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GOP Tries To Reshuffle 2012 Primary Schedule

One of the most commonly heard complaints about the 2008 Presidential primaries in both parties was how front loaded the process was. The Iowa Caucuses, after all, took place on January 3rd, while many people were still enjoying an extended holiday break, and the New Hampshire primary took place only five days later. By Super Tuesday in mid-February, the Republican race was already decided and the Democratic race likely would have been also had it not been for the historic and tightly-fought race between President Obama and Hillary Clinton. If you were a Republican living in a state with a primary scheduled after the Potomac Primaries on February 12th, you essentially had no voice in the selection of your parties’ candidate.

Yesterday, though, the Republican National Committee proposed changes to the primary rules and schedules designed to guarantee that the race will not be front-loaded again:

The RNC is likely to subtly alter their presidential nominating calendar in order to draw out the process of picking a candidate, according to a draft rule sent to members of the national committee today and obtained by Hotline OnCall.

The new rule, written after months of painstaking negotiations among senior members of the national committee, would push the beginning of the presidential nominating process back a month, to Feb., as part of a plan to prevent wealthy candidates from stealing the nomination.

GOP caucuses and primaries would be held that month in the 4 early states — the rule codifies IA, NH, SC and NV as states allowed to hold contests in a “pre-window.” Every other state would be allowed to hold their nominating contests on or after the first Tuesday in March.

But there’s an important caveat, members of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee said: Any state that holds its nominating contest before the first day of April — that is, any state that rushes to front-load their nominating process — will have to award their delegates on a proportional basis.

(…)

The change is designed to eliminate a process that rewards wealthy candidates with high name recognition. Instead, candidates will have to campaign across the country and appeal to different audiences, something that could help the GOP pick a stronger nominee.

“By making the second phase of the nominating process proportional, you reduce the possibility that any candidate in any one primary in any one state can deliver a knockout blow that early in the process and end the process prematurely,” said John Ryder, TN’s RNC representative and a member of the committee. Ryder said the goal is to have a 10-12 week nominating process that finishes before it can divide the party, but continues long enough to ensure the party picks the right nominee.

The other impact of these changes could be that it would bring an end to the GOP’s historical habit of nominating the heir apparent in every Presidential election cycle. Going as far back as Nixon in 1960, when the role of primaries was far less substantial than it is today, the GOP nominee has typically gone to the person “next in line.” Under these rules, that would be far less likely simply because it would be harder for the candidate with establishment backing, and money, to overwhelm their opponents in the early primaries.

More important than changing the schedule, though, could be the caveat that any primary before April 1st would have to award its delegates proportionally rather than based on the winner-take-all system that the GOP usually uses. It was the ubiquitousness of proportional primaries on the Democratic side in 2008 that allowed Hillary Clinton to keep her campaign alive until the bitter end. Had the Democrats had as many winner-take-all primaries as the Democrats, Obama would have likely clinched the nomination by early April at the latest.

If the Republican primaries in states like California, Florida, and Texas are required to award delegates proportionally, it would throw a curve ball into the nominating process that would have interesting, and unforeseeable, consequences. At the very least, these new rules would seem to favor candidates who have national, rather than merely regional, appeal within the GOP and would also be advantageous for those candidates able to convince voters that they have a chance of winning in November, rather than candidates who appeal to some hard-line ideology.

All in all, this strikes me as a good start toward reforming a primary system that is horribly broken.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    The proportionality punishment is actually quite brilliant — so much so that I’m shocked the Republican Party leadership came up with it. The Dems tried to withhold delegates from scofflaw states but found out how incredibly problematic that was with Florida. But while refusing to count the votes of people in a major swing state is undemocratic, proportionality actually appears more democratic.

    Well played.

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  2. Michael says:

    Had the Democrats had as many winner-take-all primaries as the Democrats, Obama would have likely clinched the nomination by early April at the latest.

    Are you sure about that? Did you run the numbers? I seem to remember Obama losing by a small margin in the large states that used proportional delegates, but winning the smaller winner-take-all states.

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  3. rashomon says:

    It was the ubiquitousness of proportional primaries on the Democratic side in 2008 that allowed Hillary Clinton to keep her campaign alive until the bitter end. Had the Democrats had as many winner-take-all primaries as the (sic) Democrats, Obama would have likely clinched the nomination by early April at the latest.

    Wrong on two counts. First, by rule there was no such thing as a winner-take-all primary on the Democratic side in 2008. There were only proportional primaries…in every state. With specific rules on delegates per congressional district, etc.

    Second, if there were any winner-take-all primaries, paricularly in the same states as Republicans (like New York), Hillary Clinton would have won the nomination by Super Tuesday. It was ONLY because Super Tuesday was fought to a delegate draw (Obama came out slightly ahead by, among other things, winning more net delegates out of Idaho than Clinton won out of New Jersey) that Obama was able to rack up HUGE wins in the February primaries…which allowed him to take an insurmountable delegate lead.

    Please review your history before making sweeping incorrect statements on the 2008 primary process.

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  4. [...] vote will be so divided that it could allow a Romney or someone like him to slip through. If the rules changes the RNC is contemplating prolong the process and make more primary contests relevant in determining [...]

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