Thursday, July 30, 2020

Draft Resolution Would Largely Extend 2020 Democratic Nomination Rules to 2024

The Democratic National Convention is not set to gavel in for another 18 days, but the work of the convention itself is already well underway. The convention Platform Committee met earlier this week, and the convention Rules Committee will hold its first session today at 2pm.

But the work of the 2024 Democratic delegate selection rules will not begin there. In fact, a resolution has already been drafted to be shared with and considered by the 180 delegate member Rules committee.1 However, unlike past cycles, Democrats do not have a laundry list of primary phase grievances to bring into the quadrennial confab. For starters, despite all the hype given the large and diverse field of candidates, neither chaos nor widespread division among party factions took hold in the lead up to and during primary season. It is those divisions that often put the rules of the nomination process in the crosshairs, making them fertile ground for potential convention compromise.

The fallout from the tight 2008 Clinton-Obama battle, for example, produced the Democratic Change Commission that further codified the addition of Nevada and South Carolina to the early primary calendar, reduced the share of superdelegates, and committed to developing best practices for states with caucuses in lieu of primaries.

And obviously, the friction from the 2016 nomination race between Clinton and Sanders led to the compromise in Philadelphia between the two camps that yielded the Unity Reform Commission. Both sides had their quibbles with various aspects of the process and that created a commission with a clear cut agenda to examine the possibilities of opening the process up to an increased number of voters and transitioning more states from caucuses to primaries. It also set a concrete reduction of superdelegates that was later revised by the Rules and Bylaws Committee before it was adopted by the full DNC in August 2018.

But in 2020, that sort of animosity just never materialized among those vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. And now that the virtual national convention to formally nominate Joe Biden is on the horizon, the early signals for what the rules discussion will entail show it. Early reporting indicated that the draft resolution to be considered would include language creating a Build the Party Commission, but that language is not included in the draft made public. Instead, the process of reviewing the 2020 process and creating rules for 2024 would, under the resolution, skip that step and go straight the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). That body, as it was after the 2012 cycle, would be tasked with the rules review. Recall that the Unity Reform Commission met throughout 2017 and was required to present a report to the RBC by the beginning of 2018. The RBC then had to take those recommendations and turn them into actionable rules changes by the summer of 2018 in order for them to be adopted by the full DNC with enough lead time for 2020.

If this resolution is ultimately adopted by the convention Rules Committee and then by the full convention, then the RBC would review the 2020 process and draft a report by the end of March 2021. That would give the group ample time to craft 2024 rules ahead of a likely late summer 2022 DNC meeting that would adopt rules for 2024 (if the past model of rules adoption is followed for the next cycle).

But that is the structural piece of the 2024 rules puzzle. There is also a substantive portion embedded in this draft resolution. Again, however, if one is here for the flash of potential reforms, then the substance may be lacking compared to past cycles. Basically, the proposed resolution would carry over much of the 2020 rules to 2024. They would continue the commitment to a more open nomination process; the changes layered into Rule 2 for 2020. Caucuses, through state-level rules changes or necessity given the coronavirus pandemic, were already reduced to the lowest number ever on the Democratic side during the post-reform era.

The resolution would also see the barring of superdelegates from voting on the first ballot at the national convention extended to 2024. No, superdelegates could not overturn the will of voters (through primaries and caucuses) at the convention, but that was never really a threat in 2020. Biden established a large enough lead on and in the weeks after Super Tuesday to eliminate that prospect. However, superdelegates retained the ability to line up behind candidates before and during primary season. And the ones who did overwhelmingly preferred Joe Biden. And while that role was extended to 2020, the number of superdelegates weighing in and endorsing before or during primary season was greatly reduced compared to 2016. But that should not have come as a surprise with the field as large as it was and support as varied as it was. The true comparison, then, would be a competitive cycle with multiple candidates involved and not the sort of one-on-one contest that 2008 or 2016 quickly offered during primary season. In other words, the winnowing of the field was different in 2020. But superdelegates still played a role in determining who stuck around.

Despite that reality, the superdelegates rules change enacted for 2020 will very likely be extended to 2024 and very likely without much controversy. There may be pockets of dissension, but there will not be controversy.

The one new thing added in this draft resolution to the list of items to be carried over to 2024 is the one thing that was universally controversial about the 2020 Democratic nominating process: the chaos in Iowa at the beginning of the primary calendar. That raised anew the Iowa and New Hampshire question, one that has been fought to varying degrees for cycle after cycle in the post-reform era.

