Tuesday, September 29, 2015

So the RNC is Floating the Idea of a New Presidential Primary Order?

Tim Alberta has an interesting item up at the National Journal today. In it, Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, indicates that he and others in the party are open to a discussion about "wheth­er or not the same old or­der and the same old sys­tem is the best sys­tem for how we choose nom­in­ees of our party".

In a broad sense, this is nothing new. The national parties do this every four years. Both the DNC and RNC revisit the rules of the just completed cycle and tend to revise them when and where they see the need to correct the perceived problems of the past. In other words, the national parties usually fight the last war.

But what Priebus is suggesting is a more thorough examination of the process before 2020. One that, the end goal of which, may be to introduce a fundamentally different system. He raises the type of rotating regional primary system that bears some resemblance to the one the National Association of Secretaries of State have pushed for years.1 Priebus also brought up the kind of lottery system (to determine primary and caucus order on the calendar) that is seen in system proposals like the American Plan.

Before everyone jumps on the bandwagon of change or, worse yet, folks in Iowa and New Hampshire start to freak out because they aren't "sacred cows" anymore, let's take a step back and look at the institutional impediments that will very likely stand in the way of such sweeping changes.

The first and largest impediment is that the RNC can change all it wants, but a changed system is really never going take hold unless there is similar buy-in from the DNC. When the national parties coordinate these types of changes, even if only in an informal way, they tend to institutionalize both more quickly and in a more lasting way. There is some evidence to suggest that when they don't offer a united front against the states -- both state parties and state governments -- the states can use that inter-party division over the rules of the game against the national parties and to their (the states') own advantage.

Take, for example, the roguery of the last couple of cycles. Actors in both Florida and Michigan called the national parties' bluff in 2007 and moved their respective primaries into positions on the calendar that broke with the guidance in the national party delegate selection rules. Other than a 50% penalty that those states and others were willing to take in order to have an early influence on the nomination race, the RNC looked the other way. The DNC, on the other hand, exercised the party rule that gave its Rules and Bylaws Committee the discretion to increase the severity of their own 50% penalty.

The rules were similar in both parties, but the penalties were different. Some Republican-controlled states used that mismatched rules regime across the two national parties to their advantage and wreaked some level of havoc with the presidential primary calendar in 2008.

The reaction for 2012 was that both parties agreed to a later start date -- not January -- but the Republican Party did not increase its 50% penalty to enforce that start point. The result was a repeat of the 2008 calendar chaos. If states were willing to take the 50% hit in 2008, then they were just as willing to take it again in 2012. The RNC learned that lesson after 2012 and synced the severity of their penalty -- the new super penalty -- with the potential severity of the DNC penalty. That has yield a much calmer primary calendar formation for the 2016 cycle.

Lesson learned.

That said, there are lessons to be gleaned from that process that might also inform us about how likely we are to see a significant change to the way that the Republican Party nominates its presidential candidates in the future. If the RNC makes those changes and the DNC does not also make a similar move, then Democratic-controlled states are going to be differently motivated than Republican-controlled states. If Democratic-controlled states don't play along, then those states get left out of the lottery or regional sequence.

Now, the obvious counter to that is that the RNC could just penalize those states into submission. They were willing to do that to keep states in line on the calendar for 2016, right? That move is less effective if the Democratic Party is pulling the strings at the state level. They are not dissuaded by penalties that will not affect them or their candidate. Instead, a new system without DNC buy-in might lead to Republican state parties in Democratic states abandoning non-compliant primary elections for compliant caucuses that they control (and for which the state parties pick up the tab).

That brings in a whole host of issues related to participation that may bring unintended consequences into the process that the RNC does not want.

The other factor that works against fundamental system change ties into that notion of unintended consequences. No one likes that Iowa and New Hampshire always go first other than folks in Iowa and New Hampshire. But from the national party perspective, sometimes you go with the devil you do know versus the devil you don't know. Neither national party may like that Iowa and New Hampshire go first, but they do like that they have a pretty good idea after over 40 years of repeated experimentation how Iowa and New Hampshire (and now Nevada and South Carolina) will go. The parties don't have certainty there, but there is less uncertainty with Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the line than if they were to substitute North Dakota and Vermont in their place, for instance (or really any other combination of the other 48 states).

It is that uncertainty that often forces the national parties back the status quo, or if not the status quo then using it as a baseline from which to tweak the rules. There is a reason that the DNC added Nevada and South Carolina to the mix in 2008. Replacing Iowa and New Hampshire proved too difficult, so they opted to add a couple of states that brought in some regional and racial diversity to the beginning of the calendar.

Would a rotating regional primary system help produce a better Republican presidential nominee? Would the American plan? Perhaps, but the only way to find out is to test them out. And the parties cannot do that in a lab. They cannot determine in advance that there will not be unintended negative consequences beforehand. That test only happens in real time during primary season, and the impact is uncertain.

Existing institutions are hard to uproot when the alternative does not offer sure fire sure thing results. That is why the national parties continue to collectively -- internally -- come back to the status quo. They tend to be unable to collectively agree on a substitute that offers any more certainty than the current system. That is why there are only ever incremental changes to the delegate selection rules.

It is a popular question these days in the context of the 2016 presidential race, so FHQ will pose it here in this discussion as well: Maybe 2020 will be different. What if the rules making for 2020 is different?

Well, everything above speaks against the type of fundamental, sweeping change that Chairman Priebus describes. However, there is precedence here. The Democratic Party after 1968 tore the house of cards down and rebuilt a new system around primary and caucus results impacting delegate allocation and thus the membership of the national convention that nominates a presidential candidate. They made that change unilaterally.2 Republicans only joined in later when state laws in Democratic-controlled states had some influence on the Republican presidential process in 1976.  The RNC, more or less, got forced into the new system. It was too convenient and too politically costly not to be a part of the new system.3

After 40 years, the RNC may be able to return the favor, leading the charge in changing the nomination system. It is not inconceivable. But it is still likely dependent on Democratic Party buy-in. If the DNC or Democrats generally perceive that the system the RNC institutes or wants to institute benefits the Republicans, then the DNC might be drawn in to changing as well.

