Saturday, October 19, 2019

About that South Carolina Republican Party Defense of Canceling Its 2020 Presidential Primary

On Friday, October 18, the challenge to the cancelation of the 2020 presidential primary by the South Carolina Republican Party had its day in court.

While those who brought the suit leaned on the facts that the South Carolina Republican Party executive committee canceled the primary rather than the state convention and that that break with party rules is against state law calling on political parties to follow their own rules, the SCGOP came forth with a different set of arguments in favor of the change.

Part of that defense was built around the bipartisan precedents from previous cycles when incumbents  have sought renomination. The Republican primary was canceled in 1984 and 2004 and Palmetto state Democrats backed out of their primaries in 1996 and 2012 when Clinton and Obama were running for second terms. But the defense of the cancelation took a turn when it was argued that South Carolina Republicans would have more not less power outside of a primary election. Under a caucus/convention system, national convention delegates would be unbound and able to be lobbied to support a candidate of South Carolina Republicans' collective wishes.

In a primary, those delegates would be bound to the winner of the primary (statewide and in each of the seven congressional districts).

Much of that belies the fact that there are rules that apply here; both national party rules and state party rules.

On the state party level, South Carolina delegates allocated to candidates under Rule 11.b.(5-6) based on the results of the primary are only bound under certain circumstances. If the winner either statewide or within a congressional district is no longer in the race, the the delegates are bound to the second place finisher. If that candidate is no longer in the race, then the delegates shift to the third place candidate.

But here is the key factor and where the national party rules come into play. If none of the top three candidates are placed in nomination under Rule 40(b), then the delegates from South Carolina head to the national convention unbound.

Now, the odds at this point in time point toward President Trump likely sweeping the 50 delegates from the Palmetto state as he did in 2016. Yes, that would mean those delegates would be bound to Trump (should his name be placed in nomination at the convention in Charlotte). Technically, that would mean delegates could not be lobbied by rank-and-file South Carolina Republicans as the state party's lawyers argued on Friday. However, if Trump's name is the only one placed in nomination, then that lobbying power is pretty hollow any way.

There will likely be a decision in the South Carolina circuit court later this month, but an appeal from the losing side to the South Carolina supreme court is probable.

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