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