There is a pretty good parallel for this in 2016. The RNC codified presidential primary debates limitations in their rules for the 2016 cycle. While the DNC did not craft specific rules for their own debates, they did follow suit in limiting the overall number of debates. Both national parties shared the view that the limits carried with them some utility to the overall nomination process.

That may or may not happen with the overall delegate selection rules for 2020. To bring about big changes the national parties have agree on something more than just getting rid of Iowa and New Hampshire. But just that sort of incremental change may be something the parties can collectively bring about. That is in line with what we know about the how the institutions of this process tend to operate.

1 NASS did recently drop its recommendation of the rotating regional primary system, but not because it no longer supported it. Rather, the system had failed to gain traction and the recommendation was not having any perceived impact.

2 And it helped that most of the state legislatures in the country were also controlled by the Democratic Party. Those states had incentive to play along with the changes. It should be noted that Republicans hold a similar level of advantage in state capitals across the country now. That may be to the national party's advantage in implementing a new system.

3 The newly powerful and proliferating primaries provided a cheaper, state-run and state-fund mechanism for producing results that could be used for delegate allocation. It was also potentially foolish for the Republican Party to sit on the sidelines and watch Democrats invite more people into the nomination process (higher turnout in primaries than in caucuses), thus engaging them for later during the general election.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Trouble Seems to be Brewing in North Carolina

North Carolina may or may not be a microcosm of the national Republican Party, but one thing is for sure, the disagreements between the two chambers in the North Carolina General Assembly are not confined to just the legislature. Now, Governor Pat McCrory and the Republican Party in the Tar Heel state are involved, and the presidential primary is at the heart of at least one of the feuds (for lack of a better term).

The controversial presidential primary legislation that narrowly passed the House after a less contentious trip through the Senate last week has drawn the ire of both the governor and the North Carolina Republican Party. Neither is seemingly pleased with the rider added to HB 373 during conference committee stage that has opened the door to legislative caucuses creating campaign committees to raise money (thus circumventing the state parties). That raises the potential for a veto though Governor McCrory can allow the bill to become law without his signature as well. A veto would mean that North Carolina would not shift into a March 15 primary date and would end up non-compliant with Republican National Committee delegate selection rules (tethered to the South Carolina Republican primary).

To top it all off, the North Carolina Republican Party Executive Committee voted over the weekend to stick with the proportional delegate allocation method the party has traditionally used throughout much of the post-reform era. Assuming that HB 373 is signed or becomes law, that would be at odds with the new primary law that calls for a winner-take-all allocation of delegates. As FHQ explained then:
Finally, the winner-take-all language would come into some conflict with the rules of the North Carolina Republican Party regarding delegate allocation if passed. The party rules do defer to both national party rules and state statute (which the winner-take-all provision would be if passed and signed into law), but do call for the proportional allocation of national convention delegates based on the results of the presidential primary. Yet, RNC rules give precedence to state party rules in those cases of these types of disputes. And while those issues between the state party rules, the national party rules and the likely new state statute have not necessarily been squared, there are no signs of any storm clouds on the horizon. The state party is not raising any concerns over this legislative change at this point. And it is unlikely to with the RNC deadline to finalize delegate selection plans looming next week.
Well, now it appears there are some storm clouds. The bill, should it become law, does not provide cover to the state party because the only out is if there is a conflict with national party rules. If North Carolina had, by law, a winner-take-all, March 15 presidential primary, then that winner-take-all allocation would be compliant with the RNC rules. There is no national party violation there. Thus there would be no out for the North Carolina Republican Party under the presumed law. And unless the North Carolina Republican Party Executive Committee changed the wording of the party rules deferring to state statute, then it is stuck with a winner-take-all allocation.

Well, it is stuck unless the state party wants to take the state to court over the presumed new law. That route costs money and also takes time. Both are important, but with an election looming, that is potentially more time than is likely needed to keep the decision of the primary in limbo. The outcome is likely to favor the party -- freedom of association and all -- but the bigger question is the wait for all interested parties concerned. Keep in mind the filing window for the March 15 primary is set for the first three weeks of December. If that February option for the presidential primary comes back on the table, that pushes things up in to November at least another three weeks.

The other option is to take the conflict to the RNC credentials committee heading into the national convention next summer. RNC rules give precedence to state party rules over state law, so the NCGOP could likely argue effectively to retain a proportional allocation of its national convention delegation. However, that task would be all the more difficult if the party rules specifically state that it defers to state law.

If it was not already a mess, one could call all of this messy. But this just got a little messier.

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The Chaos Theory of Republican Presidential Nominations Under an Iron-Fisted RNC

Steven Rosenfeld had an interesting delegate selection rules/process piece up at Salon/AlterNet last week. He reached out to FHQ to discuss those rules and their implications for the RNC and Donald Trump, but unfortunately we never were able to connect. While I wish that hadn't been the case, I do think that both Richard Berg-Andersson and Tony Roza from the Green Papers, nonetheless, pretty closely captured a number of items I would have raised.

Still, FHQ has some comments in reaction to Rosenfeld's piece.

First, the rigging frame -- that the RNC will engineer the state-level delegate selection rules in such a way as to prevent a Donald Trump nomination -- is not consistent with what we know about how the presidential nomination process operates. The Republican National Convention adopted the 2016 national delegate selection rules at the 2012 convention in Tampa. It tweaked them slightly in the time between the convention and August 2014; readopting a proportionality requirement affecting a smaller calendar window, revising the language empowering the national party to enforce the new binding requirement that came out of Tampa and adding a rule to limit the number of primary debates among others.

