Showing posts with label primary debates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label primary debates. Show all posts

Friday, January 27, 2023

The RNC Presidential Primary Debates Committee is Back for 2024

Lost in all the recent talk of the Republican National Committee (RNC) reaching out to a diversity of networks during the planning stages for presidential debates to come later this year was the fact that behind it all is a national party committee. 

The on-again-off-again presidential primary debates committee is back on again for the 2024 cycle. First written into RNC rules in 2014 for the 2016 cycle as the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, the rule and the committee were scrapped for 2020. And both moves made sense at the times those decisions were made. With a wide open and competitive nomination race to replace a term-limited (Democratic) president on the horizon, it was sensible and shrewd for the RNC in 2014 to devise formal rules to dictate the direction of its primary debates, an increasingly visible if not important component of the invisible primary, for the 2016 cycle. But with an incumbent president seeking renomination in 2020, the standing committee became less necessary with only token opposition lining up to contest President Trump's grip on the nomination.
Yet, with the conditions of 2024 more likely to resemble those of 2016 than 2020, the necessity of a debates committee became apparent once again. There were not many changes to the rules adopted by the 2020 Republican National Committee before Rule 12 cut off the ability to amend them before last September. There were some. And one of them was to bring back the presidential primary debates committee for 2024. 

...with some important differences from the previous iteration

Here is a look at both rules side by side (from the Rules of the Republican Party):

[originally Rule 10(h), but later reordered as Rule 10(a)(10) for 2020 before being eliminated]
There shall be a Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, which shall be composed of thirteen (13) members of the Republican National Committee, five (5) of whom shall be appointed by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and each of the four (4) regions shall elect two (2) members, one man and one woman, at its regional caucus at the RNC Summer Meeting in each even-numbered year in which no Presidential election is held. The chairman of the Republican National Committee shall appoint the chairman of the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates from among the members thereof. The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, and the best interests of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” Any presidential candidate who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates.
[the new Rule 10(a)(11)]
If appointed pursuant to subsection (c) of this Rule, the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, candidate qualifications, and the best interest of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” All presidential primary candidates shall also agree in writing to appear in only sanctioned Primary and General Election debates. Any presidential primary candidate who does not agree in writing or who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates. 
[emphasis FHQ's]
[1] The subsection (c) clause that now begins the rule refers to the RNC chair's power to form committees. That is a significant substitution because it rids the national party of the need to constantly tweak the rules every cycle dependent upon whether an incumbent Republican president is seeking reelection. If the chair has the discretion to create committees, then there is no need to continually craft and re-craft rules to deal with what will inevitably be a recurring issue. To wit...

[2] In addition, the committee in future versions will be temporary (if formed under the chair's discretion at all) and not a standing committee as it was in its previous iteration during the 2016 cycle. There is no need for a standing committee, but there is some regular and recurring need for a committee to deal with this subject.

[3] The next difference between the 2016 and 2024 versions of the rule is notable. The list of criteria the committee will consider before finalizing rules governing the presidential primary debates process has been enhanced to include candidate qualifications. While a polling threshold was used in 2016 to differentiate between those candidates who qualified for the main event debate and those relegated to the secondary debate, that was something that was not a formal part of the rule for the 2016 cycle. The standing committee (and the RNC itself) at the time filled in that detail. However, by formally adding candidate qualifications to the calculus, the RNC process comes more in line with how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) handled things under competitive conditions for the 2020 cycle. Granted, what constitutes "candidate qualifications" remains undefined as of now (and will remain so in the rules), but the temporary committee will no doubt again fill in that detail.

[4] Another facet of the 2024 rule that is new also borrows from the 2020 DNC process. Only, the Republican rule for 2024 takes it a step further. Republican candidates, by rule, will have to sign a pledge to participate in only debates "sanctioned" by the committee. Like the 2020 DNC process, that applies to presidential primary debates. Unlike the Democrats four years ago -- or Republicans eight years ago, for that matter -- that pledge will also apply to the eventual nominee and his or her participation in general election debates. Following the RNC's 2022 split with the Commission on Presidential Debates, there is some question as to whether the party will, absent some negotiation, participate in general election presidential debates. The temporary committee now has the power to sanction (or not) those debates. And candidates who sign the aforementioned pledge will presumably have to abide by that in the fall of 2024. Of course, the eventual nominee will likely have some significant say in whether he or she participates in those debates in the same way that a presumptive nominee has a say in his or her convention. 

[5] Finally, there is a whole section on selection of the committee in the 2016 version of the debates committee rule that has been stricken from the 2024 version. Ultimately, the chair has discretion over the creation of the committee, but under the current rule, there are no clear parameters concerning the size and selection of the membership of the temporary committee. In 2016, the RNC chair had five selections of thirteen with the remaining eight given to the four regions into which the RNC divides states and territories. Now, not only does the chair have the power to form the committee, but also has the ability to select its entire membership. This likely means little for the remainder of the 2024 cycle. The committee has already been chosen and has begun acting, reaching out to media outlets and considering borrowing DNC-type thresholds. Of course, there could be a new RNC chair after the 2023 RNC winter meeting, but it is unlikely that a new chair would disband the current panel and re-form it with the new chair's stamp. It would be unlikely but not impossible since the rule is silent on any transition to a new chair. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- The DNC Debate Qualification Rules Are In

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

The Democratic National Committee on Thursday filled in the remaining details about its upcoming initial round of presidential primary debates. Thus far, the party had announced the scheduling of the debates for the rest of 2019 and into 2020, but had remained largely mum on how candidates could qualify for entry other than to generally say entry would happen through polling and "grassroots fundraising".

