A Modest Proposal
Outlaw primaries and caucuses entirely.
As bringiton says, political parties are private clubs, and they can run whoever the heck they want, regardless of public opinion, for president, vice-president, senator, dogcatcher. And as BDBlue points out, what with campaigning and primaries and caucuses and all, the parties have misled the public into thinking that we've actually got a voice in this process.
For years I've been arguing that, as one part of reforming the way we do elections in this country, we need one national primary day, operated just like the general election. Secret ballots, ADA-compliant voting places, early voting, absentee ballots, one vote per person and you have to vote in your precinct, paper trail, all results binding, etc.
There would be obstacles to that kind of reform. We'd have to overturn the Supreme Court ruling [rulings? was there more than one? I forget] that says that political parties are private entities. We'd have to convince the taxpayers in the caucus states to pay for real elections [caucuses are paid for by the parties, primaries are paid for by the taxpayers]. Some other things....
But now I'm thinking it would be easier, cheaper, faster to do away with this part altogether. We could just agree with the Supreme Court and force the parties to go back to being private clubs, instead of allowing them to pass themselves off as public entities like they've been doing.
No primaries, no caucuses. The parties can solicit input from the public via television, radio, and print ads, and websites, and mailers, and telephone polls, and so forth. No polls can look like elections, and no mailers, print ads, etc, can resemble official ballots. Each message [poll, ad, website, etc] has to state clearly and up front that while the party is interested in voters' opinions, the candidates [and platform] they ultimately choose won't be decided by the public, but will instead be decided solely by the party.
Persons who want to be considered for their party's nomination have to apply to party officials, they can't ask for money from anyone and they can't ask the public or any other entities to intervene on their behalf.
Parties can hold their conventions anytime after June 1, but must have their final slates submitted to the FEC [or whoever] by July 4, on which date they can begin soliciting donations and their chosen candidates can begin campaigning.
Election Day will still be the first Tuesday in November. Parties and their selected candidates can campaign, solicit donations, and accept money only from July 4 until Election Day.
Individuals who are running as Independents can solicit and accept donations and campaign at any time in an election cycle, but cannot be registered as a member of any party while they are campaigning/accepting donations as an Independent, nor can they accept any nomination to be on any party ticket in the same election cycle where they've run as an Independent.
The media might even have to go back to reporting on boring stuff like wars and tanking economies, at least from November to June.