A majority of the convention passed the 2016 rules, and the changes made in the time since had to garner majority support at the RNC Rules Committee stage before passing a three-quarters supermajority threshold before the full 168 member RNC in order to be implemented. And while there were voices in dissent at every checkpoint -- be it at the convention or any of the seasonal meetings the RNC holds -- the so-called establishment position won each time. And, in the case of the changes made outside of the convention, those changes achieved near consensus-level support from the members of the Republican National Committee.1

Those are not rigged results. In actuality, they are consensus-built national party delegate selection rules. The parties on both sides of the aisle often fight this last war; drafting rules consistent with those already in place, but that troubleshoot the problems that existed in the previous cycle(s).2 Again, that is not rigging. That is crafting rules in a context where different people from state parties all over the country have different views on what the rules should be; what the goals of the party and the nomination process should be. In other words, these rules are the product of politics. That process has yielded a pretty clear signal to this point: despite the diversity of opinion among members, the 168 members of the RNC have been pretty unified on the matter of the 2016 delegate selection rules. That is not to suggest that there is not dissent, but that, to the extent it exists, it has been minimal.

But Rosenfeld is not really talking about the RNC influencing the national rules of the nomination process. Instead, he is picking up on and advancing UT-Austin law professor Sanford Levison's wild theory that the Republican National Committee will massage state-level delegate allocation rules -- whether winner-take-all, proportional or some method in between the two extremes -- to derail Donald Trump's candidacy. This notion is ridiculous for a number of inter-related reasons.

First, state parties make the decisions on how delegates to the national convention will be allocated to particular candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. This does not mean that those state parties are not open to influence from the national party, but that task is and would be quite difficult. In other words, it is much easier said than done. The national parties themselves are somewhat decentralized as already described, but the state party executive and state central committees that vote on and thus choose the rules that will govern the state-level delegate allocation processes are another layer of decentralization altogether. If there is a diversity of views within the national party, then there are even more opinions involved when more people -- in the form of state party executive committees and state central committees -- are invited into the process. Additionally, there is variation on this from state to state. Some states are more aligned with the positions of the RNC than others.

But keep in mind also that state parties are like the national parties in one important respect. Since, they too are decentralized to some degree and are balancing a varying multitude of views, state parties often are plagued by the same politics with which national parties can be afflicted. Given a political environment, parties -- whether state or national -- often take the path of least resistance. Like the national parties, state parties tend to carry over the same delegate selection rules from the previous cycle. That can be a function of either majority agreement that those are the best rules or that disagreement within the state party over the rules means that the status quo position (the same rules from the last cycle) prevails. The one exception is when the national party requires a rules change (but FHQ will come back to that momentarily).

The presidential nomination process is all a huge instance of party coordination in a decentralized environment. That alone speaks volumes about how mismatched the Levinson hypothesis is with how this all actually works. But there is more to this presidential nomination coordination problem than decentralization. That hovers over the entire process, but does not provide an adequate picture of how off Levinson's view is.

One other factor that ought to be included is how the Republican National Committee approaches or has historically approached the regulation of state-level delegate selection rules in the modern era of presidential nominations. They have tended to be very hands-off; allowing states to devise rules that are tailor-made for that state. In that way, it is consistent with national party's general adherence to the notion of limited (federal) government. State and local interests/parties are better able to make those decisions than the national party.

Over time, however, the RNC has become slightly more hands-on in its dealings with state party-devised delegate selection rules. Those cases have tended to be in response to state-level abuses of the national party guidelines -- the national party delegate selection rules. Again, this fits in with the idea that the national parties are often fighting the last battle, the one from four years prior. It is all cyclical: national parties set rules, states react (either following or breaking the rules), national parties react to those abuses. And on and on the cycle goes.

In both parties, there have been problems during recent cycles in dealing with the handful of states that have chosen to hold either primaries or caucuses outside of the national party-designated window. Those states have gone too early. But in those cases, the national parties have tended to deal with those problems between cycles rather than within them. The one exception is that the DNC affords its Rules and Bylaws Committee the option of increasing the (50%) penalty on states that go too early. That is intended to create some additional leverage that can be used against states before the actual voting begins. But the RNC has no similar ability. It can only make rules changes between cycles.

And even if the national party did have that ability, getting state governments to respond is another matter. This is another way in which the process is decentralized. In the majority of states, the delegate selection/allocation process is filtered through a primary election. And in most of those states it is the state government -- not the state party -- that is making the decision on when the primary will be held.3 The state party has limited say in that process. The national party has limited say in that process. Yes, the state party has the final say in whether they opt into a primary or foot the bill for a caucus themselves. But those state parties have incentive to choose the cheaper option, the primary.

The fact that Florida, Michigan and Arizona broke the RNC rules on timing during the 2012 cycles should tell us something about exactly how much power and influence the national party over the states.

The final problematic factor in the Levinson hypothesis is something he basically points out. The incentives of wading into the patchwork of state-level rules are not clear.
There are risks for an anti-Trump GOP establishment with either approach. Pushing more states into the proportional representation camp lengthens the race to accumulating 1,236 delegates. But that “would presumably assure Trump of getting some significant number of delegates, assuming he hasn’t flamed out,” Levinson said. However, pushing more winner-take-all states “obviously is a greater roll of the dice.”
If a national party is coordinating this process, even if only loosely, it is likely not inclined to "push" states to have either winner-take-all or proportional rules. The field of candidates will winnow over time, but how it winnows and importantly when it winnows are unknown factors at this point. That those are unknowns now makes it increasingly difficult for a national party -- or a state party setting their own rules for that matter -- to effectively and exactly make rules across a series of states that will definitively advantage (or disadvantage) one candidate or one type of candidate. The parties at all levels are wary of unintended consequences and this is one area -- state-level rules making -- that can produce them quite quickly.

Now, the RNC may attempt to influence state parties' delegate selection plans, but their rate of success there is likely to be mixed at best. It is not that the national parties are not powerful. They are. But they are also limited in how they can respond to states. As Tony Roza points out in Rosenfeld's article, the state parties submit plans to the RNC and the RNC green lights those plans or rejects them. [The same is true for Democrats, though the sequence of submission and approval/rejection is frontloaded.] While that potentially provides an opportunity for the RNC to massage state-level delegate allocation rules, the party does not tend to handle these matters that way. First, there is no evidence that the RNC does anything other than give a thumbs up to these plans. Faced with a Florida plan in 2011 that called for both a non-compliant primary date and non-compliant allocation formula (winner-take-all in the proportionality window), the RNC, nonetheless gave a thumbs up to the plan. And that was an instance where the party had national level rules (penalties) in its favor, backing it up. There was a violation. Additionally, when the RNC considered increasing the penalties on rogue states in the late summer of 2011, it opted not to.