That changed with today's announcement from the party.

For the most part, the DNC followed its rubric from 2016 with respect to the polling metric. Candidates can still qualify for a spot in the debate by registering at least one percent in at least three polls of which the party approves.

But in another innovation for the 2020 cycle, the DNC also added another marker candidates can hit to gain entry to the first debate(s). Modeled after the federal matching funds system in some ways, the DNC will also allow candidates who demonstrate a fundraising base of 65,000 donors spread across at least 20 states (with a minimum of 200 donors per state) into the debates as well.

That is a new spin on the matching funds system. The focus there has always been on the amount of money raised; at least $100,000 or $5000 in each of at least 20 states. But for debates entry, the metric is slightly different. The DNC is requiring some demonstration of grassroots support via fundraising, and is thus more focused on the breadth of the network of donors rather than the depth of that fundraising (the warchest accrued).

Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, for example, have all touted the fact that they raised money from all 50 states in the immediate wake of their announcements. Each is also above one percent in most polls that have been conducted to this point in the race. And that does raise a question  about where the bar is set for debates entry and whether there might be too many candidates to qualify.

The DNC answered that too.

Neither of the two randomly drawn debate fields for the first and second debate rounds in June and July will have any more than ten candidates on the stage at once. And if too many candidates qualify, the party will accept candidates who have met both qualification standards and use polling to differentiate further if necessary.

Left unanswered by the DNC is whether the qualifications standards will increase after July. The threshold announced will only apply to the first debates. But will the bar be raised when debates resume in September and incrementally go up thereafter? The debates will likely see the 20 slots filled in June and may serve at least some winnowing role as 2019 progresses. But if the threshold to qualify for debates progresses as well, then that winnowing role may be enhanced.

On DNC Debate Requirements and Candidate Strategy

What Will a "Grassroots Fundraising" Threshold for Entry to Democratic Primary Debates Look Like?

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Warren names a campaign manager. #StaffPrimary

2. Bill Weld is going to have something to announce at Politics and Eggs.

3. Although many have been sitting on the sidelines as the race comes a bit more into focus, big Democratic donors have been hearing from Biden. #MoneyPrimary

4. Swalwell appears to finally be on the verge of jumping in.

5. Gillibrand has made some hires, including someone recently on Sherrod Brown's reelection campaign in 2018. #StaffPrimary

6. Martha Coakley is raising money for Harris. As signals go, this is a former Massachusetts attorney general helping someone other than the Massachusetts senator in the race. #MoneyPrimary #EndorsementPrimary?

7. Klobuchar had some success raking in some money after her snowy announcement. The Minnesota senator raised $1 million in the two days after and with all 50 states represented. #MoneyPrimary

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- What Will a "Grassroots Fundraising" Threshold for Entry to Democratic Primary Debates Look Like?

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

Just prior to the holidays the Democratic National Committee released a schedule for upcoming presidential primary debates. The party at that time even included a contingency plan for the very real possibility that a slew of candidates have entered the race, forcing the party to have double-bill debates. Rather than follow the Republican big fish/little fish format from 2016, the DNC will instead randomize the selection of participants in each part of a two-tiered debate kickoff.

Outside of those provisions, however, the DNC remained relatively silent on the specifics of an important aspect of the process: how does one qualify? What measures will be utilized to separate participating presidential candidates from those who, well, do not measure up?

It was not that the announcement was without specifics, but they lacked definition. There were two main measures laid out and it was stated that the bar for entry would be kept low for the first debate (and likely rise over time).

Polling was listed as one component, but one that is not without drawbacks given a large field of candidates and the lack of, at this point in time anyway, a clear (and clearly separated) frontrunner. Any resulting polling-based threshold can end up rather arbitrary in such a scenario. What is to say that there is a true difference in sentiment for and between candidates sitting at or just above five percent in polls and those just below that level in the hypothetical situation where the cutoff is set at five percent? Well, not that much in many cases.

It is partly for that reason that the DNC has signaled that it will lean on other metrics as well to determine who gets in and who is left out of the initial two part debates. The other component is some demonstration of "grassroots fundraising". Outside of personal funds and money from PACs, super PACs and/or other groups, how much can/should a campaign pull in and how widespread should those donations be (in terms of from where they are coming)?

That remains an open question before the DNC at this point. But it is not coming into that discussion blindly. This same basic concept has been used elsewhere in the presidential nomination process.

Although it is more than a little outdated, other than for campaigns desperate for a cash infusion to stay alive, the federal matching funds system that in a bygone era helped fund presidential nomination campaigns sets a few markers that may serve as a baseline for the DNC as it continues its deliberations about debates qualifications.

