Monday, January 5, 2015

2016 Texas Republican Delegate Allocation Rules: A New Caveat to Consider


Last week FHQ looked closer at some of the factors surrounding the proposed SEC primary. That process left off talking about one of the two large southern states scheduled on March 1 but not officially party of the SEC primary effort, Florida. Now let's tackle the other, Texas.

The Texas presidential primary is also slated to be held on March 1, but that position, though it is the earliest the Lone Star state primary will have been contested, is less important than how delegates to the national conventions will be allocated. Texas Democrats have their Texas two-step, and now the Republican Party of Texas has made some interesting changes to their method for allocating delegates in 2016.


Perhaps Ted Cruz winning the 2016 presidential straw poll and the debate over various planks of the party platform were bigger stories coming out of the Republican Party of Texas state convention back in June of last year. There was then, however, at least some forewarning to Texas convention delegates from Republican Party of Texas chair, Steve Munisteri, about the importance of the state convention to the 2016 national convention delegate selection process the state party will undertake in a little more than a year.

How important this state convention was or will be to delegate selection in 2016 remains to be seen. There were, however, changes made to the way that the Republican Party in Texas will allocate delegates to the national convention in 2016. And there is some story in that. Let's have a look at (a timeline of) the changes. [In all cases, focus on the provisions in Rule 38.]

Prior to the 2014 state convention last June, Texas Republicans had already altered the delegate allocation/selection rules as they existed for 2012. Actually, as the Republican Party of Texas was finishing up its delegate selection for 2012 -- at its 2012 state convention -- delegates were also amending the allocation process for 2016. Gone was the proportional system of allocation (see Rule 38, Section 10).1 In its place following the adjournment of the June 2012 state convention was a plan that was a variation on the delegate selection plan utilized by Georgia Republicans in 2012.

That was the initial Texas Republican delegate selection plan for 2016. In short, if a candidate were to receive a majority of the statewide or congressional district vote, said candidate would receive all of the statewide (at-large) or congressional district delegates (from each congressional district won). Otherwise, to be eligible to receive delegates in proportional to votes won, a candidate would have to clear the 20% threshold in the statewide and/or congressional district vote.2 On the congressional district level, that would mean the top votegetter would be allocated two of three congressional district delegates and the runner-up would receive the remaining one delegate.

The intent of such a plan is to allow for a majority winner to take a disproportionate share of delegates at either the statewide or congressional district level, but also layer in some element of proportionality in both units should that majority threshold not be crossed. This a kind of unit-based proportionality; not based solely on the statewide outcome. The obvious issue is that it can be difficult to proportionally allocate just three congressional district delegates.

That allocation method carried over into the revised Republican Party of Texas rules (amended by the State Republican Executive Committee in December 2013), and the bulk of that allocation plan again got the green light from 2014 state convention delegates this past weekend.

The headlining change -- differing from the plan adopted at the state convention in 2012 -- was that Texas Republicans added a concurrent caucus process to the existing primary election. In truth, those caucuses have always been a part of the Republican delegate selection process in Texas. Yet, up until 2016 they will not have been a part of the delegate allocation process. Delegates in attendance at the 2014 state convention voted to allow one quarter of the total number of delegates apportioned to Texas by the Republican National Committee -- minus the automatic delegates3 -- to be allocated based on the results of the caucus/convention process. The (draft language of the) rule (approved by the state convention) actually calls on delegates at the presidential year state convention to "caucus by secret ballot and select a presidential candidate by majority vote to receive the entitlement of a number of at-large delegates".

In other words, the full allotment of one-quarter of the delegates (39 delegates out of 155 in 2012, for example) would go to one presidential candidate. Given the timing of the Texas state conventions of both parties -- typically early June -- this will likely mean little more than the presumptive nominee receiving a cache of Texas at-large delegates.

Much of the reporting on this change has been about how the addition of the caucuses to the Republican delegate process mimics the Texas Two-Step that Texas Democrats have traditionally used (with (in)famously contradictory results in 2008). It does to an extent. For starters, Texas law now allows the parties to allocate up to 25% of their delegates to the national convention based on something other than the primary. The Republican change is more a function of revising a delegate selection plan to conform to the leeway provided Texas Republicans by Texas state law and the RNC delegate selection rules than it is about using the Democratic method.