Most of the state party rules are publicly available, and most of them follow closely the rules of four years ago. There are exceptions, but collectively the picture of the rules that are public sets a baseline now for us to look back on later in the year when the RNC has approved and thus finalized the state-level rules. We will know then whether the RNC has in fact massaged the rules. Chances are pretty good that the national party will leave well enough alone. If it pressed forward with such an intervention, word would get out and that would further stir up the hornet's nest of discontent that is already brewing, for the time being propping up (in the polls anyway) outsider candidacies like Trump's. The RNC does not want that kind of backlash, and besides does not operate with that kind of iron fist anyway. They might intervene on matters like who participates in primary debates (i.e.: no more kiddie table debates, an increasing threshold of support for participating in those debates or a decreasing number qualify over time American Idol-style, etc.), and while that is important, it speaks to how limited the RNC is in controlling the process. The national parties really only seek to facilitate or manage the presidential nomination process.

The second comment-worthy item in Rosenfeld's piece concerns the Haugland-driven, rules-based chaos theory of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process. If one works hard enough, it can be tied in with the delegate allocation discussion above, but in practice, it makes for a Frankenstein's monster of an article when bringing the two parts together. The article really seems little more than an attempt to shed some light on a couple of fringe hypotheses, Levinson's and Haugland's.

By FHQ's count this is at least the third vehicle for Haugland's Rule 40-based chaos theory; following Dave Catanese's and Reid Wilson's lead. The premise is basically this:
  1. There are now 15 candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.
  2. RNC rules require a candidate or candidates to hold a majority of delegates in at least eight state delegations at the national convention in Cleveland.
  3. RNC rules require states with contests during the first two weeks of March to proportionally allocate their delegates to candidates based on the results of their primaries and caucuses.
  4. There are likely to be between 20 and 25 states that hold contests in those two weeks (March 1-14).
  5. Together, all of the above in combination make it less likely that any candidate gets to the level of majority control of eight delegations.
  6. Brokered convention!
Yeah, maybe. But in reality, this hypothesis is the victim of overanalyzing the rules and underanalyzing some of the regular patterns of the presidential nomination process in the post-reform era. Stated differently, it puts the cart before the horse.

2016 could be different. It could also be that it falls into the regular winnowing pattern that tends to mark these processes. That is one element that is common to each of these pieces: They emphasize the chaos because it makes for a better story than "the field will winnow and there will be a ho-hum pep rally of a convention that gives way to the general election phase of the campaign". There are reasons to believe that the 2016 Republican field of presidential candidates will winnow in ways similar to most of the rest of them since 1972.

First, as Catanese mentions, states whose contests fall in the proportionality window have the option of putting in place thresholds (of the vote) that candidates have to meet in order to win delegates at the statewide and congressional district levels. Proportionality window states can set that threshold as high as 20%. On the surface, that minimum threshold is intended to limit the number of candidates who emerge with delegates bound to them from a given state. That is even true in the scenarios where no candidates reach the threshold (the top two candidates win the delegates) or only one candidate receives 20% or whatever the threshold is set to (in most cases, either that candidate gets all of the district/statewide delegates or that candidate shares those delegates with the district/state runner-up). Most of the SEC primary states fit this category.

That is going to have the likely effect of creating at least two classes of candidates: those with delegates and those that have none or very few. That latter category will face increasing pressure in a sequential process to put up or shut; to win contests and/or delegates or drop out. Yes, that is true even with super PACs. Donations to and spending from those groups is going to becoming increasingly results-driven as the process continues. That goes for the remainder of the invisible primary phase (increase your poll numbers or get out) as well as when the process moves from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina and onward (win delegates or get out). Neither super PACs nor voters are going to be drawn to candidates who have only demonstrated that they cannot move up the polls or win contests/delegates. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon typical of the sequential presidential nomination process.

But what if the winnowing only occurs to a certain point, leaving four or three or two candidates? Actually, it is likely that the field shrinks after the February contests and continues in March/April until it is down to two candidates.

But why?

It is tempting to say that that the above threshold is like the electoral process in a parliamentary system, the membership of which is dependent upon a system of proportional representation. Those systems have thresholds too. Duverger's law would tell us that that type of system would end up with multiple parties in the governing coalition even with a minimum threshold for gaining seats in the parliament. Why would the Republican presidential process with thresholds for delegates be any different? Why would it not produce a stable group of multiple (and not just two) candidates?

The answer lies in the fact that the presidential nomination processes for both major parties in the United States are actually 50(+) contests that are happening in a sequence, rather than just one vote in the parliamentary example. Each step in the sequence gives onlookers -- voters, donors, super PACs, the candidates and their campaigns -- an opportunity to revisit the tally, the score in the horse race. Those opportunities -- those chances to reflect on how the process is progressing -- means that there are constantly points where the collective process is separating the wheat from the chaff.

But some may ask, if you are a candidate who has a fair number of delegates, why would you drop out and give up any leverage at a convention that may not be a coronation for a presumptive nominee? Why would you free up delegates -- your own -- to have no choice but to gravitate toward that presumptive nominee? This is the heart of the Haugland argument: if there's chaos, don't give up your delegates/leverage. That is why his comments are often peppered with statements like his intention to educate delegates on their responsibilities.

