington, I will fight to put the picture of lost puppies on milk cartons so no pet is left behind!”) By emphasizing personal virtues. (“I am still good friends with all my past wives.”) By raising lots of money.

Or by waging nasty personal attacks. For example:

The Howard Berman-Brad Sherman House race is the predictable result of the clusterfuck-bloodbath system: Two virtually identical candidates—both old, both Jewish, both prideful, with almost identical ideological rankings—thrown into the ring together like scorpions. It is politics at its most nasty and primitive.

And it is just what the “reformers” ordered. But don’t expect them to apologize and admit they were wrong. Reform means never having to say you’re sorry.