Wednesday, August 3, 2011

With RNC Considering Tougher Penalties, Will Rogue States Call Their Bluff?

We have seen this all before. And now just four years after the Democratic National Committee failed in its attempt to coax Florida -- and later Michigan -- into alignment with the national party rules governing the timing of delegate selection events, the RNC seems poised to potentially go down the same road. Via Peter Hamby at CNN:
According to RNC rules ratified in 2010, if any of those states jump the line and hold an electoral contest before March 6, their delegations to the Republican National Convention would be sliced in half.

But with those states showing little sign of backing down - and with the four early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina vowing to protect their cherished status by moving their caucuses and primaries into January of 2012 - members of the RNC Rules Committee are planning to offer a resolution Thursday to strengthen the penalties.

Rules Committee members now want to take advantage of a clause in RNC bylaws that would strip offending state delegations of their VIP guest passes and guest privileges at the 2012 convention in downtown Tampa, along with banishing the delegations to inferior seating locations in the convention hall and the worst hotels in the Tampa Bay area.

The rule referred to is the same Rule 16.e.3 that FHQ has brought up several times (including this morning) in the post-Arizona-on-January-31 world in which the 2012 primary calendar's development has been thrown. That rule gives the Standing Rules Committee within the RNC the latitude to increase the penalties on states in defiance of the national party rules. And the Rules Committee is on the cusp of considering and passing a resolution on Thursday to tighten the screws on states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Michigan which have publicly considered going earlier than the March 6 set aside by both parties as the earliest date on which non-exempt states can hold primaries or caucuses.

But here's the thing: This is so uncannily like the Democratic struggle four years ago that the thought is difficult to shake. It was in late August 2007 that the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee increased the penalty from 50% to 100% of the delegation for states challenging the party rules on primary timing. Neither those rules nor the Republican rules did much to push Florida off its path and later Michigan from theirs. Now, of course, Florida was controlled by the Republican Party in 2007 -- as it is today -- and as such, the DNC rules change did little to affect the plans put in place by the Republican Party of Florida. Similarly, Michigan's legislature, with bipartisan support passed the bill to move the Wolverine state primary to January 15.

As Hamby in his CNN piece mentions, the first reaction is that the types of additional penalties being considered appear trivial; trivial to the average layperson. The resolution that seems at the ready for consideration does have some real bite to it and is consistent with a comment FHQ got off the record in a conversation with someone within one of the early state Republican Parties. The quote came in the context of Florida moving early enough to push the early four states into December -- a notion that pre-Arizona seemed a bit more outlandish. "They [Florida] would be sitting with Guam [at the convention]."

And while the RNC is serious about that, FHQ is left to wonder if that will be enough. Earlier in the year when the talk in Florida was about moving away from January 31 or not -- before the bill creating the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee was introduced -- Republicans in the Sunshine state appeared ready to call any and all bluffs from the national party. Florida House Speaker Cannon and Senate President Haridopolos as various points in sticking up for the January 31 Florida primary essentially dared the RNC to come down hard on a state and state party that was set to not only host the Republican convention, but to be vital t the party's chances of winning back the White House in the general election.

We may be back to square one then. Florida (and Arizona and Michigan) daring the RNC to threaten the very activists that will be the foot soldiers in the fall 2012 campaign against President Obama. Will the states blink at the RNC threatening to give them horrible convention seating and hotels? Perhaps, but they may also thumb their noses at the party knowing full well that they [Arizona, Florida and Michigan] are on the big electoral college boards at both national parties and at Obama headquarters in Chicago. The states do have that bit of leverage.

So, the RNC Rule Committee will have to ask itself before sitting down to consider and vote on this resolution tomorrow: Do we really want to get into that sort of protracted national party/state party fight throughout the rest of this year and into primary season next year? Do we really want that weight on our shoulders in a year where the president -- of the opposite party -- is looking more and more vulnerable due to the economic situation confronting the nation? That is a tough one to ponder and there are no easy answers; not even the one the RNC Rules Committee thinks it has stumbled on.


astrojob said...

I guess the relevant question is "Who is making the decisions in each state, and what are their incentives?" In the case of Jan Brewer in Arizona, why would she care about VIP guest passes and seating locations? Her reason for setting an early date is so that she personally can play kingmaker.

She would presumably love to be in the same situation as Charlie Crist in January 2008 (as would every other governor in the country). Crist's endorsement of McCain was seen as crucial in Florida, and in the overall nominating process, and the fact that Florida had a 50% delegate penalty was irrelevant, because Florida was more important for generating momentum for McCain going forward than it was for its delegates.

Thus, I would think that the only penalties that would really influence Brewer would be penalties that actually cause the candidates and the media to pay less attention to Arizona than they would if its primary was set at a later date. But is there anything that can do that other than a 100% delegate penalty?

Josh Putnam said...

This is an excellent additional point. Neither Brewer nor Brian Kemp in Georgia are necessarily directly influenced by elites within the state parties that would be affected by this proposed rules change. That said, I think it is probably foolish to think that they are not getting input from those types of people. But still...

As far as additional penalties that would actually tamp down on the type of attention these states are seeking, something similar to the Democrats' penalties might do the trick. In addition to the 50% penalty on states, the DNC penalizes any candidate who campaigns in a state defying the national party rules. Said candidate would receive no delegates from that state at the convention. The rules (Rule 20.C.1.b) are not clear on this, but the delegates that would have gone to that candidate are presumably left unpledged heading into the convention.

It is a shame that we cannot observe whether that type of penalty is effective in 2012. It did keep the Democratic candidates out of Florida and Michigan in 2008. I suspect the RNC will strongly consider adopting a similar rule for 2016. Overall the key is that states want attention from the candidates and media and stripping delegates in no way (or at best in a limited way) affects that pursuit. Curbing attention is the key and penalizing candidates is the only way to seemingly address that.

Great point, MP. Thanks.