Republicans Discuss Rules Changes To Stop The Next Donald Trump

Even before the 2016 convention, Republicans are talking about possible rules changes to stop another Trump-like candidate in 2020 or beyond.

Donald Trump Victory South Carolina

The Republican National Convention has not even convened, and Republicans are already talking about how to prevent another Donald Trump from happening:

Conservatives, still reeling over the looming nomination of Donald Trump, are pushing new Republican primary rules that might have prevented the mogul’s victory in the first place: shutting out independents and Democrats from helping to pick the GOP nominee.

Trump romped in “open primaries” where non-Republicans voted by the thousands and may have influenced the outcome — especially in early states that set the tone of the entire race. Trump’s most successful rival, Ted Cruz, thrived in states with closed primaries where only Republicans were permitted to participate

Now, Cruz’s allies — hundreds of supportive convention delegates that he helped elect — hope to use the national convention in Cleveland to shove states toward closing their open primaries. And if they’re successful, it will not only go a long way toward warding off a Trump-like candidacy, it will tilt the primary toward conservative candidates in 2020 and beyond.

The advocates are finding a sympathetic ear at the very top of the party. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has long supported closed primaries, but has never had a constituency to back him on it. “I believe that only Republicans should vote in Republican primaries,” he said Friday at a Politico Playbook breakfast event, though he added that he respects the right of states to set their own primary rules.

For the conservatives, Trump’s path through the Republican primary is proof that the system needs to change.

“We now have a progressive, Trojan horse candidate that manipulated the open primary process to hijack the GOP nomination,” said Kendal Unruh, a Colorado GOP activist, said of Trump. Unruh will sit on the Convention Rules Committee, the panel that will set the terms for the 2020 presidential campaign.

(…)

A move toward closed primaries would dramatically shift the way the Republican Party chooses its leader. Most states have open primaries or hybrid systems — from permitting crossover voting, to allowing voters to register on-site, while some have no party-based registration at all. Only about a dozen states have closed GOP primaries.

Opponents of open primaries are particularly concerned about their prevalence early in the nominating calendar. After losing Iowa’s caucuses, which are only open to registered Republicans, Trump beat rivals in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Democrats and independents are permitted to cast “crossover” votes. Those victories branded Trump as the candidate to beat and knocked out several other candidates, including Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush.

Opponents of open primaries are floating a variety of proposals that would shift the balance of power toward states that restrict participation to Republicans. One, which failed at the 2012 convention, would reward closed-primary states with extra convention delegates, enhancing their power over the presidential nominating process. Another would force more closed-primary states to the front of the GOP nominating calendar, ensuring that the early leader of the contest has more GOP buy-in.

Supporters of closed primaries say it’s only logical that Republicans get to choose the Republican presidential nominee. Oklahoma GOP Chairwoman Pam Pollard, whose state held the first closed contest of the primary season this year, said open primaries are like inviting the opposing football team to choose your team’s quarterback. Pollard, as a party chair, will be an automatic delegate to the national convention.

Some say, however, that the decision should be left to the states, rather than set via a national standard.

“Wherever possible, power should flow from the bottom up rather than the top down,” said Morton Blackwell, a Virginia delegate and veteran RNC committeeman. Blackwell supports closed primaries and is pushing for one in Virginia, but he would oppose any effort to force all states to do the same.