But there are a couple of reasons why candidates might and, in fact, very often do give up that leverage and release their delegates. First, like Scott Walker, they reason that there is no utility to be gained by continuing the fight. There is nothing to be won and plenty to be lost. Now, not all of the candidates fit that category. In fact, one could easily foresee candidates like Donald Trump or, say, Ted Cruz completely ignoring that Walkerian rationale and fighting on if they have delegates.4 The rest of the field is likely more pragmatic; willing to play the Boehner role and drop out for the good of the party and its chances of winning the general election.5

And that brings us to the second reason Republican candidates may feel compelled to bow out in favor of another better positioned (in primary season) candidate: Hillary Clinton. Well, not Hillary Clinton, per se, but how the Democratic presidential nomination process is going by comparison. If the advantages Clinton has in polling, fundraising and in party endorsements collectively translate into votes throughout presidential primary season, then the Democratic process will reach its natural conclusion more quickly. That comparison is important. If Republican voters, super PACs, donors and/or the campaigns feel like that gives any advantage (real or imagined) to the Democratic candidate, then some herding toward a resolution -- a candidate -- is the likely result. There would at the very least be some pressure to hasten the ultimate resolution. That pressure is exerted formally and informally on the candidates; for them to drop out and release their delegates in order for the party to focus on the general election task at hand.

Chaos theory proponents will point toward 1976 and the contested nomination battle that cycle. Of course, that was a nomination race shaped by a much different set of conditions. It was the first Republican nomination race under the new-to-them, Democratic Party-triggered nomination system where winning primaries affected who attended the conventions and thus who won the nomination. In other words, the Republican Party was new to the process and had not adapted to it in the way that it has in the intervening 40 years. 1976 was also a year in which Republicans only ever had two options: status quo (Ford) or outsider (Reagan). A bigger field in 2016 means more instability, but it also means that there will be a winnowing process that, in combination with the delegate allocation rules, may give an advantage to one candidate that is difficult for any other candidate to overcome, if there is significant competition to become the alternative to that frontrunner. Any delay in that secondary jockeying is a win for a front-running candidate.

Out of chaos may come order, but the type of chaos that the adherents of this theory describe is not likely to produce any of the order they desire until after 2016. And when there are presidential elections only once every four years, that means putting it off until 2020. And actually, that may be the goal of this: to hope for chaos that will yield if not a candidate that is acceptable to the chaos theory proponents, then enough mayhem to force some changes to the rules of the game.

Hey, it worked for Democrats in 1968. Chaos gave way to a new system of nominating presidential candidates. FHQ is not sure how much order they got out of that, though. At best it had a delayed impact.

1 And to be clear, these members are not stooges installed by the national party to do their bidding. These are the state party chair and the Republican National Committeeman and National Committeewoman from each of the 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and the territories. Each of the three members that form the state delegation to the Republican National Committee are elected at the state level by the members of the state party. That leaves a diversity of different voices to form the core of the national party.

2 This is less manufacturing than it is carrying over the rules from previous cycles and augmenting them in ways to prevent the problems of the past. To build consensus, the path of least resistance is to take what already exists and tweak it. That often leads to the type of contradictions that North Dakota Republican National Committeeman, Curly Haugland, mentions later in Rosenfeld's piece.

3 Party-in-state-government is not necessarily the same as the state party. The goals of the individuals involved in each are institutionally different and even absent those differences, the groups can be completely different in make up.

4 Both are in a similar space and are unlikely to continue going on together against, for example, one alternative "establishment" candidate.

5 Some of the candidates in the 2016 field have already had experience dropping out in the past. See Huckabee and Santorum.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Colorado Republicans Solidify March 1 Date for 2016 Caucuses

The Colorado Republican Party State Central Committee met on Saturday, September 26, and the party's delegate selection rules for the 2016 cycle were on the agenda. This meeting came after an Executive Committee meeting last month that removed the straw poll from the first step of the caucus/convention process that will select delegates to represent the party at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next July.

The move was unanimously made in August to maintain the Colorado Republican Party practice of sending an unbound delegation to the national convention. It also freed the party decision-makers to potentially shift the date of the caucuses -- sans presidential preference vote -- to the first Tuesday in February date allowed by state law while also avoiding any sanction from the Republican National Committee. The rationale was "no preference vote, early caucuses, no penalty".

But on Saturday, there was very little appetite for February caucuses among the members of the State Central Committee meeting when the issue was raised.

What was more interesting -- especially in view of the fact that there was some backlash to the ending of the caucus preference vote -- was that that issue did not come up at all at the State Central Committee meeting following the unanimous Executive Committee decision a month ago. That means that the caucus/convention process for Republicans in the Centennial state will begin on March 1 along with their Democratic counterparts in the state. However, while Democrats will have a binding preference vote, Colorado Republicans will not.

The binding situation, then, is settled, or so it would seem. But it does not look as if Colorado Republicans will be able/allowed to send an unbound delegation to the national convention based on how the RNC is interpreting its rules. Correspondence between the national party and Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House indicates that the RNC is treating a state convention as a point of no return. The party can skip the straw poll for only so long in other words. Once the process reaches the national convention delegate selection/election stage those delegates will be bound and by a method of the state party's choosing (winner-take-all, proportional, etc.). What those rules will be remains to be seen.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

North Carolina Moving Closer to March 15 Presidential Primary

The conference committee report on HB 373, the bill to shift the North Carolina presidential primary as well as its primaries for state and local offices to March 15, is on the calendar in both the House and Senate of the General Assembly today. That report is a compromise hammered out between the two Republican-controlled chambers and is expected to pass through each.

The bill would not only create a consolidated primary on March 15, but would also change the baseline delegate allocation called for in state law to winner-take-all from proportional. The latter is a change from the standard operating procedure that the North Carolina parties have used throughout much of the post-reform era. The former re-consolidates the two sets of primaries after the separate presidential primary was created in 2013 and tethered -- against national party delegate selection rules -- to the South Carolina primary. That violation required a move of the presidential primary and consideration of that move prompted the impetus for moving the typically May primaries for other offices to March as well.

Thus, this legislation would completely reshape North Carolina's position and meaning in 2016 presidential nomination processes. Instead of being on the wrong side of the calendar in May -- typically after some candidate has reached the requisite number of delegates required to clinch a nomination -- the Tar Heel state will have some measure of influence in 2016. What that influence is remains to be determined by, among other things, the number of active and viable candidates who remain on or as the process approaches March 15.

Rather than put out multiple posts, FHQ will track the process in this space, updating as news emerges.

