Saturday, April 11, 2009

GOP Going the Caucus Route in Oklahoma in 2012?

"They just ignore us,” [Oklahoma state GOP Vice Chairman, Cheryl Williams] said. "With the caucus system, as has been proven with other states, we actually would gain some pre-eminence back in the party.
I'll get back to that gem in a minute [because the logic there is puzzling to say the least]. But first the story.

The Oklahoma state Republican Party is meeting this next weekend in Oklahoma City to (re-)elect a chairman. No that's not that exciting, but [see there is a good part] rival factions are forming around candidates based on their support for or opposition to the party opting out of the state-funded presidential primary in 2012 to hold a caucus instead. The current chairman, Gary Jones, is against the idea, while the party's vice chair, Cheryl Williams, is for it. This isn't just about the mode of delegate selection; the split actually dates back to last year's primary and state convention. The latter had an impressive faction of Ron Paul support that now serves as the backbone of the support behind the caucus idea. This is actually a very interesting situation.

But why a caucus over a primary? And where, pray tell, does this idea that caucuses provide a state with a more advantageous position when compared with primaries. I've got to say that the political science literature does not back up that assertion (Gurian 1986, 1993). Granted, these perhaps should be updated, but the anecdotal evidence since that point tells a completely difference tale than the yarn Cheryl Williams is weaving. Sure, the Obama campaign was able to exploit the caucus rules to win the Democratic nomination, but that didn't give those states any more a significant position at the time. Ex post facto, yes, but not at the time. And it didn't really translate into any general election success either. Obama won an overwhelming majority of caucus states in the Democratic race (see Democratic map here), but that may [MAY] have only helped him in Colorado. But even that is a stretch. The president did fare better than his immediate Democratic predecessor in many of those caucus states, but Obama was doing better than Kerry across much of the country (ironically, though, not in Oklahoma).

I can only think of one reasonable explanation here. The faction within the Oklahoma GOP supporting the caucus move wants to cut ties with the date setting part of the Oklahoma state law concerning presidential primaries. In other words, here's the thought process: the state law says we get to go on the first Tuesday in February, and the national party says we can't go before then. Well, why not hold a caucus and challenge the pre-eminence of Iowa/New Hampshire? Yeah, this feels like a rogue move, and the fact that Ron Paul supporter are pushing it isn't helping that perception. But that's perhaps being unnecessarily harsh on the Texas congressman and his supporters. The Maryland GOP is still looking into holding a pre-primary caucus that would allocate a portion of the state's GOP delegates and would also jump the first in the nation caucus and primary.

Moves like these, if they come to pass, are of a type that are really going to put the onus on the parties to fix the primary problem. But this is a different challenge than Florida/Michigan. This isn't state governments challenging national party rules, but state parties challenging their national counterparts' rules. And that's entirely different kind of flying altogether.

Recent Posts:
No Caucuses? North Dakota in 2012

2008 GOP Candidate Emergence, Part 2

2008 Republican Presidential Candidate Emergence: The View Through Google Trends


Nate said...

I suspect this may represent a larger movement by disaffected GOP activists across the nation who are unhappy with how their party's nominee was chosen last year, and believe this is the best (and only) way to wrench control away from the media in choosing their party's nominee.

Jack said...

Nate, I'm assuming you mean Republicans who wanted a more conservative candidate. Josh (or Nate, if you know), is their any evidence that caucuses tend to produce a more or less liberal or conservative winner, or tend to promote candidates that are more or less "extreme" (i.e. more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans)?

Josh Putnam said...

The trouble in the GOP in 2008 was that they hadn't lined up behind one candidate at the elite level yet, nor did the "next one in line" method of nominee selection work (as McCain wasn't the consensus choice). Those are really the two hallmarks of Republican presidential nomination. When both of those factors align, the GOP is pretty successful (Reagan 1980, Bush 1988), and even when just one is present (ie: elite level support) they can be successful too (Bush 2000).

Plus, with anyone other than McCain, the GOP would have been even more summarily defeated in November than they were. It was just a Democratic year and McCain offered the best chance at victory.