The matching funds system continues to set a minimum of $100,000 raised across at least 20 states (at least $5000 in each) as the threshold for access to federal funding. No, serious candidates do not ultimately end up opting into that system anymore. They can far out-raise not only the threshold but their share and the match combined.

But that reality is beside the point in this setting. Candidates are not attempting to qualify for funding. Instead, they are attempting to do what the matching funds system was originally set up to accomplish: force the candidates and their campaigns to demonstrate wide enough support. Polling and widespread fundraising can build a more robust picture of that support than any one metric alone can.

Yet, that does leave one question unsettled; one with which the DNC will have to wrestle before it finalizes the rules likely in March. If the matching funds system is a starting point, then is the threshold it sets too low, too high, or just right for debate entry? And does the party use any of the information out there about the fundraising being done by candidates officially in or exploring a run up to that point? It is hard to imagine that data not making its way into and potentially influencing those discussions. And that may impact those who are already in versus those who are not at that point.

That may be problematic for a party coming off a cycle when accusations that it played favorites in 2016 continue to bubble up, not to mention the pressure it may continue to put on candidates to expedite announcement decisions.

Related: On DNC Debate Requirements and Candidate Strategy

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Gillibrand officially joins the fray.

2. Pete Buttigieg gets a lengthy profile in WaPo.

3. Sanders continues to staff up.

4. Expectations are already being set for Warren in New Hampshire.

5. Brown now has carve-out state trips planned, but any official announcement will have to wait.

6. Once openly talked about as potential presidential candidates in 2020, Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum are now being discussed as sought after endorsements and signal-givers for those candidates who have or will throw their hats in the ring.

7. Add Seth Moulton to the list of folks heading to New Hampshire.

8. Booker's travels take him to Louisiana, a state with a primary the weekend just after Super Tuesday.

9. Klobuchar's potential bid gets a thumbs up from her family.

10. Nate Silver has a coalition-building theory about the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

11. Kevin Collins responds with an alternative hypothesis centered on invisible primary resource acquisition.

12. A component of those resources is the team campaigns, nascent or otherwise, put together. There is only so much seasoned staff to go around in a large field, and potential staff are biding their time.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- On DNC Debate Requirements and Candidate Strategy

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

Recently, the Democratic National Committee announced a series of basically monthly primary debates that will start in June 2019 and run into primary season in 2020.

Although the qualifications for participation were left undetermined for the time being, the announcement was not without some important rules-related revelations. Most inventive among them was the plan to deal with an expected slew of candidates, a number likely to extend beyond what one debate stage could accommodate. Rather than repeat the Republican undercard/main event debate method from 2016, the DNC demonstrated it had learned some lessons and opted instead to randomize the participants across a doubleheader in each of at least the first two planned debates.

And the announcement has prompted another attempt at examining the importance primary debates on the candidates' fortunes.

But as news of the DNC debates considerations emerged over the course of fall 2018, FHQ returned to a constant drumbeat: No matter what decisions the party makes with respect to debates rules, there will be winnowing implications for candidates, potential candidates and candidates who opt to pass on officially running.

Mostly that is in reaction to the possible qualifications thresholds. But it is not clear that the DNC decision to not finalize those plans at this point in time is not also having some impact on [potential] candidate decision making.

All there is now from the DNC is a rough idea of what may be included in the qualifications, but not the specifics of the thresholds. We know polling. We know some measure of "grassroots fundraising". But we do not know the level of either. Nor do we know the balance between the two. Does polling count for more? Fundraising? Are they evenly counted?

Those are a lot of questions to answer if one is a candidate trying to find one's way in an overly crowded field. Now look, facing uncertainty is nothing new to presidential nomination politics, but this particular bit of uncertainty may be enough to freeze some candidates and to do so consequentially.

Let me explain.

Some candidates -- mostly the big names -- are planning early 2019 announcements. Warren is exploring already. Harris is supposed to be moving quickly. Biden is expected to make a decision by the end of January. The list goes on.

However, other candidates are planning later announcements. It was Jay Inslee's "by April" line on his decision-making calculus that prompted this line of thought.1 The question is why? Why would someone watch other candidates -- bigger names, more likely frontrunner-types -- emerge/announce and begin/continue laying the groundwork of a run while another candidate, seemingly further down the food chain, bides his or her time?

Part of the answer could be built on the idea that most 2016 candidates waited until slightly later into 2015 before officially throwing their hats in the ring. It also could be a decision spurred by a desire, like states on the primary calendar, to carve out a spot where a smaller scale candidate can draw some attention. None of that is implausible.

Yet, let's game out a debate rules scenario here. If you are, say, Eric Swalwell, then you are probably seeking an advantageous announcement time some time in the first half of the year in order to maximize the splashiness of the event. Part of that splashiness -- the timing of it anyway -- is very likely intended to influence the polling part of the debates qualifications equation. And the later the decision falls, the closer it is to the first debate. Such a delay helps that part of getting into the debates, but potentially hurt the grassroots fundraising part of it that will be more likely to rely on an extended period of fundraising (often helped along by an earlier announcement).

And that does not count a situation where a candidate banks on one part of the two-pronged qualifications to find out the other is weighted more.

