Thursday, September 4, 2008

Presidential Primary Reform: Still Alive with the GOP?

In the on again, off again world of politics nothing is ever dead. If you wait long enough, something may actually happen you previously thought impossible. Or to steal a line from last night's speeches, "If you don't give up you can't be defeated." [FHQ's mind is failing right now to accurately attribute that quote. I've seen a speech or two these last two weeks. If I'm lucky, one of our ever-loyal readers will come to my assistance. If not, I'll be called Joe Biden and my political career will be over. Such is life. Back to frontloading.] That's true in this case as well. I spent last week and the weekend railing against the Republican Party for once again failing to do anything regarding presidential primary reform (See here, here, here and here). Ah, but the proponents of reform within the party were not yet ready to let the cause die before 2012. While they did pass a plan to basically maintain the status quo for 2012 (Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina go first and everyone else can go no earlier than the first Tuesday in March.), embedded within the new rules describing the formation of a commission similar to the one the Democrats pushed through at their convention last week.

This is actually fairly monumental. The fact that the GOP is allowing for the rules governing the selection of delegates and thus presidential nomination to be altered outside of the convention setting is a big step toward dealing with the frontloading issue. Frontloading is a problem that requires some flexibility from a rule-making body tasked with dealing with it. That the GOP could only confront frontloading and the primary process at their convention, deprived them of the ability to adapt if need be to the changes on the ground (like in Michigan and Florida in 2008). They now have that flexibility and can wait and see how large a contingent of states attempts to move and/or violate the rules for 2012. That's a low threshold and doesn't really confront reform, but I think the GOP will be resistent to anything but the status quo unless something like Florida or Michigan repeats itself in the lead up to 2012. As I've said, with only one party likely active during primary season in four years, the number of states seeking to move their primaries and caucuses to advantageous dates is likely to go down. If the number of states attempting to move (or balking at the idea of having to move back to March after jumping to February in 2008) is small and/or within the rules, the Republicans are likely to ride it out and wait for 2016 if they have to.

Having said that, if McCain loses in November, he won't have the sway over the rules-making powers within the party as he did ahead of this current convention. Remember, Ohio plan supporter and Ohio GOP chair, Bob Bennett was pointing the finger at McCain for the plan's failure to pass the party's rules committee. With that intervention removed, they may actually be able to pull off something meaningful (...if they are so inclined). But that is a huge hurdle removed from the process.

I think that both parties have to work together to make that meaningful though. If both parties can go to the states with a unified plan, it is much stronger than if they do it separately. Mixed messages regarding reforms gives states the excuse to fall back on the status quo, one where they really hold all the cards (hold the relative freedom to decide when they hold their contests).

It is interesting that this should come to light (at least my light) today. The Caucus just this morning had a post up examining the Mitt Romney in 2012 question. Now, let's do a quick exercise here. Let's assume that McCain fails to top Obama in November. [I know. Sorry GOPers. I'm thinking of the future here, though.] Let's further assume that both Romney and Huckabee run again. Yes, this ignores the possibility of Sarah Palin throwing her hat in the ring, but let's focus on the two known quantities -- in terms of presidential primaries -- for the time being. We can add Palin into the mix if you like in the comments section. Anway, which of the two does better under which system?

First, the status quo system: All other things equal, we would expect Huckabee to win in Iowa again and in South Carolina. Romney, due to his roots in Utah and in Massachusetts would likely have advantages in Nevada and New Hampshire. So the two are "tied" heading into Super Tuesday on March 6, 2012. [Yeah, this is kind of silly, but bear with me here. Only one political scientist has a Crystal Ball.] Conventional wisdom tells us that the candidate with the most money would have the advantage as Super Tuesday approaches. I would argue that that favors Romney in large part because of his personal wealth. But hey, we could have a caucus sitation like we had among Democrats in 2008. Both Romney and Huckabee did well in caucuses this time around, so that could be considered a wash. Though, it should be pointed out that Romney nearly swept the caucuses on February 5, 2008.

And a reformed system? Let's assume that Bob Bennett and the other reformers get their way and the Ohio plan becomes guiding rule behind the 2012 process. The Favored Four go first still, and break the same way as under the status quo system. The two emerge tied going into the small states primary. On the one hand, the fact that the smallest states are up next so as to nurture retail politics is something that plays to Huckabee. On the other, the fact that you have campaign in a series of states that, while not large, are not lumped into one geographic area. It is unlikely then that either candidate would sweep those states. Like in 2008 then, each would have to pick and choose their spots. Let's look at the map:
[Click Map to Enlarge]

The states in green are the ones to look at here. And that happens to be a lot of Western states, states where Romney did very well in 2008. He was not in the race for several, but he won caucuses in Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Alaska and Wyoming. Among the small states, Huckabee only did won in West Virginia and the Romney folks would argue that the Huckabee and McCain campaigns were in cahoots to prevent Romney from winning there. On the surface then, it would appear that Romney would have a real good start under either system. If Huckabee and Palin (or any other potential candidate in 2012) begins railing against such a system pre-emptively, we'll have a pretty good early indication of who might do well (...or who the party appears to be coalescing behind.)

*A tip of the cap to Don Means at for bringing the story to my attention.

Recent Posts:
Why Attack the Community Organizer?

The Electoral College Map (9/3/08)

A Follow Up on the 50% Mark: The View from 2004


Robert said...

I suspect that Palin would do very well in the green states. One factor in her candidacy would be if, during the campaign, she was consider a lift or drag to the McCain candidacy.

Anonymous said...

Blame attribution for a loss would be huge. In the same way that we've talked about Hillary Clinton possibly being blamed for an Obama loss in November (at least prior to last week), Palin treads that very same fine line. If she's made the scapegoat for a McCain loss, it would make a run for the top of the ticket more difficult.

Robert said...

The true believers still love her and would blame the press. One of them was being interviewed on NPR the other night and indicated that she would support Palin in 2012. The interviewer was shocked and blurted out "What about John McCain?" and the true believer said something to the effect "Oh yeah, him."