The battle over open vs. closed primaries is one that has seemingly been fought in both major political parties every four years and, as is the case in the current discussions in the GOP, where one sits on the issue depends largely on whether or not you believe a change would benefit the group that you happen to be a part of. On one side of the argument are party stalwarts and those who are part of a committed ideological core who argue that a political party ought to be able to control who has a voice in picking its nominees and that they should be free to limit participation to those who have demonstrated some commitment to being part of the party. On the other side of the argument are those who have pointed out that an open primary allows candidates to appeal to the increasing number of people who prefer not to register as a member of one party or another, or who otherwise prefer to maintain some degree of independence from the Republican-Democratic duopoly. Open primary proponents also often point out that allowing voters to cross party lines to vote provides potentially valuable data regarding voters who can be targeted for the General Election as part of ‘Get Out The Vote’ efforts. Furthermore, open primaries ensure that candidates competing for a party’s nomination do more than just appear to a narrow ideological base in order to become a nominee for President, Senator, or Governor. Given the fact that the nominee will have to find a way to gain support outside the party in order to win a General Election in all except the most one-party states,  this would seem like something that would be advantageous for the party as a whole. Finally, there are those who argue that primaries are, at least in part, usually paid for with public funds and use public resources so closing them off to only registered party members is not fair to taxpayers, especially since state laws generally give political parties the option of using some other, more restricted, method of choosing nominees such as a caucus or convention run solely by the party using the party’s resources. If a political party wants to restrict who can participate in choosing a party nominee then, it can use a method other than a primary to do so.

Moreover, an examination of the results of the 2016  Republican race makes clear that the claim that Trump only prospered in states where there was an open primary is quite simply untrue. Yes, Trump did start out his 29 state (so far) triumph by winning in open primary states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina, and that Ted Cruz did well in states with closed primaries and caucuses. However, it’s also the case that Trump won in several important closed primary states, including Florida, New York (where voters had to have switched registration in October in order to vote in April), Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maryland. To say that Trump’s victory is solely due to success in open primary states is to miss many of the details of the win that he was able to pull off is to ignore reality.

As the linked article goes on to note, this isn’t the first time that Republicans have talked about taking on the open primary system. Four years ago, the RNC flirted with the idea of rewarding closed primary states with more delegates as a way of encouraging states and state parties to change their laws and procedures, but the proposal failed and was quickly abandoned. Given that history, it’s likely that the current proposals will suffer the same fate. This is especially true since, for the most part, any changes in who may participate in primaries would have to be approved by state legislatures and signed into law by the Governor. Even in states where Republicans control the government, this may end up being easier said than done given the interests and power bases that would be impacted by such a radical change in nomination procedures. So, don’t expect open primaries to go away any time soon.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pch101 says:

    That alleged “deep bench”, which was the subject of much GOP boasting back in 2015, bit them in the backside. The field was so diffuse that it allowed a candidate with a modest plurality and considerable opposition to win far more delegates than popular votes in early races, which then provided the momentum for a stronger performance in later primaries. (It didn’t help that all of the establishment’s favorite candidates flamed out early in the game.)

    The solution would involve running fewer but stronger candidates so that more attention and votes get funneled to fewer people. More importantly, that should be coupled with a plan to purge the cantankerous anti-establishment element of the base from the party. But this is the blowback that comes from catering to whackjobs; payback sure is a bitch.

  2. On one side of the argument are party stalwarts and those who are part of a committed ideological core who argue that a political party ought to be able to control who has a voice in picking its nominees and that they should be free to limit participation to those who have demonstrated some commitment to being part of the party.

    Political parties are already free to do this (e.g. the Libertarian Party). What they aren’t free to do is get the state to pay millions of dollars and hours of time by public officials running it for them. Either the nominating process is a private party event or it’s not.

  3. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Ohio allows primary day registration changes. So one could be a republican for all of 30 seconds to vote on a republican ballot. So if Ohio should adopt a “closed” primary, how long would have to be a registered republican before being permitted to take a republican ballot?

    I have no idea how it works in other “closed” or “semi-closed” states, but in Ohio (as an existing voter) you can only change your registration on primary day.

  4. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Either the nominating process is a private party event or it’s not.

    Agreed. IMO, the parties should either “hire” the local election boards to conduct the primary preference process or they could run the process like Dancing with the Stars or American Idol.

  5. MBunge says:

    How to stop the next Trump.

