GOP To Change Rules For 2016 Primaries And Beyond

The GOP is set to approve rules changes that will impact the 2016 primaries, and beyond. They're a good start.

Among the business that will be conducted at this year’s Republican Convention will be the drafting and approval of the rules that will govern the nomination process in 2016, just as the rules that were in place during this year’s nomination fight had been put together in advance of the 2008 convention. Quietly, and mostly behind the scenes, the Romney campaign has been working to change the rules to make it more difficult for a potential 2016 candidate to run the kind of insurgent campaign that Ron Paul has run in the last two elections:

TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican Party changed a series of rules Friday to increase Mitt Romney’s power over the GOP and make it harder for insurgent presidential candidates to compete in future elections.

After Ron Paul used the convention process to win the most delegates in some of the states where he lost the popular vote, the Republican convention rules committee passed a measure to ensure that a candidate who wins a statewide caucus or primary ultimately controls its delegation and gets more leverage over picking his delegates.

The Romney campaign’s move will mean less consequential state conventions — lower-profile events that typically follow the popular vote caucuses and primaries. It also might fend off potential primary challenges from the right in 2016 should Romney win this November. The rule change likely forces states like Iowa to adjust their caucus process to ensure that whoever wins on caucus night is ultimately awarded the most delegates.

“We are presenting a package of rules designed to correct what we saw as a damaging flaw in 2012 and wish to correct for 2016,” said Ben Ginsberg, Romney’s top lawyer.

Looking to avoid another protracted nominating contest, the body also voted that any state can award delegates winner-take-all. Going into 2012, the rule was changed so that states with elections before April 1 had to proportionally award their delegates. The practical effect of this rules change was that it took much longer for Romney to secure the nomination.

If Romney wins in November, another significant change passed here Friday give him dramatically more power to shape the primary calendar and apportionment of delegates going into 2016. Historically only the convention rules committee, which meets just once every four years, can officially change party rules. But going forward, the Republican National Committee — a group of 168 elected representatives from the states and territories — can change party rules with a three-fourths vote.

The rule changes also include provisions that give Presidential campaigns more control over the selection of delegates at the state level, thus eliminating to some extent the risk that a delegate that is supposed to be bound to one candidate will rebel and back another candidate.  Obviously, the impact of these rule changes will be somewhat muted if Romney is elected President since, in all likelihood, he’ll be running for re-election without any serious opposition in 2016. Nonetheless, the changes are significant. If Romney does win, then these rules will probably be re-adopted in 2016 for the 2020 election. If he’s not, then these rule changes will go a long way toward imposing some sanity on a nomination process that is, in many ways, antiquated and rather ridiculous.

The Fix’s Sean Sullivan points out that one consequence of these changes, though, is that there’s unlikely to be another Ron Paul-type candidacy as long as they are in effect:

Take Iowa, for example. This year, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished neck-and-neck atop the field at the caucuses. But Paul walked away with the majority of the state’s delegates, owing to a system in which delegates are unbound by the results of the caucuses.

It wasn’t just Iowa. In other states, Paul claimed majority delegate support, which was significant in the overall nominating process. Had Paul been managed to garner more delegate support in Nebraska, he’d have crossed a five-state threshold that would have made him eligible for nomination at the convention.

Such a strategy would be nearly impossible in the future under the rule change. Statewide nominating contests would become the chief determinant across the board. If a candidate wins a state’s primary or caucus, the state must find a way to reflect the outcome of the primary in the way the delegates are allocated.

“If you hold a statewide contest, there needs to be a way to let the delegates that are allocated” reflect that, said an RNC official, explaining the rule change.


Overall, the change appears to be a blow to anyone considering taking the path Paul took this year and is also a recognition that the current rules leave room for discord at the convention, which is bad for party unity.

For the most part, I think these changes are a good step forward toward rationalizing the candidate nomination process. The idea that Ron Paul’s people were able to essentially hijack the delegate allocation process in states that they had lost definitively, such as Louisiana where Paul garnered a paltry 6.15% of the vote, makes absolutely no sense at all. Ideally, the awarding of delegates should correlate to the results of a state’s primary or caucus, with the individual state party making the choice to award delegates on a winner-take-all or proportional basis (personally, I prefer proportional for the same reason I prefer an Electoral College system that awards Electoral Votes based on Congressional Districts.) The delegates are supposed to represent the decision of the state party, and when the state party chooses a primary to select the winner in its state, then the allocation of delegates ought to correspond roughly to the results of the primary. Anything else is just harkening back to the days when the process of selecting the nominee was in the hands of party bosses rather than the voters.

