Friday, January 24, 2014

RNC Passes 2016 Delegate Selection Rules Proposals

The full RNC voted early this afternoon to pass a series of changes to the national party's delegate selection rules; the rules that will govern the process by which the party selects its next presidential nominee. Neither the Rules Committee process nor the full RNC consideration today were all that contentious. In both meetings where the changes were considered -- and ultimately passed -- there were just a handful of dissenting votes.

In other words, there was some consensus within the RNC membership behind the changes that the Rules subcommittee devised and submitted for consideration at this winter meeting.

FHQ will certainly have a more robust analysis about the exact changes made in the coming week(s), but for now some reactions to, well, the reactions to these alterations.

A few of the talking points emerging in reaction to the changes are nothing new. They tend to fall in at least a couple of categories. On the one hand, there is skepticism that it will ever work in their intended fashion; in this case, to rein in not only a chaotic calendar formation process, but to tweak the overall nomination process. On the other, there are comments about the national parties fighting the last war; mistakenly making changes to account for problems from the last cycle.

I don't know. Those observations certainly aren't wrong, but in both cases, miss the all-too-important nuance. The "last war" line strikes me as off base in the narrow context of the relationship between the national parties and the states (whether state parties and/or state governments).1 Of course the national parties are fighting the last war when they assemble to devise a delegate selection plan for an upcoming presidential nomination cycle. They move forward with the uncertainty-addled information they have. This is, and has been since the 1972 cycle, an iterative and sequential process. The national parties make rules and the states (and candidates) react to those rules -- some in compliance, but some, and usually only a handful, not. Wash, rinse repeat.

Only, it really is not that simple. There is no way of testing these rules changes ahead of their implementation. The only laboratory is either the experience from previous cycles or the combination of the invisible primary and primary season for the next cycle in real time. A national party does not know and often cannot (adequately) rectify midstream (see Florida and Michigan in 2008) problems that may come up along the way. That is the sequential part of the process. The national parties have to have their rules in place so that the states can react to them, to plan for the upcoming election. Only, some states don't play by the rules, or haven't in a select set of cases over the 2008 and 2012 cycles.

And that is where the probably-warranted skepticism comes in to play. State actors may behave seemingly rationally; moving a primary up and out of compliance with national party rules under the assumption that delegate sanctions will not be enforced. That line of reasoning was used numerous times in 2012 during the formation of the Republican presidential primary calendar. But for the second consecutive cycle, the RNC actually did enforce its penalties. And this is where the national parties have become more sophisticated in their responses to rogue activity. The combination of enforcement and an incremental closing of loopholes that states have exploited in the past have made it harder to states to misbehave.

FHQ spent a lot of time in 2011 and 2012 talking about the work both parties had done to coordinate the basic structure of a presidential primary calendar. We spent still more time talking about the fact that a lack of meaningful and coordinated penalties. One of the missed opportunities in 2012 was the fact that both parties had seen the ineffectiveness of the 50% delegate reduction penalty on states. It worked for most, but some were willing to take that type of hit to their delegation in order to impact the nomination process.

States may not be similarly willing to take a much deeper cut at their delegations in 2016. Nine (in the case of small states) or twelve (for big states) total delegates is a significant reduction. But you know what is missing from a lot of the reaction pieces penned in the wake of the RNC rules changes? The Democratic Party.

Oh, sure, there are certainly some light comparative mentions -- usually having to do with the respective fields of candidates and she who must not be named -- but nothing that comes close to identifying the impact the DNC's eventual delegate selection rules will have on whether the RNC will be successful in its endeavor. On the surface, that's a strange concept. It almost sounds like the DNC would be helping the RNC. [That would never happen!] But that isn't the case. This is more a matter of shared interests -- common nuisances -- among the two national parties. If the DNC ups its penalties, for example, it would go a long way toward determining whether the RNC will get the type of primary calendar it is angling for.

But if you want potential unintended consequences, look to the potential for cross-party differences over some of the Rule 20-based changes the RNC just made. These are the rules pushing up the end of the primary process. Now sure, the RNC made allowances for waivers for Democratically-controlled states that may not be able to comply with those rules (depending on what the DNC does).

That's not all of the unintended consequences either, but FHQ will save that for another time.

The bottom line for now is that the national parties are doing exactly what one would expect them to do. While they are still susceptible to rogue states, the national parties have gotten more sophisticated in their responses to them. The traditionally-exploited loopholes have largely been closed. Want rogue states in 2016? Look at the usual suspects FHQ has been mentioning for months. It won't be Florida. It'll be Arizona, Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina.

And start looking to the end of the calendar too. We may see some creative rogue states in 2016. The reactions the curbs on late May and early June contests may provide for some unconventional "rogue" activity.

1 In the broader context of the overarching delegate selection process, there may be something to this. Again FHQ is reminded of John Sununu's comments on this at the National Association of Secretaries of State meeting in January 2013. I'm paraphrasing here, but he mentioned that national parties often tread this line of managing or controlling the delegate selection process. He said that when parties attempt to control the process rather than manage it, they often get themselves into some form of trouble. Whether what the RNC has done this week falls into the control or manage category likely is in the eye of the beholder.

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astrojob said...

My biggest question on the new rules is whether they're keeping that special one week window at the end of February in which Arizona and Michigan (and any other states that hold primaries at that time) will be able to get away with holding a primary and paying a penalty which falls short of the "super penalty". Any word on that?

Josh Putnam said...

Directly? No. I have not seen the language for the new rules, so I cannot verify yet whether that week between the last Tuesday in February and the March 1 -- the first Tuesday in March -- continues to provide the states with a little frontloading wiggle room.

However, there is some local reporting out of Michigan that seems to indicate the need for moving the primary to comply with these rules changes.

I'm awaiting word from my contacts in the RNC on the exact nature of the changes/language before I jump into analyzing it though. So stay tuned.