    1. Stop lying to voters, promising them things you can’t do and never intend to do.

    2. Start enforcing standards of of both personal and civic responsibility.

    3. Focus on fixing actual problems facing the actual country and stop trying to turn America into a theocracy on one hand and the Randian utopia you’ve been dreaming of since you read “Atlas Shrugged” when you were 17 on the other.

    Mike

  6. Kylopod says:

    A couple of weeks ago I was reading about the history of the modern primary system for choosing nominees, and one thing that struck me was that it developed sort of as a pendulum where the party would increase and decrease voter involvement in the process largely in reaction to whatever happened in the previous cycle. So after the disaster of the 1968 Democratic Convention where they nominated a candidate who didn’t run in the primaries and who was loathed by the rank-and-file, the Dems created the modern system where everything was centered on primaries. But after the McGovern and Carter fiascos, where candidates not supported by the elites managed to win simply by dominating the primaries, they created the superdelegates as a check on voters.

    On the Republican side, after the Goldwater fiasco the party might have been expected to fear putting the nomination in the hands of the masses. But the mostly Democrat-controlled state legislatures in the 1970s passed laws requiring even Republicans to set up primaries and caucuses more reflective of voters. So the party ended up with a system more or less similar to that of the Democrats.

    The pendulum continues to this day. After 2012 the RNC modified its rules to help an early front-runner wrap up the nomination quickly; they didn’t foresee that this would aid Donald Trump.

    Nobody’s going back to the smoke-filled rooms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if after this election the RNC opts for superdelegates like the Dems. (They already have “unbound delegates,” just not anywhere near as many as the Dems.) The thing is, if the Dems ever were to have the superdelegates toss out a candidate who was the clear winner in pledged delegates, as Bernie wants them to do now and as Clinton tried to get them to do eight years ago, it would probably be a disaster for the party. You can’t put the process in the hands of voters and then take it away from them when you don’t like the results–not without facing serious repercussions. That’s one of the main reasons why those Republicans wishing for a brokered convention this year finally folded.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    In this case I’m sympathetic to the Repubs. This is a process to chose a party’s candidate after all, and by making it a pure “plurality rules” outsiders can take over the party and run it into the ground. This is exactly what happened to Ross Perot’s political party, which survived his run for a couple of cycles until some consultants figured out it had a big treasury and took it upon themselves to get a nominee they backed selected and then proceeded to pay themselves every dime in the bank to work on a losing campaign. People that have a strong commitment to a party SHOULD have more of a say in who the candidate is. If they chose a fool they can’t run away from it.

  8. edmondo says:

    The GOP should invent “super-delegates” who have the power to overrule actual voters. It’s working for the Democrats — at least until November..

  9. Kylopod says:

    @edmondo: Hillary is leading in both popular votes and pledged delegates. The superdelegates aren’t overruling the actual voters but supporting their choice. It is Bernie who is calling upon the superdelegates to choose the candidate who didn’t win the most votes in the primaries and caucuses. So what are you on about?

  10. Jen says:

    New Hampshire would probably be better described as a semi-open (or semi-closed). Those registered as undeclared can pull either ballot, but if you are registered as a Republican or a Democrat, you cannot pull a ballot of the other party. If you want to switch from party affiliated (R or D) to “undeclared” you can do so, but that window shuts a month or two before the primary itself. NH has a large number of undeclared voters (40% I believe), I think sometimes the reporting gets a little sloppy and it’s inferred that we have a completely open system here when that isn’t really accurate.

    I understand the concerns and to large part sympathize with party officials–but I can’t see NH changing its rules any more than I see them changing the law that says we have the first primary–largely because the current system here generates an enormous amount of participation, I’m fairly certain primary participation voting rates here are the highest in the country as a percentage of the registered voter population.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    The GOP should invent “super-delegates” who have the power to overrule actual voters. It’s working for the Democrats — at least until November..

