Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Deeper Dive on the New RNC Rules Subcommittee

It is perhaps premature to start talking about the implications of the newly created subcommittee that the RNC Standing Committee on Rules created last week to reexamine the party's rules regarding its presidential nomination process. There are, after all, no recommendations on the table yet; no formal proposal for reform large or small. All we have is a list of member names and one informal discussion to go on here. And the details of the latter are quite limited. At this point, that is not really all that surprising. There is still a year before the RNC will finalize the rules, so it is an ongoing process.

Still, there is a bit of tea-leaf reading that can be done in this case about what may emerge from this group's efforts and go before the full Rules Committee and possibly the full RNC. At its most basic level, there should be some line of inquiry about the 17 folks on the subcommittee. I mean, are we talking about a slew of establishment types, a bunch of Paulites or something in between? The make up of the group has some bearing on what rules changes -- if any -- it is likely to recommend.

Though it is perhaps a crude measure, FHQ is of the opinion that the roll call vote the Rules Committee had at its April spring meeting on Morton Blackwell's package of amendments is an initially good lens through which to examine the new subcommittee. Recall that the Virginia national committeeman's laundry list of changes to the rules that came out of the Tampa convention would have essentially reversed course and have reverted the rules to their 2012 nomination state. Further, that vote was a narrow victory (28-25) for the establishment, rejecting a return to the old rules. On some level, then, this vote is a pretty good proxy for a change back (grassroots)/stay the same (establishment) set of camps involved in any future subcommittee discussions.

First, let's have a look at the membership: The RNC member's state-level position is in parentheses. The vote on the the Blackwell amendment package -- where a Yes vote means changing the rules back -- as well as any other notes about the member's proximity to either the establishment or grassroots camp is also included where available.

That's ten No votes and seven Yes votes on the Blackwell package of amendments, plus any vote Chairman Priebus may have in the subcommittee process in the future. The reason that vote is a crude proxy is that there were a host of changes in there. Some of those Yes votes may have been for part of the changes specifically rather than the entire package. Once or if that is disaggregated and individual changes are dealt with in the subcommittee setting, some of those votes -- on either side -- could change.

Still, this is a rough proxy. We know, for instance, that the establishment position has the upper hand based on the numbers above. We have that as a baseline and know that the full group fits the "somewhere in between" distinction described earlier. That points toward some changes being made to the current set of rules, but not necessarily a fundamental rewriting of them or reversion to the 2012 model.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

DNC's Turn at Presidential Nomination Rules This Week in Scottsdale

Like the Republican National Committee a week ago, the Democratic National Committee is set to gather in Scottsdale, Arizona later this week (August 22-23). Also like their Republican counterparts, the DNC will consider a number of resolutions, though none will likely meet the same level of attention the Republican resolution barring debates on NBC and CNN had.

But the question, as always around these parts, is whether anything substantive will emerge from the Democratic meeting on the 2016 presidential primary rules front. We were treated to rules talk in Boston about debates, June conventions and a Republican Rules Committee meeting with few fireworks last week. Little, other than the creation of a subcommittee to Rules, came of it though.

Will that be different in Scottsdale?


This DNC meeting will largely resemble the January winter meeting of the RNC in Charlotte. In other words, there will be talk about the present and future of the party, but with little in the way of actionable results. least on the 2016 delegate selection rules.

The real reason the January RNC (Rules Committee) meeting is the best approximation of DNC (Rules and Bylaws Committee) meeting is that the real business at hand is the selection and settling of new members on the various underlying party committees; an orientation, if you will. And that has always been the case. Higher ups in the DNC -- on the RBC anyway -- have been saying all year that the Democratic Party would not really begin the process of examining the rules governing it delegate selection process until 2014. The meeting later this week is consistent with that timeline.

August is for installing new RBC members, who will, in turn, work with the remaining members of the RBC to begin fashioning a new set of rules that will be finalized around next year this time.

So don't expect many rules changes out of Scottsdale.

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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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Saturday, August 17, 2013

June Conventions?

Why does this keep coming up? 

...with no details about how a June convention is even logistically possible in the context of a primary calendar that stretches into that month?

The draws of an early convention are obvious. Candidates, nay, presumptive nominees, can make the financial transition to the general election warchest. That can be a big deal for said nominee following what may be a moderately to very difficult nomination race that has run deep into the well of primary phase money. This makes sense.