UPDATE (12pm): The North Carolina Senate passed HB 373 by a 30-13 vote.
UPDATE (3:30pm): The North Carolina House narrowly passed HB 373 by a 52-49 vote.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Winner-Take-All Presidential Primary Clears Hurdle in North Carolina

On Wednesday, September 23, the North Carolina Senate Committee on Rules and Operations considered HB 373, the bill that would move a now consolidated primary -- presidential and other offices -- to mid-March.

The date of the presidential primary election has been a (near) certainty for a while now, but it was unclear what new items, other than shifting up the May primary for state and local offices, would make it into the conference committee report. It was also uncertain whether all of the provisions in the most recent versions of the bill would carry over.

The March 15 date was in there. The consolidated primary was in there. So too, was the winner-take all provision altering the traditionally proportional allocation method North Carolina parties have used through much of the post-reform era. This continued inclusion of the winner-take-all delegate allocation language is of note for a number of reasons

First, it aligns North Carolina with two other winner-take-all states on March 15: Florida and Ohio. That is 237 delegates that could be split among a number of winners (one in each state) or depending on the winnowing process could go to just one winner. The latter contingency -- one candidate winning all 237 delegates -- would be in a commanding lead in the delegate count. And with those delegates alone would be nearly 20% of the way toward the 1236 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

The move away from proportional allocation to a winner-take-all plan was also something that supporters of Scott Walker, chief among them Senator Bob Rucho (R), had guided through the legislative process to this point. With Walker bowing out of the race for the nomination earlier this week, the strategic need for a winner-take-all primary may also have disappeared. That did not seem to be the case today as Rucho indicated the move to an earlier winner-take-all was about increasing North Carolina's voice in the process.

Finally, the winner-take-all language would come into some conflict with the rules of the North Carolina Republican Party regarding delegate allocation if passed. The party rules do defer to both national party rules and state statute (which the winner-take-all provision would be if passed and signed into law), but do call for the proportional allocation of national convention delegates based on the results of the presidential primary. Yet, RNC rules give precedence to state party rules in those cases of these types of disputes. And while those issues between the state party rules, the national party rules and the likely new state statute have not necessarily been squared, there are no signs of any storm clouds on the horizon. The state party is not raising any concerns over this legislative change at this point. And it is unlikely to with the RNC deadline to finalize delegate selection plans looming next week.

HB 373 is on the calendar in both the House and Senate for Thursday, September 24.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

March 5 Caucuses Are a Go for Maine Republicans in 2016

At a Saturday, September 19 meeting, the Maine Republican Party State Central Committee voted on the rules that will govern the party's delegate selection process in 2016.1

Chief among the rules adopted was the decision to consolidate local caucus meetings on one day: Saturday, March 5. Not only is that a later date than the caucuses were held four years ago, but rather than having a series of caucus meetings that stretched across the month of February, Maine Republicans will conduct all of their local caucuses on one day in 2016. The staggered pacing in 2012 led to an initial round of irregularities that fueled tensions later in the Maine Republican delegate selection process. The uniform caucus date -- one day before Maine Democrats caucus -- will at least partially solve those issues in 2016.

That, however, was not the only rules change (relative to the 2012 cycle) that came out of the State Central Committee meeting. Since the Republican National Committee tweaked its national delegate selection rules to require the binding of delegates based on the results of primaries and caucuses, the Maine Republican Party no longer has luxury of holding non-binding caucuses as it did in 2012. That was at least part of the impetus behind the move to the consolidated precinct caucus date for 2016: It is easier to count votes and thus bind delegates if that initial round of voting takes place on one day.

As the caucuses will be within the proportionality window on March 5, Maine Republicans were forced to put some form of proportional plan in place. And from the look of it, the party has opted to take the simplest path to proportionality. Rather than attempt to split the allocation across the congressional districts, MEGOP has chosen to bind delegates to candidates in rough proportion to their statewide support in the caucuses on March 5. It is not clear that there is a minimum threshold in place to limit the candidates eligible for delegates to just those above the threshold (up to 20% according to RNC rules). However, there is a maximum threshold that makes the caucuses conditionally winner-take-all. Should a candidate receive a majority of the vote statewide in the March 5 caucuses, that candidate will win all of Maine's delegates.

The full details of the plan will be released later as the caucuses approach, but the big take away for now is that Maine Republicans are off the "no date" board. The party will conduct March 5 caucuses.

1 See the full press release from the Republican Party of Maine here:
AUGUSTA – The Maine Republican Party is pleased to announce that it has approved changes to how Republican voters in Maine will nominate the next President of the United States.  
Designed to give Maine Republicans a stronger voice in the Presidential race, and increase participation in the political process, the Maine GOP will conduct a one-day Presidential Nominating Caucus at sites around the state on Saturday, March 5, 2016. Maine’s caucuses will be create, essentially, a ‘Super Saturday’ just ahead of what are known as ‘Super Tuesday’ contests across the nation.
“Maine Republicans deserve to have a strong voice in nominating our next President, and this plan does just that,” said Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett. “Between now and March 5, 2016, our team will work tirelessly to ensure every Republican who wants to be involved in the political process will know how, and we look forward to working with everyone on March 5, to tell the nation how Maine Republicans feel about the Presidential candidates.”  
The caucuses will be held at sites across the state, and voting will be conducted via paper ballots during the caucus. Any registered Republican voter will be provided a ballot, and candidates will be allowed to attend or send surrogates to speak to caucus voters before ballots are cast.  
Republicans formally nominate a Presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention, which will be held this year in Cleveland, Ohio, by sending delegates from each state to vote at the national convention. In the past, Maine has selected Republican delegates at the Maine State Convention. The 2016 caucus changes mean that the votes of all Republicans who attend a caucus, not just those who attend the state convention, will directly choose Maine’s delegates.  
Statewide caucus results will determine the number of delegates each candidate receives to the national convention, and will be allocated to candidates in proportion to the percent of the vote they receive. If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, they will win all of Maine’s delegates.  
Maine GOP National Committeeman Alex Willette, who co-chaired the Maine GOP Presidential Nominating Committee, said, “After several public hearings and considering feedback from a great many Republicans across Maine, we feel this is the best decision for Maine. I’m proud of the work we did, and I am excited to see Maine Republicans have a strong voice in the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination.” 
Additional details on caucus times, locations, rules and media availability will be provided by the Maine GOP at the party’s website, MaineGOP.com between now and caucus day.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rules Matter...