    Perhaps you could provide links to information proving that actual voters are being overruled…maybe in your warped world Bernie Sanders is actually getting more votes than Hillary Clinton…

  12. Kylopod says:

    Somebody needs to coin a word for the immutable belief, unaffected by election results, that the candidate one supports is the choice of the “people.”

  13. Andre Kenji says:

    If Primaries are Public Affairs, meaning that they are General Elections Part One, then the Louisiana/California System(Basically, the same thing as the two rounds of voting of France and some Latin American countries) is the only system that makes sense. The system that exists today is a mess, in general sense is a partisan election with low turnout.

    For the RNC as the system exists today, the suggestions of a shorter Primary season(Meaning that the last state votes two months after Iowa) and of a National Runoff are interesting. If I were consulting Reince Priebus that´s the system that I would recommend.

  14. Joe says:

    @Kylopod farther above: All of these rule systems are reactive to a prior player and gamable by a future player. Different interest groups win under different rules, but it is impossible to predict in advance which group/person that will be. It’s a fool’s errand.

    @Kylopod just above: Or the elected official you now have, but don’t personally agree with is no longer the choice of the “people.”

  15. What were the big exploits that Trump used to get to a dominating position in delegates?

    a) Amazingly fractured field
    b) Winner take all or Winner take most
    c) Delegates allocation is vastly disproprotionate to actual Republican vote #s within districts (see WI-4 vs. Bronx NY CD both with 3 delegates or Northern Marianas with 9 delegates for 450 voters)
    d) Strong plurality deadset against Trump for most of the cycle but segmented among many candidates.

    A— the rule changes can’t do much here.

    B and C could be rule change sensitive. D needs a voting system change to multi-mark voting through either approval voting or Instant Runoff Voting

  16. stonetools says:

    I had a belly laugh again at the talk of the “deep Republican bench” and what went wrong. What went wrong was that the voters didn’t like what the candidates were selling, which was the standard Republican ideology that deep tax cuts for the rich, unregulated free markets and unlimited free trade would result in a booming economy and wealth trickling down to the base. Instead, the exact opposite happened and the base knows this (the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath was a harsh teacher). The situation was ripe for Trump to to come in and emphasize the only part of the Republicans gospel which was really popular-white nationalism-and ally it with a kind of mercantilism and support for New Deal social welfare protections, which inordinately benefited older whites. Ally that with the collapse of social conservatism as a unifying force and you have the triumph of Trump.
    Frankly, I sincerely doubt that tinkering with the nominating process will help the Republicans. What they need to do is to rethink what they really stand for. If they don’t, then they will spiral down to further disaster.

  17. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Kylopod: We already have a word for that belief–delusion.

  18. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @stonetools:

    Frankly, I sincerely doubt that tinkering with the nominating process will help the Republicans. What they need to do is to rethink what they really stand for.

    This! True conservative or not (and I would guess not) Trump succeeded because he pandered to the cultivated anger of the base much better than Cruz or the others could. We forget over the decades of the campaign (ok, it only seems like decades) that “the conservatives (TM)” were not falling over themselves to repudiate Trump and his pronouncements (with the exception of JEB!, and we see how well that worked), but rather to claim that they were the one’s who could get it done not Trump. Whether they want to admit it or not, Trump is the reflection of what “true conservative” looks like.

    And how’s that for irony?

  19. David M says:

    Trump had a solid polling lead through most of the primary season. Why shouldn’t he have ended up with the nomination? Rule changes aren’t going to fix that problem, and even if they could, I’m not sure it would be a good idea.

    The only long term solution for Trump and next-Trump is for the conservative entertainment complex and the GOP to return to reality. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not seeing another option.

  20. Nikki says:

    @Kylopod:

    Somebody needs to coin a word for the immutable belief, unaffected by election results, that the candidate one supports is the choice of the “people.”

    Fringism

  21. Scott F. says:

    What @MBunge says.

    I’d only add:

    4. Cut loose the hardcore xenophobes and racists. They don’t merit a voice in a coalition of a major American political party.