But the drawbacks -- or more appropriately the political and structural impediments -- to shifting up a convention to that early a point are quite onerous. Again, recall that the Republican autopsy of the 2012 election and the primary process -- the Growth and Opportunity Project Report -- mentioned that a nominee needs "an estimated 60-90 days to prepare for the Convention". That is, there should be 60-90 days between the conclusion of the delegate selection process and any subsequent national convention. Even a late June convention means that delegate selection will have had to run its course in all states two to three months in advance. In the best case -- 60 day -- scenario, that's some time in April.

As the autopsy's convention point goes on:
"If the Convention were to be held in July, the last primary would need to be held no later than May 15. If the Convention were to be held in late June, the final primary would need to be held no later than April 30. Moving primaries up will require states and state parties to cooperate."
FHQ is less concerned with those date thresholds, but that last statement is noteworthy. Moving primaries up will require states and state parties to cooperate. Does that mean the same states and state parties that have cooperated in the post-reform era in not moving up to non-compliant dates on the front end of the calendar?

Actually it does not. The rogue states have been the same cast of characters for quite a while. By now, regular readers here can reel them off from memory quite quickly. And Arizona, Delaware, Florida, and Michigan are not really the ones the RNC needs to worry about. They are already compliant with not being in that April to June window that would be problematic for a June convention.

No, the states that litter the latter part of the primary calendar are a different lot and offer a different set of issues.

...all while potentially facing the same sort of penalties that have dogged the rogue states challenging the early end of the calendar.

What sorts of issues?

For starters, there are partisan concerns. California and New Jersey -- two states that dropped early and separate presidential primaries in favor of later (June) consolidated primaries in 2012 -- strike FHQ as states not necessarily willing to budge on the move in the future. That may or may not have anything to do with the inertia of making yet another change, but it will certainly have something to do with which party is in control of the date-setting apparatus in those states. In the Golden state, Democrats maintain unified control of the legislature and the governor's mansion and will not shift the date unless there is some clear benefit to the Democratic Party or one or more of the potential Democratic candidates.1 An RNC directive will not do much to move that needle. A similar DNC measure may affect some change in California and other Democratic controlled states at the back of the calendar queue. Granted, Democrats are not necessarily high on the idea of a June convention. Folks FHQ has chatted with in the DNC are willing to go along an earlier convention, but not as early as June.

Those sorts of partisan divisions -- or lack of unified control -- now exist not only in California and New Jersey but in New Mexico, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Oregon and Kentucky among the May and June states alone. That could be problematic if the end goal for the RNC is a June primary.

But let's assume for a moment that those states look more like, say, South Dakota after midterm or state elections in 2014 or 2015. That is, they are controlled by Republicans. That rids the national party of a political problem but does not erase a very real structural one. Revisit that California/New Jersey discussion above. The issues in those states were a combination of partisan and structural. Beyond the partisan complications that we have assumed away in this thought experiment, there is some benefit to pretty much every state at the end of the calendar having consolidated primaries -- combined presidential, state and local primaries.

Altering that structure would mean moving everything up -- presidential, state and local -- or creating and shifting up a separate presidential contest like what North Carolina did just this past week. The former is something that state legislators of all partisan stripes are not always open to. It affects their reelections whether a threat exists affecting those chances or not. The system has worked for those legislators in winning office one or more times in the past. Why change it? In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The alternative is to create and fund a separate presidential primary election. Not every state requires the $100 million it takes to fund such a contest in California, but state governments are not racing to expend multiple millions of dollars in the current economic environment for these sorts of purposes. That outlook may change between now and 2015 when these date-setting decisions will be made, but don't place any wagers on that just yet. That dilemma, if it was even a dilemma, did not seem to affect the calculus in North Carolina recently. The General Assembly in the Tarheel state charged ahead with the primary change with little or no mention of the estimated $4 million price tag of a separate presidential primary.

Still, as FHQ has shown, one of the primary determinants of state movement -- or non-movement in this case -- in the post-reform era has been whether a state holds its presidential primary concurrently with the primaries for state and local offices. Those with consolidate primaries have been much less likely to move.

Given those constraints, what is the RNC to do if the end goal is a June convention? Well, it can press forward of course. But the party is very likely to find some resistance, more so from states than state parties. If that is what happens -- the RNC moves on this initiative and finds widespread state-level resistance to the idea -- the only move left at the national and state parties disposal at that point is to transition from a non-compliant consolidated and late primary to earlier and compliant caucuses.