Functionally, though, this is an interesting change for Texas Republicans. It has something for everyone. Let's look at the new rules through the lens of the results to the 2008 Texas Republican presidential primary.4 Texas had 140 delegates in 2008 (41 at-large/statewide, 96 congressional district and 3 automatic). Using the 2008 results and the 2016 rules, this much is clear: Only John McCain and Mike Huckabee cleared the 20% threshold statewide to receive any delegates. McCain eclipsed 50% though and would have been allocated 6 at-large/statewide delegates. The remaining 35 -- again, using the 2016 rules -- would have been allocated en masse by the state convention later in the season. The congressional district delegates would have been allocated the same way because the rules regarding them are the same in 2016 as they were in 2008. If the winner receives a majority of the vote in the district, that candidate wins all three district delegates. However, if no candidate wins a majority, the top votegetter receives two delegates while the second place finisher in the district is awarded the remaining one delegate. [McCain won that district count 79-17 over Huckabee in 2008.]

But here's the thing: What about those 35 at-large/statewide delegates to be allocated to one candidate at the state convention? That's the new layer to the 2016 rules Texas Republicans will use. That's where everyone seemingly gets something out of this change (though in the end only one candidate will receive any delegates). As FHQ mentioned above, the way this is likely to work is that by the time of the Texas Republican state convention is held in June 2016, the Republican nominee will in all likelihood have been identified and the party will have transitioned into preparing for the national convention. That would leave a Texas Republican little choice but to vote for that candidate; the presumptive nominee. This is something that the establishment of the Republican National Committee if not the establishment wing of the Republican Party of Texas would like.

This was a move that had a significant level of support from the non-establishment part of the Texas Republican delegates at the 2014 state convention. Why? Why would they support something that establishment within the party was fine with? Well, let's assume for the sake of the argument that Ted Cruz wins the March 1, 2016 Texas primary. Let's also assume that a more establishment-oriented candidate does well enough in the rest of the country, but not well enough to have clinched the nomination before the Texas state convention. Suddenly that 35 delegates -- or however many it is in 2016 -- becomes somewhat important depending on the overall delegate count. [This would be a nightmare scenario for the RNC, especially with an early/earlier national convention in the works.]

This is not likely as the basic assumptions of the above exercise run counter to what has been witnessed in terms of how nominations have been secured in the post-reform era. However, that chance is probably enough for some within the Republican Party of Texas. And it is enough to to get FHQ to look at it. The better question may be to ask whether such a plan is compliant with the new RNC rules regarding the binding of delegates based on the first statewide vote in the state. That would be the primary in this new Texas plan. The answer is that it is likely fine until it isn't, meaning that it is only a problem in that divided nightmare scenario. If those remaining convention-allocated delegates go to the presumptive nominee anyway, then, no harm, no foul.

Come primary season next year, this will be an interesting asterisk to consider.

1 Even that proportional allocation went through some changes in the lead up to the 2012 Texas Republican primary. The Rule 38 amended in October 2011 called for a rather convoluted method of delegate selection with a simpler allocation and binding mechanism. Candidates under those October 2011 changes were eligible for delegates if they received over 20% of the statewide or congressional district vote. However, that 20% threshold seemed to have been removed following the February 2012 changes to the rules. The "entitlements" (allocation) rules detailed in Sections 8 and 9 of Rule 38 were struck and replaced by a new provision in Section 10, giving the state party chairman the power to "…in a manner directly proportional to the statewide presidential vote, as well as the presidential vote by congressional district, if possible, assign each delegate to represent a presidential candidate (or uncommitted)…". That late change may have meant something for the Texas delegate totals at the margins, but had no real impact on the 2012 Republican nomination race. With such a late contest -- May 29 -- Romney's haul from the Lone Star state would have pushed the former Massachusetts governor over the 1144 delegate threshold to clinch the nomination regardless.

2 There are other caveats to this as well. If only one candidate clears the 20% threshold on the congressional district level, that candidate would be entitled to all three congressional district delegates. The same sort of the provision is not in place on the statewide level for at-large delegates. There is no rule specified for such a scenario. Additionally, if no candidate wins more than 20% of the vote at the statewide level, then the at-large delegates are allocated to candidates in proportion to their statewide votes. If no candidate wins more than 20% in any given congressional district, then the top three votegetters receive one delegate each.

3 The automatic (state party) delegates are the state chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman.

4 Recall that the 2012 Texas primary was on May 29. While that was the contest that put Mitt Romney over the threshold of delegates necessary to clinch the Republican nomination, most of the other candidates had withdrawn much earlier. It was not, then, much of a contest; not for the purposes of this exercise anyway.

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