But correctly interpreting rules changes matters more.

Adam Nagourney and Jonathan Martin at the New York Times are the latest to venture down the path of tea leaf reading about the changes the Republican National Committee has made to its 2016 delegate selection rules and their impact. Their conclusions?

The rules changes to streamline the Republican presidential nomination process may backfire. More specifically, they add:
But as the sprawling class of 2016 Republican presidential candidates tumbled out of their chaotic second debate last week, it was increasingly clear that those rule changes — from limiting the number of debates to adjusting how delegates are allocated — had failed to bring to the nominating process the order and speed that party leaders had craved.
What follows in the article is more of the same.

...and it is wrong. It is wrong because Nagourney and Martin fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc trap. Essentially, the conclusion is: the RNC made nomination rules changes, thus the "chaos" we are currently witnessing is direct result of those rules changes. And then they even talk to and aggregate quotes from folks like Richard Hohlt who not only subscribe to the chaos theory, but who feel the rules changes have led to "unintended consequences".

But here's the thing: For those rules to have either the desired effect that the national party wants or for there to have been unintended consequences, the rules actually have to be implemented. And a great many of those rules and their attendant effects have not kicked in yet. One cannot draw conclusions from something that has yet to occur. One can only speculate. And that is pretty much what we're getting from this article: speculation.

Let's take a step back here for a moment and lay this out piece by piece. There are four main rules changes that Nagourney and Martin both directly discuss and indirectly hint at:
  1. limiting the number of debates
  2. increasing the penalties to keep states in line on the primary calendar
  3. compressing that calendar due to #2 and shifting up the date of the national convention
  4. tightening the proportionality rules for states with contests during the first half of March
Out of those four changes, only one has truly been implemented so far. That is the new debates-limiting rule. And it could be argued that even the effects of that one have not been felt yet. Debate season, after all, has not run its course yet. We are going on information from just two debates, long in duration though they may have been, at this point.

To have the desired effect that Nagourney and Martin describe -- to tamp down on the "chaos" and calm the nerves of jittery Republicans in the campaigns, the donor class or in the heartland -- the only solution would have been to eliminate primary debates altogether. But the RNC was never going to do that. Their objective was to limit the perceived damage. As we are witnessing on the Democratic side, even limiting debates can be a tricky business. The objective is the same though: limit, not eliminate the sort of jockeying that is a normal part of this invisible primary stage of a presidential nomination process. In other words, the national parties are attempting to manage the sorts of party divisions that always end up being emphasized in these events.

That is the only rules change that has had anything approaching a direct impact on the process so far, and the results are inconclusive. Of the other three changes cited above, the only other one to have even an indirect effect is the effort to compress the primary calendar on the front end: the increase in the severity of the penalty for holding a primary or caucus before March. Has that had an impact on the nomination race? The answer is not really. In any event, we will not know its impact until we actually get into campaign season. Could a newly compressed calendar backfire on the RNC? Sure, but it has not yet.

However, we have seen an indirect effect of this rule. It has kept states in line on the calendar. That is the desired impact of the change. The Florida and Michigan chaos of four and eight years ago -- you know, actual chaos, not the normal kind discussed above -- is not present during the 2016 cycle. That has affected candidate and campaign activity. Are there unintended consequences from that? We don't know. What we do know is that the campaigns have some confidence in what the primary calendar is going to look like in 2016. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will have February primaries and caucuses. Other states are falling in line in March and thereafter. Four and eight years ago, things were different. States like Florida were agents of uncertainty. Threatening a January primary date well into September 2011, for example, meant that the calendar was shrouded in mystery. The campaigns had a pretty good idea that the carve-out states would be first, but what came next and in what sequence was not set in stone until relatively late in the calendar year before the primaries started.

That affects candidate and campaign behavior. And in 2011, candidates tended to focus on the near sure things at the beginning of the calendar -- the carve-out states -- and not those that came after, the sequence of which was an unknown.

Again, this is the desired impact. The RNC has reined in rogue state activity. It wanted more certainty so that candidates and their campaigns could actually plan ahead; plan for states with early March 2016 contests. Is that evidence that the campaigns are planning for a long delegate fight. Maybe, but we don't know for sure yet. What looks like a long delegate fight more than four months before Iowa may not actually be a long, protracted delegate fight once the process gets to and through Iowa next February.

But let's give credit where credit is due: the RNC (and DNC, for that matter) has successfully curbed calendar chaos in 2015. That may be fighting the last war. That may yield unintended consequences, but hasn't really done so yet.

Whether the best intentions of that compressed calendar are upset by a huge (at this point un-winnowed) field of candidates remains to be seen. We'll have a better idea next year.

That goes for the final two rules included in this unintended consequences hypothesis that Nagourney and Martin advance as well. Look, we just have not felt the effects of either the recalibrated delegate allocation rules or the earlier convention (and thus backend-shortened primary calendar) yet. One cannot test the effects of supposed unintended consequences until the rules have actually been implemented. Those haven't been. In the void, we are left to speculate, and that is really what Nagourney and Martin are doing here. They are taking, as many others before them have, this large field of candidates and are projecting changes based on that, that at the same time have not happened yet.

Rules matter, folks, but the rules changes the RNC put in place for 2016 have not been fully realized yet. As a result, we really cannot fully determine at this point whether the desired impact has been felt.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Ohio Republicans Choose Winner-Take-All Plan for 2016 Presidential Primary

A switch has been a possibility if not in the works in Ohio since March, but the Ohio Republican Party on Friday, September 18 voted overwhelmingly to adopt winner-take-all rules for its 2016 presidential primary.