...but that conflicts with another recommendation in the GOP Report: "discouraging conventions and caucuses for the purpose of allocating delegates to the national convention". But the caucus route may be the only one open to the RNC in a number of late states because of partisan or structural complications. However, that would mean the addition of as many as ten or eleven new caucus states; an increase of around 100%. That opens the door to a number of unintended consequences that possibly exacerbates any rift in the party or reverses the inroads made toward cooperation.

A June convention is an uphill battle. Even late July seems tough given the apparently required 60-90 day window.

1 The partisan picture is similar in New Jersey minus Democratic control of the governor's mansion. But a party potentially needs to have unified control of the legislative and executive branches to make these primary moves happen.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

RNC Rules Committee Shunts Reexamination of Presidential Nomination Rules to Subcommittee

After the unanimous vote this morning in Boston at the summer RNC meeting all anyone really wants to talk about is the presidential primary debate stance of the party. FHQ will have some things to say on that matter at some point (in addition to what I have already had to say via Twitter), but first thing's first.

Actions taken Thursday afternoon in the RNC Standing Committee on Rules are going to have some bearing on whatever the party decides to do with debates among a host of over rules matters affecting the 2016 delegate selection process on the Republican side. It was there, in the Westin Boston Waterfront, that the Rules Committee essentially hit the pause button on a continued piecemeal approach to tweaking the nomination rules and gave the greenlight to a subcommittee charged with developing a more sweeping proposal. That is likely -- if we are to see anything more on debates from the RNC -- to produce any rules affecting any and all presidential primary debates during the 2016 cycle. But that proposal is also likely to include a number of fixes to the existing rules.

For one thing, the may/shall issue in Rule 16(c)(2) -- bringing back the proportionality requirement for pre-April 1 primaries and caucuses -- is likely to be handled from within the subcommittee context. A fix to Rule 17 -- to help it better coexist, as intended, with Rule 16 -- will also likely emerge from those subcommittee deliberations at future meetings between now and next August when the 2016 rules will be finalized. Part of the inconsistency is the may/shall loophole. Like the Supreme Court's voiding of the current Section 4 formula in its Shelby case decision that effectively struck down the Section 5 preclearance rules regime, without "shall" in Rule 16(c)(2), the initial portion of Rule 17(a) is meaningless. There is no 50% penalty for states that violate a Rule 16(c)(2) provision that is a suggestion, not a mandate from the national party. The intent of the original combination of Rules 16 and 17 was to put in place a super penalty affecting states that held contests before the final Tuesday in February. But it was also supposed to leave in place the 50% penalty for states not abiding by the proportionality requirement before April 1. The combination of the two rules was suppose to leave an overlap for that last week in February where just the 50% penalty would apply (but only if states are not proportional in their allocation plans).

Of course that still leaves a small loophole in that last week of February where states could hold contests in that window and allocate delegates in a proportional manner to avoid any penalty. That could also be something the RNC Rules subcommittee could examine in the coming months. Indeed, Nevada Republican National Committeeman, Jim Smack, had an amendment that was deferred to the subcommittee yesterday dealing with an inconsistency between those two rules. [FHQ has not seen that amendment.]

But this is all a process and the RNC -- now through a subcommittee of the Rules Committee -- will deal with the primary rules in due time. Our best bet is to take the existing rules as our baseline and mix in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report as a broad guide to what may come out of these discussions.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

In Answer to a Nagging Question About the RNC Delegate Selection Rules

In view of the fact that Morton Blackwell does not appear to be introducing in Boston the same series of amendments to the RNC rules that he issued at the spring meeting in LA, this perhaps is not necessary.

But FHQ did get an answer to one of the questions that came out of the RNC spring meeting back in April. First, the context:

If you will recall, the Virginia committeeman submitted and then argued for a series of amendments to the RNC delegate selection rules at the LA meeting that would basically have restored the overall rules to the version that governed the 2012 Republican presidential nomination process. Those changes would have reversed some of the more controversial changes made at the Tampa convention that did not sit well with those in the Paul/libertarian/grassroots faction of the Republican Party.