In the end, the DNC is already on record that the initial thresholds for participation will be quite low. But the specifics of those debate rules matter. A delay until likely March for those specifics matters. Bigger candidates can more easily gloss over those things, while they remain consequential hurdles to longer shot candidates. In other words, those rules can affect decision-making within those campaigns more than others. They create more uncertainty.


What Will a "Grassroots Fundraising" Threshold for Entry to Democratic Primary Debates Look Like?

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. From Seth Market, what we know about 2020 and what we don't from the lessons of 2016. This one's going to be worth flagging now and returning to later as the invisible primary progresses.

2. This seems destined to be a line of demarcation in some way, shape, or form in the Democratic nomination process. Some candidates will approach Wall Street. Others will not.

3. O'Rourke is going to hit the "pop-in" circuit in the coming weeks. You say pop-in, I say listening tour. ...or could anyway.

4. More on Warren's trip to Iowa over the backdrop of what some potential Democratic caucusgoers in the Hawkeye state are looking for heading into 2020.

5. Five state legislatures came online for the 2019 session on January 7. There is not a lot of primary movement promise there.

6. Delaney has hired more staff in Iowa.

7. After a bunch of trips to Iowa, Swalwell is now heading to the Palmetto state.

8. McAuliffe saying his 2020 decision-making calculus is unaffected by Biden's moves and McAuliffe actually being unaffected by Biden are two different things. More importantly, expect a decision from the former Virginia governor in the first quarter of 2019.

9. And now it's time for something completely different: How about those Clemson Tigers!

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

1 Of course, Inslee looks to be fairly well organized despite the plan to possibly announce later.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Protecting the President? RNC Eliminates Primary Debates Committee

Just four years after it created the committee to sanction presidential primary debates, the Republican National Committee this past week at its 2018 spring meeting voted to strike the rule from its rulebook.

There are a couple of points that FHQ would raise both in reaction to the rules change and the coverage it has garnered.

On the rules change itself, some context is in order. Often FHQ talks of the national parties fighting the last battle when it comes to fashioning their delegate selection rules for a coming presidential nomination cycle. Indeed, the modus operandi of the national parties has tended to be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," which is necessarily backward looking. The national parties look back to the most recent evidence they have on how well or how poorly the system is working and attempt to make corrections to address any shortcomings for future cycles.

The Democrats' efforts in assembling their rules for the 2020 cycle are littered with examples of this. But it should also be said that the very creation of Rule 10(a)(10) -- the 2014 rule then known as Rule 10(h) that created the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary debates -- also fits this mold.   Coming off a 2012 cycle that saw 20 debates, the Republican National Committee was intent on reining in not only the number of primary debates but also in creating some oversight for state party/media partnerships for those debates. The solution was the creation of a national party entity to sanction official Republican Party debates.

Again, that action fits the pattern. Fixing a perceived 2012 problem for the 2016 cycle.

However, the vote at the 2018 RNC spring meeting to eliminate the debates committee broke with that pattern. Rather than fixing a problem from 2016, the RNC is seeking instead to proactively plan for the 2020 renomination of an incumbent Republican president. And the rationale is simple enough:  Why have a debates-sanctioning committee when the party is lined up behind the current occupant of the White House?

At least that is part of the rationale. Another is that this has been widely viewed as an effort by the Republican National Committee to protect President Trump from would-be 2020 Republican challengers. This, too, is something a break from the norm. The predominant pattern for nomination rules creation in the post-reform era has been for parties out of the White House to attempt to tinker their way back in; to put together a process that ideally will produce a candidate well-equipped to defeat the incumbent president.

That leaves the party in the White House to, more often than not, rest on their laurels when it comes to its nomination rules. The motivation -- the urgency -- just does not exist in the same way that it does for the out-party. First, presidents, in a position over their national parties, tend to like the process that nominated them in the first place. But the typical inactivity or minimal activity from in-parties is also a function of the fact that incumbent presidents do not often see challenges to their renomination.

And when those challenges have materialized, there has not been much evidence of the parties maneuvering to protect their presidents at the rules-making stage of the cycle. Republicans at the 1988 Republican National Convention, for example, were not planning ahead for a future that included a 1992 Pat Buchanan challenge to the presidential candidate they were nominating. The party's concern then was more about lining up behind Vice President Bush. Bear in mind that at that point in time Republicans set their rules for the subsequent cycle at the preceding convention. There was no rules-making infrastructure in place then to amend the Republican rules of the nomination process outside the convention.

Nor do we see much evidence of the Democratic National Committee moving to protect President Carter ahead of the 1980 cycle. That is the only other time in the post-reform era where a sitting president had either persistent chatter about a challenge to his nomination or an actual challenge.

Now, there were rules changes that the Democratic Party made for the 1980 cycle, but the motivation behind those rules changes was not exactly to protect the president from a prospective Kennedy challenge. This was the cycle where the DNC formally added a threshold for candidates to qualify for delegates. Four years early, in 1976, the party had allowed states to add a qualifying threshold of up to 15 percent of the vote in a primary or caucus. Candidates who received less than 15 percent of the vote in those states (and the congressional districts therein) that set thresholds did not qualify for delegates. For 1980, the party made this a requirement. States were mandated to have some threshold, but had some latitude in setting it. Primary states could establish a threshold up to 25 percent, and caucus states could set a threshold as low as 15 percent, but no higher than 20 percent.