Via Robert Higgs at the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
State Republican leadership on Friday formally designated the party's presidential primary next March as a winner-take-all event -- a move that could boost Gov. John Kasich's quest for the GOP presidential nomination.
FHQ will leave the Kasich angle for others, but the change over from a hybrid system of allocating national convention delegates to a truly winner-take-all plan for the March 15 presidential primary is significant.1 As FHQ described earlier this year, in 2012 those sorts of hybrid plans often ended up closer to a truly proportional allocation than a winner-take-all allocation despite having elements of both. Past is not necessarily prologue here, but a candidate would have to win by a large margin for such a hybrid plan to approximate a truly winner-take-all plan.

Any trade, then, to a winner-take-all plan, post-March 14 is of note. Ohio now joins Florida (and perhaps North Carolina) as true winner-take-all contests on March 15. Still the list of states in that category is only marginally different than it was four years ago. Ohio has switched. Nebraska is now winner-take-all. And North Carolina Republicans have signaled it, too, will trade out a proportional plan for a winner-take-all one. But the list is still pretty limited to that group and the handful of states that were winner-take-all in 2012.

Most of those states are clustered around the March 15-22 week.

1 The hybrid system Ohio Republicans utilized in 2012 proportionally allocated the small cache of at-large delegates based on the results of the March 6 presidential primary, but was winner-take-all at the congressional district level (i.e.: win the district, win three delegates).

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North Carolina Inching Closer to a March 15 Presidential Primary

From Colin Campbell at the News and Observer in Raleigh:
House and Senate leaders have agreed to move all 2016 primaries to March 15, according to House Speaker Tim Moore.  
The move would mean candidates for president, governor, U.S. Senate and down-ballot races would all go before voters earlier than the May date used in past primaries.  
“The consensus is to move the primary to March,” Moore told reporters after a midnight budget vote Friday morning. “The rationale behind moving the primaries was (presidential elections) have a very high turnout.”
The devil's going to be in the details on this one. The March 15 primary date has been something of a foregone conclusion for a while now. That move got held up by drawn-out budget negotiations and then the push -- in the context of those same budget negotiations -- to hold all of the state's primaries on the same date to save the state money.

That all seems settled, but it remains to be seen whether the changes to delegate allocation language -- to make the Tar Heel state a winner-take-all primary -- carries over into the conference committee report that will be considered by both the North Carolina House and Senate. That is something to watch as this moves forward.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Missouri Republicans Reveal More Details of 2016 Delegate Selection Plan

Missouri Republican Party chairman, John Hancock on Monday, September 14 shed more light on the process by which the party will select and allocate delegates to the national convention in 2016.

Just a couple of weeks ago, news broke that the Republican Party in the Show-Me state would break with tradition and allocate delegates in a winner-take-most rather than winner-take-all fashion. Typically, in years during which the party had utilized the state-funded presidential primary (as its means of allocating delegates), it had also used a winner-take-all formula. Faced with a wide-open race and an unprecedentedly large field of candidates, the party opted to scale that practice back; preventing the potential awarding of all the delegates to a weak plurality winner while aiming to attract the attention of those candidates.1

The winner-take-most plan the Missouri GOP has adopted, though, is a different spin on what some call a winner-take-all by congressional district method. Basically, what that entails is the statewide winner receiving all of the at-large delegates and then the winner of each congressional district being allocated all the delegates apportioned to those districts.2 Missouri will follow that plan with one exception.

States tend to follow the Republican National Committee apportionment method when labeling their full allotment of delegates in their own allocation plans. That looks something like this: three delegates apportioned for each congressional district a state has (the congressional district delegates), ten baseline delegates plus bonuses (the at-large delegates) and three party delegates (the automatic delegates).

Under that formula, Missouri was apportioned 52 delegates by the RNC:
  • 3 automatic delegates
  • 24 congressional district delegates (3 delegates for each of Missouri's eight congressional districts) 
  • 25 at-large delegates (10 base delegates plus 15 bonus delegates)
Such a distribution would give a pretty clear delegate victory to the a plurality statewide winner.3 But Missouri Republicans shifted more delegate power to the congressional districts, shedding the RNC-based distinctions in the process.

Instead of the winner of a congressional district being awarded three delegates, the winner will receive five delegates. That means there are a total of 40 congressional district delegates and just nine at-large delegates. Under that allocation method, the significance of winning the statewide vote is minimized as compared to the true winner-take-all by congressional district method. It shifts the plan closer to the proportional end of the spectrum rather than the winner-take-all side. In turn, that means that the winner of the Missouri primary is likely to emerge with a smaller delegate advantage than would be the case under a true winner-take-all plan or a true winner-take-all by congressional district method.

There are a couple of side notes that FHQ should append to this discussion:

  1. First, the Missouri primary will be on March 15. That is the opening day of the post-proportionality window period. More importantly, it will presumably be a month and half after the Iowa caucuses. The field will have winnowed. To what degree is something that will be determined later, after Iowa. The extent to which the field winnows will have a significant impact on how some of these allocation methods will function. This Missouri plan is no different. 
  2. It should also be noted in closing that the move by the Missouri Republican Party to shift more delegates into the congressional district delegate pool (and away from the at-large pool) is a practice that is entirely within the delegate selection rules of the Republican National Committee. The plan Florida Republicans would have used in 2012 -- had it not been penalized, thus triggering the winner-take-all provision in its rules -- would have designated two-thirds of the delegates congressional district delegates and the remainder at-large delegates. New York also allocated just two delegates to the primary winners in each congressional district in 2012 increasing the pool of at-large delegates available statewide. That move in the opposite direction of the Missouri change was partially a function of an unsettled redistricting process. So, this distinction tweaking happens, but it is rare. Most states take the easy road and use the distinctions on which the RNC apportionment is based in the first place. 

1 To be clear, FHQ is using the "weak" tag to describe the plurality, not the winning candidate. So someone winning all the delegates with just 20% of the vote instead of, say, 45%.

2 See Wisconsin for a good example of this delegate allocation plan in 2012.

3 All of this is moot if one candidate wins a majority. In that scenario, the majority winner would receive all of the at-large and congressional district delegates. The automatic, party delegates will remain unpledged.

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