Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Republicans and the 2012 Calendar

It must be April Fool's Day or something because the content around FHQ has been decidedly 2012 today. [See, I'm even using numbers as adjectives now.] Anyway, no sooner did Rob bring up the idea of presidential nomination reform in the comments to the Kansas post below than it came out that the Republican rules committee is meeting in New Mexico to discuss the primary calendar for 2012. And you have to love the sources for the stories on the subject: the Manchester Union-Leader and the Detroit News. On the one hand, you have a paper from the accustomed primary process top dog, New Hampshire, and on the other, a publication originating from occasional malcontent, Michigan.

Why so hard on Michigan?

Oh, they're not so bad. They've just been the face of the discontent with the favored positions Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed quadrennially in the post-reform era (and before).

Well, what about Florida?
They moved too. Yeah, but they don't have a history of trying to rock the boat like Michigan. Sure both states moved to positions in violation of both parties' rules for 2008, but Michigan has done this before. The state actually voted on delegates to a binding January 1988 Republican state convention in the late summer of 1986 (see here and here for more)! How's that for frontloading? Voting in 2011 doesn't seem so bad now.

Better yet...how's that for going off on a tangent?

So the GOP is meeting to discuss various reform ideas for the 2012 calendar. Most of them appear to be a collection of regional primary plans. And as I stated in the comments of the Kansas post, I'm not a big fan. Some of the fairness issues are solved for the states but remain for all but the best-financed candidates. In the absence of retail politics in Iowa and New Hampshire, the playing field is tilted even further in the direction of the front-running candidates. On top of that, you introduce regional advantages for candidates as well. What problems does it solve? What problems does it create? The latter outweighs the former in my opinion.

Fine, what is a better plan then? There are two routes to take:
1) Leave it alone. Most of the states that moved to February 5 for 2008 did so permanently. Are they likely to move again is the question though? I've looked into this in my research and have found mixed results. States that move, are more likely to move again, but only if the rules change to allow it. When the earliest possible point to hold a nominating contest is moved, states that have moved in the past are more likely to move again. We probably won't see the window moved any earlier than the first Tuesday in February in 2012, and that means that all the states that were on that date in 2008 will likely be there again in 2012. The early state legislative action on this front for 2012 so far has indicated that other states looking into a move are not considering anything ahead of that point. Well, Kansas is, but we're talking three days ahead of it and not three weeks before that point like Michigan was this time around. I just don't see any other renegade states willing to queue up to be the next Florida or Michigan--to gamble taxpayer money on a potentially empty contest. The "leave it alone" approach gets the system closer to a national primary which still offers an uneven playing field for the candidates. Oh, but this is the cheapest option too. Sure, that sounds petty and somewhat cynical, but you can't underestimate that fact.

Let us not forget that there will more than likely be an incumbent running in 2012. That means that the "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" attitude that could have been in play in state legislatures and state governments among partisans of all stripes this cycle will potentially be displaced by the "you want me to help your party pick someone to beat our guy" mindset. States then, with a unified state government controlled by the party outside of the White House could have a leg up on other states.

2) The American Plan. Thomas Gangale's plan is the plan I'd endorse if the decision were up to me. It is lottery-based and favors the small states being first; not necessarily Iowa and New Hampshire, but small states that allow for some form of retail politics. The system also allows for the big states--most notably California--to go as early as the fourth interval. Each interval is a two week period and there are ten intervals in all. The result is a twenty week season that starts in mid-February and ends in late June. This plan acts to end the compression that frontloading has brought on and removes the chaotic aspect of the process that has turned people off.

Only one of the plans on the table in New Mexico for the GOP is lottery-based though and I have no idea whether that is the American Plan or a modified version of it. If a vote takes place on the issue it will be tomorrow.


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