Frankly, I wish the rule changes had gone further. Here’s a few ideas that I have off the top of my head :

  • No primaries or caucuses before February 1s1 of a Presidential Election year;
  • Elimination of all caucuses, for the reasons stated here;
  • An end to the absurd idea that the primary season must always start with the two most unrepresentative states in the Union, Iowa and New Hampshire; and,
  • A rationalization of the pre-primary season debate schedule, including rules that allow for maximum participation by declared candidates.

Obviously some of these ideas would be easier to implement than others, and most of them would face resistance from state party leaders and politicians, especially the part about Iowa and New Hampshire. Ideally, I would like to see the entire primary system, for both parties, revamped along these lines:

  • Divide the country into four regions with as fair a balance between big and small states as possible
  • Beginning in March, there will be one Regional Primary per month with delegates to be allocated according to the rules of the respective political parties
  • Each party agrees that any state that schedules its primary outside the Regional Primary date, or before the first Regional Primary, will have its delegate count at the National Convention reduced by 50%

This would probably be next-to-impossible to implement, but it would go a long way toward rationalizing the incoherent mess that is our primary system. Nonetheless, while not perfect, I think the changes that the RNC is looking to implement for 2016 and beyond are a good start. Let’s hope the Democrats follow suit, and that both parties get to work on creating a saner Presidential nomination process.

Photo via The Washington Post

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jeff Sexton says:

    I’d go a step further:

    Eliminate primary elections altogether. Why should taxpayers be burdened with what is rightfully a purely Party (private org) function?

  2. I understand your argument Jeff, but without primaries, the parties would be stuck with caucuses or conventions that could easily be hijacked by fringe elements, as the Paul forces tried to do at several state conventions this year.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Caucuses and state conventions should be eliminated in toto and for each state all the delegates should be pledged to the candidate who receives the largest number of votes in closed primaries. National elections are too important to allow fringe elements to wield disproportionate influence.

    That all said, these upcoming changes are better than the status quo and although Paul himself no longer will be a problem, and already has been forgotten and consigned to the ash heap of history, there is value to nipping in the bud any prospective similar fiascos. Good move by the RNC.

  4. Jeff Sexton says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Let them. Get equal ballot access, and let everyone fight for what they believe in regardless of “party”. Didn’t we get some warning about these things from the Founders? 😀

  5. Scott says:

    I don’t know if I agree. It sounds more like rigging the process to me. Insurgent campaigns do have a value in bringing out and vetting ideas. This sounds as if we may as well measure the size of the bank accounts and skip voting altogether.

  6. Gerald says:

    We shouldn’t even have elections. We should just have a few power elite in a back room deciding who our furor should be.

  7. rudderpedals says:

    Additional thoughts for both parties once the delegate gaming is done:
    1. Select a site with ample lodgings within half a mile of the venue. Examples include major metro areas and Orlando, but not Tampa.
    2. Reject locales that impose hardships on non combatant businesses or forces closure of the Division’s only federal courthouse for all purposes for a week straight

  8. PJ says:

    Changing the rules for 2016 or not won’t matter, since there will be lots more money in the 2016 elections, and then even more in the 2020 elections unless things get regulated.
    A Ron Paul kind of candidate won’t stand a chance to raise the kind of money that some billionaires are willing to write a check for in a couple of minutes.

    But regulation money in politics is regulation free speech, so there’s no mention of money anywhere in this post.

  9. dennis says:


    That’ll be “fuhrer” Gerald. We already know what the furor is . . .

  10. superdestroyer says:

    Considering that the Republicans are irrelevant today, will be a joke in 2016 that the media might not even bother to cover, and will not exist by 2020 or 20024, who cares what the Republicans do.

    As the U.S. becomes a one-party-state, the most important thing is for the Democrats to revise thier primary system so that Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries become the defacto presidential election.

    Image in January or February of 2016, where, if the same candidate wins the Democratic Party Iowa caucuses and the Democratic Party New Hampshire primary, everyone will know who will be the next president almost a year before the inaugural.