However, some of those revisions called for changes to rules outside of those the RNC is permitted -- by rule -- from altering outside of conventions. One of the rules added in Tampa -- Rule 12 -- gave the RNC the power to make changes to the delegate selection rules, but only the ones not specifically dealing with the ways in which the subsequent convention would be conducted. The bottom line is that the RNC can change Rules 1-11 and Rules 13-25. Everything else -- including Rule 12 (which was controversial in its own right) -- is off limits.

Yet, Blackwell's long list of rules revisions at the spring RNC meeting stretched beyond those rules indicated in Rule 12. Rule 41, for instance, was altered in Tampa. The former Rule 40 -- one higher for 2016 because of the addition of Rule 12 -- stated that for a candidate to have his or her name placed in nomination at the convention, said candidate had to control the delegations from at least five states. The new Rule 41 raised that threshold from five to eight states. Again, that was something that stuck in the craw of those in the grassroots faction of the party; something Blackwell sought to change back in LA for 2016.

How, though, can a rule outside of the purview of Rule 12 be amended and how would that be dealt with in the context of all the other rules changes in the Blackwell series? This was something that FHQ and Zeke Miller at Time (and perhaps Politico's James Hohmann as well) went back and forth about via Twitter during the Rules Committee portion of the spring meeting. Does the fact that the amendment contains changes to rules not indicated in Rule 12 void the whole set of revisions? Is their inclusion ignored and only the rules included in Rule 12 changed as a result of the amendment? In April that was unknown.

FHQ fell more toward the latter camp, but the true answer -- after some guidance from the RNC -- is a bit more nuanced. If Blackwell were to have brought back up in Boston the same LA amendment -- reversing the Tampa changes -- and it had passed with a majority of the Rules Committee and three-quarters of the full RNC, then here is what would happen:

The rules able to be changed would be changed immediately as Rule 12 indicates. However, any rule outside of the parameters of Rule 12 included in an amendment -- yet passed by the committee and RNC -- would be sent to the next convention as a recommended change to be dealt with in that context.

As FHQ said at the outset, given that Morton Blackwell has scaled back his amendments from LA for the Boston meeting, the point seems to be moot.

But if it comes up at a future RNC meeting, this is an FYI.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing RE: 2016 Rules at RNC Summer Meeting in Boston?

That all depends.

If the question being posed entering the three day confab in Boston is "Will the RNC put in place rules for 2016 that reflect the initiatives called for in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report?", then the likely output -- as in January in Charlotte or April in LA -- will underwhelm. However, just because the GOP Report is not going to be imminently implemented does not mean the Republican meeting in the Bay state will be a wash.

What should we be on the look out for and what should we expect out of Boston 2016 rules-wise over the next few days?

One big question that FHQ has asked RNC members recently is whether they were of the opinion that Virginia committeeman, Morton C. Blackwell, would once again propose the same laundry list of changes to the entire body of the RNC delegate selection rules as at the LA meeting? The answer I have gotten has been a number of I don't knows. But the best indication of Blackwell's intentions came a little over a week ago when he posted on RedState a letter/rules proposal that he was sending to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.1

The laundry list has been pared to down to probably the most minimal (yet fairly significant) rules change possible. And close FHQ readers should be familiar by now with the "may/shall" issue in Rule16(c)(2). This is something FHQ has been pointing out since we first got a hold of the RNC rules back in January, and is something that some higher ups I spoke with at the Charlotte meeting around the same time were aware of and assured me would be changed.

As a quick refresher, Rule 16(c)(2) lays out the proportionality requirement for states that hold primaries or caucuses prior to April 1 in a presidential election year. For 2012, the rule read that states with contests before that point "shall" allocate delegates to the convention in a proportional manner. It was a mandate (...but one that provided great latitude for states to achieve proportionality). But at the RNC convention in Tampa last year that shall -- as Blackwell mentions in his letter -- became a "may", making the mandate more of a toothless suggestion. It also rendered (actually, it still renders in the present tense) the penalty for violating the suggestion in Rule 17 meaningless.

In lieu of the sweeping return to the the bulk of the pre-convention rules that he and others fought for in LA, Blackwell is taking a more pragmatic approach in Boston by addressing the proportionality issue alone.

This seems like a rare bit of common ground between the Blackwell camp and some in the establishment of the RNC over delegate selection rules. But will we actually see that change made this week?

Maybe, maybe not.