  22. grumpy realist says:

    Based on The Donald’s recent antics, it looks like the easiest way to stop anyone like him is to insist that the last 10 years of tax returns must be made public…..

  23. Tillman says:

    On the other side of the argument are those who have pointed out that an open primary allows candidates to appeal to the increasing number of people who prefer not to register as a member of one party or another, or who otherwise prefer to maintain some degree of independence from the Republican-Democratic duopoly.

    Honestly the main reason I remain unaffiliated is to avoid the advertising.

  24. Barry says:

    @MBunge: “Start enforcing standards of of both personal and civic responsibility.”

    The problem is that the people with the loudest voices are precisely those who scorn any standards.

  25. humanoid.panda says:

    The irony of this is, of course, that traditionally, open primaries were very useful for the establishment for stopping the Cruzes, Robertson, and Huckabees from getting too far- and in fact, Trump won the nomination with exactly the same coalition which carried the day for Romney: moderates, independents, not-very-religious rightists. And that’s the rub of it: when in the end, 70% of your electorate consists of flaming racists and//or religious fanatics, you can’t fix it by dicking around with rules.

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    Ah, the GOP…. much like the US military, always preparing to fight the last war.

    They should take notes from the Democrats. They managed to rig things for Hillary well enough to head off Sanders…

  27. rachel says:

    @Tillman: I’m unaffiliated and they still bug me.

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @stonetools:

    What they need to do is to rethink what they really stand for.

    It’s a nice thought, but extremely contrary to human nature. People don’t rethink what they stand for very often, at least not as adults. The GOP is a coalition of people who stand for greed bordering on solipsism, people who stand for forcing other people to stop sinning, and people who don’t wish to recognize that they failed in spite of being given a head start.

    Rumor has it that once upon a time there were conservatives with actual principles that weren’t thinly disguised racism or sexism or complacency. G. K. Chesterton died in 1936… was he the last?

  29. An Interested Party says:

    They should take notes from the Democrats. They managed to rig things for Hillary well enough to head off Sanders…

    So typical…peddling the most mendacious horse$hit in an attempt to poison the well…some things never change…

  30. MBunge says:

    @Barry:

    The problem is that people don’t enforce standards because it’s hard and society no longer supports them in doing so.

    There’s been quite a few folks advancing this or that theory for how to defeat or take down Trump. But the way you beat someone like Trump isn’t by attacking him this was instead of that. You beat Trump by acting like a grown up and enforcing standards, but no one wants to be a grown up and the eviceration of authority, while producing some very good results, has left us a world where only people on the extremes feel comfortable enforcing standards on anyone.

    For pete’s sake, Donald Trump was a Birther! How did we get to this point without that nonsense being a major issue? It’s because it was tolerated for so long by so many that you can’t bring it up without implicating them all. And I don’t just mean the Republicans who enabled or refused to condemn it. I also mean the media and general political establishment which allowed the GOP to play that game.

    Mike

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @Pch101:

    More importantly, that should be coupled with a plan to purge the cantankerous anti-establishment element of the base from the party.

    Who do they get to replace half their voters?

  32. al-Ameda says:

    I’m sympathetic to Reince’s notion that a primary election should be closed, and should be for party members only.

    This June, California has an open primary race for the first time in decades, and the feature race is for the Senate seat vacated by Barbara Boxer. The top two vote-getters go on to the general election in November. Right now polling shows that it is most likely that two Democratic Party women will make it through, and no Republican will be on the ballot in November. The biggest (most populous) state in the Union and no Republican on the ballot? Wow.

  33. MBunge says:

    @al-Ameda: The biggest (most populous) state in the Union and no Republican on the ballot? Wow.

    On the other hand, Democrats have completely dominated CA politics for a couple decades and in that time, the only significant political figures to come out of CA during that time have been Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and various right-wing GOP Congressmen.

    Mike