On the surface, that looks like an attempt to protect President Carter. Yet, a threshold that low functionally only rewards an incumbent by warding off a minor challenge; nuisance challenges. Such a threshold potentially becomes beneficial to an incumbent in the case of multiple challengers as well. The more candidates who run increases the likelihood of candidates not qualifying for delegates. In the case of one major challenger, the threshold becomes a non-issue. One strong candidate is likely to meet that threshold anyway.

1980 was also the cycle that saw the innovation of the "window rule" in the Democratic nomination process. The intent was geared more toward keeping frontloading at bay and the calendar formation orderly by setting a second Tuesday in March through the second Tuesday in June "window" for states to conduct their primaries and caucuses. While the goal was focused more on state-level actions and protecting exempt Iowa and New Hampshire, a secondary motivation behind the window rule was to tamp down on the resources a prolonged process required the candidates and the party at all levels to expend. This rules change did not clearly benefit Carter in 1980.

Finally, 1980 was also the cycle that witnessed the DNC banning the use of loophole primaries, where delegates are included on the primary ballot and directly elected (as opposed to being selected through caucus/convention processes with candidate input). That cycle stands out as the only exception during the early part of the post-reform era (the first 20 years) when the loophole primary process was permitted. Although insider candidates tend to be the beneficiaries in such systems, their usage at the state level in the early post-reform era was not widespread. It would not have affected things much more than at the margins. Both Carter and Kennedy could lay claim to being insiders in 1980 anyway and went on to basically split those contests.

While the sum total of all of these 1980 cycle Democratic rules moves gives the impression of helping Carter in retrospect, in reality the maneuvering was consistent with those of a party in search of the "ideal" rules in or out of the White House. And during the early post-reform era, the Democrats were out more than they were in.

Given that context, the focus can shift back to the present and the Republican rules for 2020. FHQ's reaction to the news that the RNC intended to drop the debates committee was less about that than it was to the idea that change was intended to protect the president. In fairness to those reporting on the 2018 spring meeting, there were members of the RNC would provided "protection" as at least part of the rationale for the move.  Randy Evans, the Republican National Committeeman from Georgia, came right out and said, "Obviously this is intended to dissuade a primary challenge to the president."

FHQ will not dispute that. The move certainly continues to send a clear signal that the Republican National Committee remains in lockstep with the president. Reminders of the clarity of that point emerge every time during the Trump era that the RNC has gathered for one of its seasonal meetings.  But whether eliminating this committee protects the president is predicated almost entirely on the premise that President Trump would participate in any hypothetical primary debates. As with many things concerning this president, there is a great deal of uncertainty around that idea. We do not know whether Trump would opt into such a debate. In fact, there is a pretty good argument to be made that he would sit out any such event, not allowing the platform to any would-be challengers.

If one falls on the Trump would not participate in primary debates anyway side of things, then eliminating this primary debates committee does not really accomplish all that much. If anything, it protects the Republican National Committee. It saves this standing committee from the obligation of NOT sanctioning any debates in the event of a challenge to the president.

Imagine a time in 2019 after Republicans have hypothetically lost control of one or both houses of Congress, the Russia investigation has persisted (and Democratic oversight of the administration in that area and others has intensified), and a challenger to Trump's renomination -- let's call him John Kasich -- has emerged. Now imagine that this debates committee still exists, but the president has no interest in debating his hypothetical challenger. That committee is, by rule, supposed to sanction debates with input from the various campaigns. If one campaign wants to debate and another does not, then what is the committee -- the RNC -- to do?

A party in such a position might be inclined to side with the incumbent president in that case and not sanction any debates. But it would have to turn a blind eye to the other campaign(s) and any following/resistance (to the president) both within the RNC and among rank-and-file Republicans to do that. That would be handing to that group the type of structural grievance that Bernie Sanders and his supporters used against the DNC throughout the 2016 process and into the 2020 cycle for that matter.

Instead of going down that road, the RNC opted to get out of the debate-sanctioning business altogether for the time being.1 Again, that move continues to send a signal that the national party is behind the president, but the elimination of the debates committee is protecting the RNC more than it is the president. It eliminates a potential problem down the road before it materializes. And yes, in fairness, that may never have materialized anyway. But the RNC has that covered now regardless.

1 One alternative option the party could have pursued was a minor edit to Rule 10(a)(10). The standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates could have been left in place but would only be activated in years in which there is no incumbent Republican in the White House (seeking renomination) or little or no competition for the nomination. Of course, those are tricky concepts to define that may end up slippery slopes back to the same sorts of problems the RNC would have in 2020 if the committee had survived. Eliminating the committee with the option of bringing something like it back at the discretion of the RNC chair should conditions change is the cleanest option.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Unintended Consequences of Fighting the Last Battle

FHQ often talks about the unintended consequences of presidential primary rules changes at the national party level. We also frequently invoke the notion of those same national parties fighting the last battle in setting those rules. It is not often that we tie the two together. But this week, as the Republican National Committee gathers for its spring meeting in Scottsdale, there is a great example playing out of how fighting the last battle is yielding unintended consequences for the RNC as 2016 approaches.