And here's why: The "may/shall" switch may be quietly made and the Rules Committee and RNC move on to other issues. That could happen, but the party could also wait to make that change. The other thing that FHQ has heard is being considered and may come out of this meeting -- or more specifically the Rules Committee deliberations and then the RNC -- is a study committee to examine the whole set of rules that can be altered between conventions according to Rule 12. In other words, Rules 1-11 and Rules 13-25; everything but the convention-specific rules. The "may/shall" issue may be thrown into that group's work as one of several things to address (...later) about the nomination process.

The "may/shall" thing is actually quite significant as it serves as one of multiple rules-based barriers to states moving to earlier dates on the primary calendar and/or threatening the carve-out states' positions. It, then, is a big change if it occurs. And the study committee idea is not without merit either. It just isn't a significant a change. It does potentially provide a medium through which those not happy with the rules can air grievances about the rules, a byproduct of which may be more streamlined Rules Committee meetings at future seasonal RNC meetings. The context of my question to RNC members about the list of Blackwell amendments from LA coming up again, was/is that that had the potential to hijack the Rules Committee meeting at future meetings, making it harder to get any work -- Blackwell's, the party's or otherwise -- done.

But that is what everyone with an eye toward the rules governing the 2016 nomination process should be on the look out for this week out of Boston.

Well, you might also see some stern warnings from some over North Carolina's recent primary move. It will certainly be a topic of discussion, but there will not be any solution to the problem now.

1 This is part of the protocol of Rule 12. That any proposed change to the RNC rules must be submitted and circulated in advance (10 days) of any meeting where said amendment will be considered.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Update: 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar (8/13/13)

The changed date of the North Carolina primary has caused a bit of a shake up to the 2016 presidential primary calendar. And the alteration -- culminating with the bill being signed into law yesterday -- seems to have been inadvertently yet maximally timed to coincide with national party meetings that will address the 2016 delegate selection rules later this week (Republicans) or later this month (Democrats). This will give the parties something to think about even if the change is only somewhat minimal, affecting the best case scenario calendar the parties envision. Long term, the move in the Tarheel state could inspire subsequent copycat moves that could further affect that best case scenario.

[Find the calendar's permanent home here. There is a link to the 2016 calendar in the upper left corner of the page as well.]

  • North Carolina no longer coincides with the Indiana primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May. Instead, the North Carolina presidential primary is now conditionally anchored to the South Carolina primary. If -- and this if is a given -- the South Carolina primary falls on a date prior to March 15, the North Carolina primary will be scheduled for the Tuesday following that. In other words, according to the new North Carolina law, the Tarheel state presidential primary will be in February at the latest. When in February is the question now. 
  • The North Carolina action is enough for FHQ to now add the carve-out states to the calendar in tentative albeit best case scenario positions. By best case scenario, FHQ means the latest these states would be on the calendar given what we know about where other states are currently positioned and the spacing the carve-out states have preferred between their contests and others in past cycles. 
  • The map has also added a new shading element to account for the options available to some states that may be at the beginning of the calendar (see footnotes on Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah below) and where that is likely to force the carve-out states. 
Why are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (and North Carolina as well) where they are on the calendar below? The FHQ 2016 presidential primary calendar now reflects the best case scenario calendar given where state law currently positions states and past precedent for how the carve-out states have reacted to provocative maneuvers in potentially rogue states. Importantly, this current best case scenario assumes the following: 
[a] Both Colorado parties opt for the March 1 caucuses date instead of the February 2 date. Both are allowed by state law. 
[b] Minnesota parties agree to a compliant caucus date before March 1, 2015, thus avoiding an automatic scheduling of the caucuses for the first Tuesday in February 2016. 
[c] The Missouri General Assembly actually changes the first Tuesday in February date of the presidential primary in the Show Me state, or barring that [again], the state parties opt into compliant caucuses as Missouri Republicans did in 2012. 
[d] The Utah legislature either decides not to fund the first Tuesday in February presidential primary or shifts back that date in the statute. 
[e] South Carolina parties maintain their desire for a seven day buffer between their primaries and the contest(s) in any other southern state. 
That means Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Utah are not threats. They are out of the way as far as the carve-out states are concerned. However, considering the new law regarding the North Carolina presidential primary, North Carolina would then violate the terms of the fifth (South Carolina) assumption above. With South Carolina typically choosing a Saturday primary date, a North Carolina primary on the Tuesday just three days later would not pass muster with the parties in its neighbor to the south.