Is this the time that that change will finally come to the early calendar? On some level, it seems the perfect time. The strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd's killing over Memorial Day weekend brings into even starker contrast the misalignment of the two earliest states' demography with the membership of the broader Democratic Party. And that is after that was already a complaint of at least one candidate for the 2020 nomination.

That may be. However, those contests only minimally affected the winnowing of the field of candidates and weeded out those that likely should have bowed out earlier in the invisible primary campaign. It was when the calendar brought in more diverse electorates that the true winnowing took shape. It was the more diverse electorate in Nevada that indicated a two person race between Sanders and Biden and an even more diverse electorate in South Carolina (if not the important endorsement of Jim Clyburn) that catapulted Biden into Super Tuesday and the nomination.

Given that timeline, it would seem that the Democratic Party -- and this is excluding the important work the Republican National Committee will do on its own 2024 rules -- has a choice to make. Jettison Iowa and New Hampshire from the early calendar and risk the potential for backlash from those two states or basically ignore them and let Nevada, South Carolina and states immediately on their heels on Super Tuesday continue to do the heavy lifting.

Many will downplay the possibility of backlash from Iowa and New Hampshire. The DNC, after all, can follow its 2008 model, and penalize any states that seek to break the rules on primary and caucus timing. But would the party be willing to do so with a couple of states that are often competitive in the general election? They were with Florida and Michigan in 2008 (and they had more electoral votes at stake). But would that be worth it to potentially negatively affect the relationships between the national party and state parties in Iowa and New Hampshire with a competitive 2024 general election in which those states may be pivotal? That is an open question.

Look, the symbolism of the early calendar change alone is going to exert a degree of pressure on the RNC and DNC to make the above questions almost moot. But that does not mean that they are not worth considering or will not be between now and summer 2022. But those are the trade-offs that are involved in complex party decision making.

And to close on this subject, what happens on the Republican side with respect to Iowa and New Hampshire matters too. If Republicans hold pat, then that adds to the friction between the state parties in those respective states and the national party. That is negative momentum that the DNC in this case would probably want to avoid. And no, that is not the RNC dictating what is occurring on the Democratic side. It is just another variable in the decision-making process cited above. On the other hand, the RNC could take any potential change to the calendar on the Democratic side and run with it. This is more positive or reinforcing momentum. It is not as if the Republicans have not considered calendar changes of their own. But would the RNC willing follow the DNC into that change? That, too, is an open question.

Regardless, those are all questions and considerations for the time after November's election. But the rules discussions for 2024 start now at the conventions.

1 Draft resolution text (via HuffPost):
"WHEREAS, following the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”), under the leadership of Chair Tom Perez, took substantial steps to ensure a more accessible, transparent, and inclusive 2020 Democratic presidential nominating process;

WHEREAS, these reforms, which encouraged many states to move from caucuses to more inclusive primaries, led to an unprecedented level of voter participation in presidential primary contests across the country, allowing more Democratic voters to make their voices heard and increasing voter confidence in our nominating system;

WHEREAS, these reforms helped inspire the largest and most diverse field in our Party’s history to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President;

WHEREAS, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC (“RBC”) was instrumental in adopting and implementing the reforms that made the 2020 presidential nominating process the most dynamic and successful in our Party’s history;

WHEREAS, the Democratic Party needs to continue to build off the successes of the 2020 primary reforms in creating the rules of the 2024 primary process and Democratic National Convention;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the RBC must protect and continue the work started in 2017 to make improvements to the 2024 nominating process and Democratic National Convention and build on the successes achieved this cycle. With the purpose and the goals of continuing to further accessibility, transparency, and inclusion in our Party, the RBC shall conduct a comprehensive and structured review of the presidential nominating reforms adopted by the DNC for the 2020 primaries to evaluate where even further reforms are needed, while maintaining the advances that have been made. This review should include considerations of the successes of each of the reforms adopted in 2018 in achieving the DNC’s goals, empowering rank and file Democrats, and strengthening and unifying the Democratic Party in the lead up to the general election. In conducting this review, the RBC should take steps to ensure public and stakeholder engagement in the process, including at least one public hearing and an opportunity to submit comments. This review and accounting should be completed by March 31, 2021."

Recent posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/29/20)

The Electoral College Map (7/28/20)

The Electoral College Map (7/27/20)

Follow FHQ on TwitterInstagram and Facebook or subscribe by Email.

No comments: