The process gives too much power to Iowa and New Hampshire. For years, I've thumbed through the Constitution, looking for the provision that says that Iowa and New Hampshire come first. I haven't found it yet. Neither state, as Michigan Sen. Carl Levin has pointed out, is remotely typical of the nation. For this cycle, Democrats are adding early contests in Nevada and South Carolina. They're not typical, either: The Las Vegas unions are the big power bloc in Nevada, and about half of South Carolina's Democratic voters are black. A better system would be the Delaware plan, which Republicans considered briefly but rejected.
It had four rounds of primaries, with the smallest states voting first, so that no one could clinch a nomination till the last round. But no politician with any thought of ever running for president (i.e., almost no politician) will risk dissing Iowa and New Hampshire.
The present system also gives one person the power to determine who is vice president. We take it for granted that the presidential nominee, and he or she alone, selects his or her running mate. But that's crazy. Ever since Jimmy Carter delegated real work to Walter Mondale, the vice presidency has been a serious office. A vice president can become president anytime and usually becomes a serious presidential candidate. We devote all manner of time and trouble to selecting presidential nominees, then toss the choice of their possible successor to one person.
So what can we do? The best answer I come up with is: Muddle through. We are not going to have a national primary or the Delaware plan or an open convention. Voters should keep in mind that character as well as issue positions is important. They should study all available clues about the managerial abilities of candidates like Mitt Romney, whom they haven't seen in action (as they have seen Rudy Giuliani).
This is the first election in 80 years in which it's clear that the incumbent president and vice president are not running. The system, for all its defects, has mostly given us pretty good presidents. Let's hope America's luck holds.