As has been mentioned in this space previously, the South Carolina parties would have some tools to utilize; especially on the Republican side. According to the current RNC rules, all four carve-out states have the month prior to the next earliest contest in which to schedule their own delegate selection events. But the North Carolina law anchors the North Carolina primary to the scheduling of the South Carolina primary. To some extent that does tie the hands of the state party decision makers in the Palmetto state. Those same primary date decision makers -- again, on the Republican side but with possible implications for South Carolina Democrats -- could also hide behind the new protections nestled in the Republican delegate selection rules: the super penalty. That leads to the final assumption:
[f] South Carolina would schedule its primary for a date that would automatically trigger the super penalty on North Carolina if the law in the Tarheel state remains unchanged or the state parties there do not opt into a caucus/convention system as Missouri Republicans did in 2012. 
To accomplish that, the South Carolina parties could schedule their primaries for as late as Saturday, February 13, 2016. That would position the North Carolina primary on Tuesday, February 16, a date open to the super penalty under Republican rules. Please note that Tuesday, February 23 is not a date affected by the super penalty. That is the last penalty-free point of the calendar currently and why the Arizona and Michigan primaries are very unlikely to move from their state law-mandated positions. South Carolina could opt for Saturday, February 20, but there would be no penalty on North Carolina for a primary three days later. Such a move does not help decision makers in South Carolina. 

If South Carolina falls on February 13, then:
[a] The Nevada caucuses would or could be a week earlier on Saturday, February 6
[b] New Hampshire would then fall in line on the next earliest Tuesday that would give the state/secretary of state the seven days necessary to comply with state law ("seven days before any other similar contest"). The primary in the Granite state could not be scheduled for Tuesday, February 2 as that is only four days before the Nevada caucuses. These states had a similar dispute in 2011. The next earliest and compliant date for New Hampshire, then, is Tuesday, January 26
[c] And all of that means the Iowa caucuses would have enough calendar space to precede New Hampshire by its customary eight days, unlike in both 2008 and 2012. That places Iowa on Monday, January 18
In all, then, the North Carolina action only pushed the starting point in the best case scenario calendar up by a week since the last FHQ calendar update in June

Now, if any or all of the states (Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and/or Utah) fail to act as assumed above, then the best case scenario becomes the worst case scenario outlined in June:
  • Saturday, January 2: Iowa caucuses
  • Tuesday, January 5: New Hampshire primary
  • Saturday, January 16: Nevada caucuses
  • Saturday, January 23: South Carolina primary
  • Tuesday, January 26: North Carolina primary
  • Tuesday, February 2: Colorado caucuses, Minnesota caucuses, Missouri primary, Utah primary
And that scenario puts the national parties right back to the square one they have attempted to avoid since 2008.


Reading the Map:
As was the case with the maps from past cycles, the earlier a contest is scheduled in 2012, the darker the color in which the state is shaded. Arizona, for instance, is a much deeper shade of blue in February than California is in June. There are, however, some differences between the earlier maps and the one that appears above.
  1. Several caucus states have yet to select a date for the first step of their delegate selection processes in 2016. Until a decision is made by state parties in those states, they will appear in gray on the map.
  2. The states where legislation to move the presidential primary is active are two-toned with wide, diagonal stripes. One color indicates the timing of the primary according to the current law whereas the second color is meant to highlight the month to which the primary could be moved. For example, a bill currently being considered in Massachusetts would move the presidential primary from its current position in March to a new spot on the calendar in June. 
  3. Other states -- the carve-out states and states with state laws providing guidance for setting a primary or caucuses date but no specific date or multiple specified dates -- are also two-toned with narrow, horizontal stripes. In this case, one color (gray) represents the uncertainty of the primary or caucuses date now while the other color (or colors) highlight the options available to states or the most likely date for a contest in that state given the information we currently have. So, in Iowa, for instance, we know that the state parties in the Hawkeye state will want to protect the first in the nation status they have enjoyed in the past. To maintain that position alone, Iowa could now conduct its precinct caucuses as late as January 18, 2016. In a state like Utah, the primary itself is dependent on the state legislature allocating funds for that purpose. Should legislators in the Beehive state follow through on that action for 2016, the primary would be in early February. That explains the color in both instances. 
  4. States that are bisected vertically are states where the state parties have different dates for their caucuses and/or primaries. The left hand section is shaded to reflect the state Democratic Party's scheduling while the right is for the state Republican Party's decision on the timing of its delegate selection event (see Nebraska). This holds true for states -- typically caucus states -- with a history of different dates across parties but which also have not yet chosen a contest date.
Reading the calendar:
  1. Note that if you click on the state name in the calendar below, the link will take you to the relevant section of the state's law or party's bylaws covering the date of the primary or caucus.
  2. Links to discussions of 2013 state-level legislation addressing the dates of future presidential primaries have also been added (see 2013 Legislation in the calendar).
  3. Markers have also been added indicating whether legislation has become law or has died at some point in the legislative process. 