The RNC rules on delegate selection have been set for nine months now, but the particulars of one rules change -- a new addition for the 2016 cycle -- remain somewhat unsettled. The new rule in question is the measure put in place to regulate the presidential primary debates process in the context of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Those rules are an example of a classic reaction to a perceived problem from the previous cycle. Though the number of debates were down slightly in 2012 relative to 2008, they were not counter-programed by Democratic debates, leaving the Republican candidates in the spotlight attempting to in some ways out-conservative one another.

This was viewed by the RNC and some pundits as injurious to the party and its nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in the general election phase of the campaign.1 Perceived problems and a loss in November often lead to a perceived need for nominations rules changes and then actual rules changes in the years immediately following the loss. That was the case in 2013 when the RNC began moving toward rules that would limit the number of debates in the 2016 presidential nomination cycle.

But that was a set of changes tailor-made for 2012. 2016 is a different animal. Rules changes in 2013-14 have led to a need for more rules in 2015. Limiting the number of debates is one thing, but determining who can participate from among a crowded field of candidates and potential candidates is another altogether. FHQ mentioned in reaction to the debates proposal nearly two years ago that the RNC risked moving from managing a process (the debates) to trying to control it. Attempting to control a process with competing interests -- the national party's, the state parties', the candidates', the media outlets' -- is attempting to control an uncontrollable process. That is even more true when an initial wave of regulations on debates requires a second wave of rules to govern who can participate.

That is something the RNC is struggling with now. Where does the party draw the line on who can participate? What determines that line? Poll position (in a period of the process where name recognition is driving things)? Fundraising (with or without super PAC data)? Staffing and organization in early states?

Perhaps all the RNC has done is open Pandora's box. But keep in mind that just because this is unique to the Republican Party now does not mean that this is not something that  can affect Democrats too. That may not come in 2016, but could in the future. The problems (potentially) are the same across both parties. It may be useful to coordinate, evenly if only loosely, a set of best practices for primary debates regulation like the national parties did on the calendar rules these last two cycles.

1 Of course, despite all of that, the 2012 election still ended up about where one would expect given that an incumbent president was seeking reelection with both decent but not great approval ratings and a growing but not greatly economy.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

RNC Creates New Rule Dealing with Presidential Primary Debates

Under Rule 10(c) of the Rules of the Republican Party -- the rule granting the RNC chair the ability to create new committees with the approval of the RNC -- the Republican National Committee will charge a new committee with sanctioning the presidential primary debates during the 2016 cycle.

The new Rule 10(h) reads as follows:
There shall be a Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, which shall be composed of thirteen (13) members of the Republican National Committee, five (5) of whom shall be appointed by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and each of the four (4) regions shall elect two (2) members, one man and one woman, at its regional caucus at the RNC Summer Meeting in each even-numbered year in which no Presidential election is held. The chairman of the Republican National Committee shall appoint the chairman of the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates from among the members thereof. The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, and the best interests of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” Any presidential candidate who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates.
Rule 10(c) is the same rule that allowed for the creation of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee that altered the rules under Chairman Steele's direction for the 2012 cycle -- Rule 10(d) in the 2008 Rules of the Republican Party -- and earlier this cycle created another temporary commission dealing with the preparation and planning of the national convention (Rule 10(g)). The difference between those committees and the new committee on presidential primary debates is that the latter is a standing committee. Unlike the other standing committees the rules call for, the debates committee provision is not housed in Rule 10(a) like the other seven "standing" committees.

The 2016 trial run of the debates committee may decide whether it joins the others in 10(a) at the next convention in the rules for 2020.

Recent Posts:
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Can a National Party Manage or Control Presidential Primary Debates?

And Can the RNC Accomplish That Goal Through New Rules?

FHQ chose to lead with this manage/control dichotomy because I think former New Hampshire governor, John Sununu, was absolutely right in January when he told the winter conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State -- in a panel FHQ was on -- that national parties are often fighting the last battle when it comes to how they will govern future presidential nomination rules. He expanded on his point by adding that those same national parties -- or at least the internal struggles within them -- attempt to control a process that can only really be managed.

Problems in the process in one cycle are not necessarily problems the next time around. And new attempts at rules often have unintended consequences. A great case in point is the addition of superdelegates to the Democratic Party process for the 1984 cycle. The intention of adding superdelegates was to empower a group of party elites to serve as arbiters in any unresolved nomination contest. But that sort of scenario did not happen in 1984. It was not until 24 years later that the term superdelegate crossed any lips outside of Democratic circles.

Another such issue, but on the Republican side, was the addition of the proportionality requirement for 2012. Now, some will argue that the lack of winner-take-all contests prior to April 1, 2012 did help to slow the Republican nomination process down. That wasn't the case. Instead it was the distribution of contests across the entire calendar -- no contests throughout much of February after a January start point and only a small trickle of contests between Super Tuesday in early March and late April when there was a Mid-Atlantic/Northeast subregional primary.

