James Ceaser Interviewed by Emma Green for The Atlantic
‘Predictions are dangerous business, especially in the hall of mirrors that American politics has become. Suffice it to say, no one called this U.S. presidential election cycle—not Trump, not Sanders, not any of it.
‘Except, perhaps, in a round-about way, a 1979 book about the presidential-primary system. James Ceaser, a University of Virginia professor, outlined the history and potential weaknesses of various nomination processes, including one that largely relies on popular primaries. Starting in the early 1970s, Democrats and Republicans began reforming their primary-election processes, transferring influence over nominations away from party leaders to voters. This kind of system is theoretically more democratic, but it also has weaknesses—some of which have been on display in 2016. When I spoke with a couple of conservative political-science professors about their field last month, one of them remarked, with just a hint of jealousy, “I expect Jim Ceaser to take a victory lap around the country saying I told you so.”
‘I spoke with Ceaser about Trump and the unintended effects of trying to make democracy more democratic. When I asked him if I could turn on my recorder, he said, “You’re not working for the CIA, are you?” This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity, but not by any government officials, to my knowledge.’
James Ceaser is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and Chairman of the JMC Academic Council.