2016 Presidential Primary Calendar

Monday, January 18:
Iowa caucuses1 (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, January 26: 
New Hampshire (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, February 2:
Missouri (2013 Legislation: March primary: House/Senate, April primary -- all Died in Committee)
Utah4 (2013 Legislation: Primary funding -- Signed into Law)

Saturday, February 6:
Nevada caucuses (***tentative given current information***)

Saturday, February 13:
South Carolina (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, February 16: 
North Carolina (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, February 23:
Tuesday, March 1:
Florida5 (2013 Legislation: March primary -- Died in CommitteePrimary on first unpenalized date -- Signed into Law)
Massachusetts (2013 legislation: June primary)
Texas (2013 Legislation: Saturday primaryFebruary primary -- all Died in Committee)

Tuesday, March 8:

Tuesday, March 15:

Saturday, March 19:

Tuesday, April 5:
Washington, DC (2013 Legislation: June primary)

Tuesday, April 26:

Tuesday, May 3:

Tuesday, May 10:

Tuesday, May 17:

Tuesday, May 24:

Tuesday, June 7:
Montana (2013 Legislation: May primary -- Died in Committee)

Primary states with no specified date:
Maine (2013 Legislation: establish primary -- Died in Committee)
Nevada8 (2013 Legislation: January primary -- Died in Committee)
New Hampshire
South Carolina

Without dwelling on something that is WELL before its time, FHQ should note that those February states are only problematic in 2016 if the two parties' delegates selection rules mirror the rules from the 2012 cycle. They may or may not. The real problem children, if you will, are the primary states without specified dates for 2016. As of June 2013 they remain the free agents for the 2016 primary calendar and the ones that may bear the most intense watching between now and mid-2015. That said, first things first: The first step is a set of rules from the DNC and RNC. We have a ways to go before the parties settle on/finalize something on that front (summer 2014). The Republican Party is further along in its process than are the Democrats.

1 This date does conflict with the Martin Luther King Day holiday in 2016. As John Deeth points out in the comments section that is an issue that was a source of some discontent among Iowa Democrats when the caucuses and holiday overlapped in 2004. If that is an issue again in 2016, it may affect the date of the caucuses above. Moving it up further would perhaps push the envelope a bit too much, but the state parties may opt to hold the caucuses on a Tuesday -- a week before New Hampshire on January 19 -- as they did in 2012. 
2 The state parties have the option of choosing either the first Tuesday in March date called for in the statute or moving up to the first Tuesday in February.
3 The state parties must agree on a date on which to hold caucuses by March 1 in the year prior to a presidential election. If no agreement is reached, the caucuses are set for the first Tuesday in February.
4 The Western States Presidential Primary in Utah is scheduled for the first Tuesday in February, but the contest will only be held on that date if the state legislature decides to allocate funds for the primary.
5 Democratic-sponsored legislation would establish a specific date for the Florida presidential primary; the second Tuesday in March. 
6 See definition of "Spring primary" for clause dealing with the timing of the presidential primary.
7 Kansas has not held a presidential primary since 1992. Funds have not been appropriated by the legislature for the primary since that time. That said, there are laws in place providing for a presidential preference primary. Assuming funding, the Kansas secretary of state has the option of choosing a date -- on or before November 1 in the year preceding the presidential election -- that either coincides with at least 5 other states' delegate selection events or is on the first Tuesday in April or before.
8 A Republican-sponsored bill during the 2013 session of the Nevada legislature would create a consolidated primary (presidential primary together with state primaries) and move the contest from June to January.
9 The North Carolina primary is now scheduled for the Tuesday following the South Carolina primary if the South Carolina contest is prior to March 15. Given the protected status South Carolina enjoys with the national parties, a primary prior to March 15 is a certainty for both parties in the Palmetto state. The link to the North Carolina statute does not yet reflect the change made to the presidential primary law. Language laying out the parameters for the primary can be found in the bill (HB 589) recently signed into law.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

North Carolina Just Made the 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar More Interesting

Governor Pat McCrory (R-NC) today signed into law a fairly sweeping elections bill (HB 589) that will alter the way in which voters are registered and how elections are conducted in the Tarheel state.