But the point is that I think of those talking points every time a new set or portion of delegate selection rules comes along. A national party has to be deliberative and careful in laying out any new rules. And sadly, there is no test facility to where either Democrats, Republicans or both can head to try these things out. Unintended consequences only come around in the midst of a primary campaign. And then it is too late.

This is a lengthy way of FHQ saying that I agree with most who have responded to the RNC debates resolution -- the one ending any potential partnering relationships between the party and CNN and NBC for the purposes of presidential primary debates -- with skepticism.

No, the party really has no control over candidates or state parties when it comes to whether they agree in principle with any debates overtures they receive from either "rogue" media outlet. If a candidate or state party wants to debate and can agree with one of those networks on the parameters of a debate, then there will likely be a debate. Granted, this is all somewhat situational. If, by 2015, there is a clear or even marginal frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, then said candidate is perhaps less likely to go along with an increasing number of debates.1 That has the impact of potentially insulating an establishment candidate. However, the RNC and any establishment candidate/campaign may actually want more debates if that establishment candidate is not the frontrunner candidate. If a frontrunner is insulated and the establishment candidate -- if there is one emergent establishment candidate -- is behind, then that desire for fewer debates dissipates.

Again though, planning -- or attempting to control -- for those types of scenarios is very difficult this far in advance. That is the sort of trap that national parties can let themselves get dragged into in efforts to fix the past. No party can fix the past, but they can affect the future in ways they cannot expect.

That's why FHQ thought former RNC chair and current co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, was dead on in his comments to Politico about regulating presidential primary debates.2 By expanding the certainty of what a bipartisan debates commission produces from the general election to the primary phase as well may open the door to an open discussion that produces a plan that eliminates the problems in the process that affect both parties. Coordinating -- even if only loosely -- the process across parties can generate a plan that may not overreach into the area of unintended consequences in the way that a one-party effort might.

The primary process has witnessed something similar over the last few cycles in terms of how the parties have collectively dealt with the issues of rogue states and frontloading of delegate selection events on the calendar. There is now a set of semi-coordinated rules and penalties in place across both parties to deal with both. That the parties are now -- even if only partly -- a united front it is better than two different mindsets on the problem.

Of course, there are two different mindsets on the debates "problem". The Democratic Party has not had the same sort of issues that the Republican Party appears to have had in 2012 and thus, does not see the need for a change. Yet, that is not that different from the differences between the parties on the above rogue/frontloading problem. After 2004, the Democratic Party wanted to nip frontloading in the bud. What it came up with was a rules-based plan to penalize not only states but candidates if states moved into non-compliant dates on the calendar and candidates campaigned in those states. Both would lose delegates.

Now, a Florida and Michigan mess later, it would not appear as if the plan worked. However, that had more to do with the fact that Democrats had attempted to go it alone rather than a flawed system. Without Republicans onboard, the plan was much less likely to succeed. Witness the provocative Florida maneuver in 2007. Florida Republicans, though they ultimately had some Democratic support in the state legislature, orchestrated the move of the Sunshine state presidential primary into January 2008.

After a second consecutive cycle that saw primary season kick off in Iowa on January 3, both parties are largely on the same page on this issue. Both national party apparatuses recognize the need for some informal coordination of rules and penalties for those would-be rogue states and candidates willing to flaunt the rules. The RNC, then, ultimately converged with the DNC on its thinking concerning doling out and enforcing penalties on rogue states; though the penalties were different across parties.

There is, though, a divergence between national parties on the thinking behind the debates issue. What the RNC sees as a problem, the DNC does not. Coordination is difficult under those circumstances. But, then again, it does not appear to FHQ that coordination is necessarily needed in this instance. It might help, but coordination is not necessary in the same way that it was on the timing and primary calendar issues above.3 [But truth be told the certainty of a united front between/across both parties on the issue of primary debates could be a good thing.]

Given that there is no convergence between the parties now, what can the RNC do to get what it wants in the realm of presidential primary debates. The resolution from the RNC summer meeting this week in Boston is one part. Theoretically, reducing the number of partnering media outlets could help to also reduce the number of debates. But that cannot be the only part or the RNC gets right back to where it started from: with uncertainty over whether candidates and state parties are actually going to toe the company line.

This is the exact reason that FHQ -- in reaction to the creation of a Rules subcommittee charged with reexamining the rules of the primary process -- mentioned that that subcommittee would be the forum in which the regulation of debates will be deliberated. They will be.

But the question remains: What can the RNC do to either manage or control this process?

There is one model out there that may provide those curious about where the party is going rules-wise with some guidance. FHQ should note that unlike some of the other rules discussions in this space -- namely the proportionality requirement and timing rules -- I have no "inside information" on the RNC's intentions. That said, there are only so many options available to the RNC and the party has a very fine needle indeed to thread to even approach getting this debates issue "right".

The truth of the matter is that the presidential nomination process involves a confluence of political interests: Those of the national party, those of the states (governments), those of the candidates and those of the state parties. [Oh, and hey, perhaps those of the voters as well.] What one group wants is not necessarily what another group desires. So, while the RNC may want to decrease the number of debates, there still exist very difficult-to-manage incentives for state parties and the candidates and their campaigns to resist that call. The answer for the national parties -- the model, it appears -- is to remove those incentives. How?