  11. Jib says:

    No way we should have to pay for this. This is a private affair, if the parties cant get good people nominated without the tax payers paying for it they should not exist.

    I think the “winner take all” is a cop out. It favors the establishment candidate and should be seen as a anti-tea party move which is exactly what it is.

    FWIW, The dems are in much better shape than the repubs when it comes to delegate selection.

    The primary system was a made for TV change that was tacked on the existing state convention system. The state parties hated it since it eliminated their biggest tool for party discipline as well as their biggest source of power with in the national party, i.e. controlling who goes to the national convention. So they mostly tried to ignore it and make sure they still controlled who goes to the national convention.

    The dems were the first to make the primaries really count in selecting the delegates with rule changes following the debacle of 68. McGovern was chairman of the rule committee and he manipulated the rules to win in 72. So they re-wrote them again and Carter ran an insurgent campaign and won in 76. Kennedy ran the same type of campaign in 80 against Carter so they re-wrote the rules again. In 84 Mondale went to the convention without the nomination locked up and after that, they re-wrote the rules again. All during these changes they had huge fights with competing state delegations showing up to be seated at the convention and lots of lawsuits every election cycle. The finally got it worked out pretty well with the test being 2008. Obama/Clinton was so close that delegate counts were strictly followed.

    The repubs never had any of this since their nomination fights tend to be over fast. So their rules are mostly still stuck in the hand-wavy “you may vote but we select the delegates” phase. Now they are just catching up with the dems.

  12. @ Doug M the shill says:

    Yeah Doug, we wouldn’t want to encourage anyone that doesn’t supporting the banks and warmongers. They might force some annoying exchange of ideas. I like it so much better when dissent and new ,dangerous ideas are silenced. Maybe we could use their ballots to locate them and send them to the shiny-new FEMA camps. I certainly would sleep better at night.

  13. insurgent says:

    Ron Paul seems to be the most eulogized man in the world. Why are YOU still talking about him if he is so irrelevant? You sound like a totalitarian.

  14. Jeremy says:

    (personally, I prefer proportional for the same reason I prefer an Electoral College system that awards Electoral Votes based on Congressional Districts.)


    Great minds truly think alike. 😀

  15. truth seeker 99 says:

    The GOP already broke every rule in the book when it perpetrated election fraud. It’s all over the net (except on this site which has to toe the party line) that the Diebold machines were rigged to favor Romney. Search ‘Evidence of algorithmic vote flipping in GOP primary’ and you’ll find a document detailing what was done. The ultimate flip-flopper, Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney’, had votes flipped in his favor.
    So the GOP will rig the machines for their preferred candidate then demand delegates back their choice.
    This is not an election, folks.
    Open primaries are the only way to ensure honest elections. The caucuses work and that is why people like Doug wants to get rid of them.
    People should gather, be allowed to stump for their candidate, vote on a paper ballot, and have all ballots remain at the precinct. Then have an open, videoed count of the votes, with watchers from each campaign standing over the shoulders of those counting, and allowing anyone who wants to watch the count be present in the audiance.
    But that would be too honest for the likes of the Dougs in the world. There wouldn’t be a change for massive rigging.
    Germany was correct when they made voting machines illegal. Why can’t Americans have legitimate elections? The neocons and progressives are killing this country.

  16. truth seeker 99 says:

    @PJ: Excellent point.
    Doug prefers candidates that are bought and paid for by Big Corp and bansksters over the choice of the people.

  17. truth seeker 99 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, I don’t think you understand Jeff’s point at all.
    Goldman Sachs owns Romney. Everyone with half a brain knows that. He’s NOT the people’s choice. Romney is owned by special interest groups, too. The banksters, Big Corp and special interests are the real fringe groups here but you apparently prefer a world ruled by them rather than what our founder’s tried to establish – a Republic.

  18. Jeremy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Will say one thing on this.

    I think what Jeff is really saying is that the taxpayer shouldn’t be forced to pay for internal party primaries, that they should be funded privately. And that I totally agree with.

  19. Dan Fitzgerald says:

    1) The GOP has no room for those of us in the Liberty Movement.

    2) There is no difference between Obamney.

    3) Gary Johnson for president. Google Gary Johnson.