The now-law also changes the timing of future presidential primaries in North Carolina. Instead of falling on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May, the North Carolina presidential primary will now occur on "the Tuesday after the first South Carolina presidential preference primary" if the primary in the Palmetto state is conducted prior to March 15 of any presidential election year.1 Given the protected status South Carolina enjoys as the "first in the South" primary in both national parties, a primary before March 15, 2016 is almost a given.

That means that North Carolina now joins Missouri on the wrong side of what will likely be the national party rules for 2016 delegate selection. In turn, that means that the 2016 presidential primary calendar takes on a different shape altogether.

According to the current RNC rules, South Carolina (and Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada) have a month prior to the next earliest contest to schedule their four delegate selection events. Missouri [Republicans] proved in 2012 that they can scale things back, opting out of a noncompliant, state-funded primary for a party-run caucus on a date compliant with national party rules.2 That may again prove to be the course of action both Missouri parties take in 2016 if the legislature in the Show Me state cannot change the date of the presidential primary there. North Carolina may or may not affect the thinking in Missouri. Regardless, it now brings to two the number of states with laws currently calling for what will be noncompliant presidential primary dates in 2016.3 Two states does not a trend make necessarily, but there is at least one state (North Carolina) now that has very few options for avoiding the RNC super penalty, the penalty now in place for states that violate the national party rules on the timing of primaries or caucuses.

Without further change to this portion of the law, North Carolina Republicans could get hammered with penalties.

...or could end up forced to go the caucus route to comply.

All of this, however, only examines one side of the equation. It fails to incorporate what the national parties or the four so-called carve-out states will do in response. What affects South Carolina affects Nevada affects New Hampshire affects Iowa and all of it affects what the national parties may do with their rules of the course of the next year when those rules will be solidified.

One option for the carve-outs is to do what they have always done: push ever forward on the calendar. But the North Carolina law makes that more difficult. It takes away the week long buffer that South Carolina parties typically require in between its primary/primaries and a primary in another southern state (assuming South Carolina maintains its customary Saturday primary date). That means that unless the North Carolina law changes, South Carolina can opt into a date that triggers the super penalty on North Carolina and starts a strong-arming process like the one between New Hampshire and Nevada in 2011. That may end up pushing North Carolina in the direction of a caucus/convention system for allocating delegates as was the case with Missouri Republican in 2012.

But the bottom line here is that North Carolina is now on South Carolina's heels. And the best case scenario for the national parties has taken a bit of a hit. As it was with no change in Missouri -- triggering later and compliant caucuses there -- and Colorado, Minnesota and Utah opting into less provocative dates, Arizona and Michigan were the next earliest states on February 23. That would leave enough time between either February 16 or 20 and the last week in January. Now, with North Carolina threatening the balance, that best case scenario could look a lot like the worst case scenario outlined here: right back to the beginning of January where things have started the last two cycles.

1 The presidential primary will now not occur concurrently with the primaries for state and local offices. Thus, the state would incur a cost by hold a new and separate presidential primary election; something several states (Arkansas, California and New Jersey) legislated to avoid in 2012 as compared to separate presidential primaries in each in 2008.

2 Missouri Democrats applied for and received a waiver from the DNC to hold an early February primary in 2012. But the Democratic nomination race was not competitive and the stakes were pretty low. That may not be the case in 2016.

3 One could also add Minnesota, Colorado and Utah to this count, but those states have options. Minnesota state parties have to agree to a uniform caucus date by March 1 of the year preceding a presidential election or the caucus date is set for the first Tuesday in February the following year according to state law. In Utah, the primary requires state funding; an action the state legislature there failed to take in 2012. Over in Colorado, the law allows the parties to opt into a caucus on either the first Tuesday of February or March. In other words, like Missouri, these states have options/future decisions to make.

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