The process has seen this play out before, albeit in another area. Again, the Democratic Party devised in the wake of a second consecutive defeat to George W. Bush in 2004 a way to keep states and candidates in line in terms of the constant calendar jumping. The way that the party dealt with rogue states and candidates in the rules for 2008 was to strike at the interests of those entities. Go earlier than is required by the party rules? Lose half (then all, then half, then none of) your delegation. Campaign in a rogue state? Lose your delegates from that state at the convention.

Did Florida and Michigan defy those rules? You betcha. But the party meted out a penalty that was in effect until it was clear that 1) it would not have changed the outcome at the convention and 2) it was serving an injurious purpose to the party and its nominee by angering convention activists in two typically competitive states.

On the other end, did the penalty work on the candidates? Yes, it did. No one campaigned in Florida until after the primary -- when the rules allowed a resumption -- and no one campaigned in Michigan after it was clear in the late summer of 2007 that Michigan was, in fact, going rogue.

[It should be noted that the process of deriving and instituting these rules was partially dependent on the the campaigns -- and their surrogates within the DNC -- and the usual band of carve-out state representatives being onboard. The early states were and the would-be campaigns were as well. That was the glue that kept the rule together.]

Is this a roadmap for the RNC regulating presidential primary debates?

Yeah, I think it is one potential course of action. And on the positive side of the ledger, it is not even really something that requires buy-in from the DNC. By and large, there are not a huge number of coordinated primary debates across the parties. I can think of one coordinated, double debate that happened in New Hampshire on the eve of the primary in the Granite state in 2008. But those are the exception rather than rule. Unlike regulating the movement of primary contests -- something that involves getting past bipartisan interests within states -- this debates issue is something that can potentially be handled in-house.

The drawbacks take this conversation back to something FHQ said early on in this post. To make rules like this work, a national party almost has to get it right the first time. If the penalty isn't right (see 50% penalty for violating the RNC timing rules in 2012), then the move could backfire. There is no testing ground for this other than an actual nomination race.

So how does the RNC provide disincentive for state parties and candidates on partnering with or participating in a supposed superfluous debate (...whether on CNN, MSNBC or otherwise)? The obvious answer is by taking away delegates as the DNC did for timing violations and campaigning in 2008.

But how much? Debates are not like primaries. A primary or caucuses in a state are one-off events. They are held and over in one fell swoop. Debates are not like that. There are, for instance, multiple debates in, say, Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina during the ramp up to the actual delegate selection events in those states. Does a national party go straight for the jugular and penalize everything or a sizable amount of delegates for one rogue activity? Alternatively, does the party attempt to mete out a penalty based on the number of violations? Complicating matters, does the RNC also devise a separate penalty for partnering with unsanctioned networks? Before this notion is dismissed out of hand, recall that the RNC had no answer in 2012 for a state that violated the proportionality requirement and the timing rules. There was only one 50% delegate hit a state could receive. Once one rule was violated, the RNC had no further stick to use against multiple violations.

FHQ does not have the answers to these questions. But they are important questions that the RNC Rules subcommittee on primary rules will likely consider if they are serious about regulating these presidential primary phase debates.  If regulation is the end goal, then attacking the existing incentive structure is the only path for the party to take.

...but does that veer off into fighting the last fight or fall under the category of an evolutionary management of the system?

We'll see.

1 And yeah, there was a bit of savvy to the RNC resolution. It served two purposes. First, the move played to the base of the party by going after a familiar whipping boy: the liberal media. But as many have pointed out, it also has the byproduct -- by reducing the number of outlets for debates -- of helping to reduce the number of actual debates that take place in the lead up to and during primary season in 2015 and 2016.

2 Those comments:
Former RNC Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf encouraged Priebus after the election to set early parameters for the number of debates and coordinate with Democrats, who will face similar pressures for tons of debates — especially if Clinton decides not to run.
“My friends at the networks make a carnival atmosphere out of it all,” Fahrenkopf said. “You’ve got to this situation where a candidate was afraid not to participate in a debate, even if they didn’t want to.”

Fahrenkopf, who is co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, points to the certainty in a general election context of always hosting three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate.

“It gives the candidates cover from the standpoint of not being compelled to do every single debate because they’ll offend some interests,” he said. “I don’t know whether the right number is 10 or 12 or 8. That’s not for me. But they ought to say there will be [X] sanctioned debates. Then a candidate can say when the Lion’s Club in some small town … calls, ‘We’ve already agreed to the two sanctioned debates in New Hampshire.’”
3 That said, one could certainly see a future where there is some convergence between the parties on the presidential primary debates issue. Regardless of whether any speculative new rules work for the Republican Party in 2016, the Democrats could -- as the Republicans ultimately did on the calendar issues -- come to the same conclusion. Debates are too numerous and detrimental to the nomination process and/or the success of the party's nominee in the general election. That may not happen in 2016 or even 2020, but one could envision a time when the Democrats' are pushed in that direction.

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