[But there's less evidence that GOP voters were looking ahead to November when the majority of them selected McCain in the primaries.]

Yes, there is some research in that area (Meinke, et al. 2008). State parties/state governments open up the process to reflect the ideological diversity in their state if that diversity is reflected within the party/government. However, the less party/government ideology converges with constituent ideology, the more likely it is that the process will be closed off (whether in the form of a closed primary or caucus).

Jack said...

Did Hillary Clinton, to some degree, have both factors in place: party leadership largely lined up behind her, and she was the next in the Clinton line?

Josh Putnam said...

To some extent she did, but GOP nomination rules (read: winner-take-all) allow for an easier translation of elite level opinion to the electorate than the Democrats' rules do.

She was certainly the next in line (as long as Gore or to a much lesser degree Kerry didn't jump in), but there was a fairly large contingent on the elite level that was looking for an alternative (her war stance, general divisiveness of her general election candidacy). Obama quickly became that alternative when Edwards showed he wasn't going anywhere.

Jack said...

Just looked at the old DCW superdelegate tracker and it confirms your assertion that a large portion of the party elite was at least keeping its options open. Unfortunately the data only goes back to January 13, 2008, and of course it's all unofficial, but the majority of superdelegates were uncommitted until mid-February, the beginning of a very long lull in Clinton endorsements.

Of course, some of these early uncommitteds may be officials who were hesitant to endorse before their constituents voted, but still it shows that there was less party-elite unity behind Clinton than there was behind the Republicans you mentioned.

Nate said...

Jack, I would contend that the "factions" who are advocating a return to the caucus system are dissatisfied more with the PROCESS by which John McCain became the Nominee, as opposed to the outcome per se. As Josh so eloquently stated,
"GOP nomination rules (read: winner-take-all) allow for an easier translation of elite level opinion to the electorate than the Democrats' rules do."

Under the Republican system, many States use winner-take-all primaries to allocate National
Delegates, and many of these primaries happen very early in the process. As a result, the Media declared John McCain to be the "presumptive nominee" when Romney dropped out on February 7th, just two days after the nomination contest had officially started.

Given these parameters, (IMO) potential candidates can only "win" such a contest by acquiring vast sums of wealth and attracting a high level of media attention in many states simultaneously. In many of these states, the "campaign trail" is restricted to airport terminals.

It is also evident that many "GOP elites" have long opposed the concept of a protracted nomination, apparently because it would threaten the "appearance of unity" that they wish to maintain. And in 2008 the GOP elites got exactly what they wanted. Indeed, shortly after McCain had sewn up the nomination on the Feb. 7,

"McCain aides say that they made a conscious decision after it became clear that they had won the nomination to use weekends primarily to return their candidate to his preferred surroundings in Arizona and to have him rest, bone up on policy, and meet privately with aides, advisers, contributors and other prominent officials." (see

By Contrast, a seemingly growing contingent of grassroots Republican activists appear to be quite dissatisfied with Party elites who (they believe) exert undue influence and attempt to predetermine or otherwise control outcomes, solely to maintain "the appearance of unity" at any cost.

Of course, it now seems clear that recent efforts by GOP elites to maintain the "appearance of unity" have not succeeded.

In any event, I would contend that the "factions" in Oklahoma and other states who are advocating a return the caucus feel this is the only "concrete" way to assure their state's party has more control over the process, and that "party elites" and the media have less influence.

Josh Putnam said...

Just to add on to Nate's rules-related comment, recall that there has been some web chatter on the right about closing up the nomination process. In other words, some are concerned with the possibility of idle Democrats in open primary states casting votes in the GOP primary in 2012.

Now, we could certainly have a discussion about what type of candidate Democrats would choose (not the front-runner, someone specific). Plus this isn't necessarily the thing Paul supporters in Oklahoma are after. They aren't concerned with Democrats. They are more concerned with the state party exerting a little bit more control over the outcome of the delegate selection event (as the article I cited above indicates).