Thursday, March 9, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Doing the things that prospective candidates do

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

One of FHQ's typical bits of invisible primary advice is to look at actions not words when trying to divine what it is that candidates or prospective candidates are up to in the early going. Only, in 2023 on the Democratic side, there is something of an exception to that rule. President Biden is doing all of the things that a prospective candidate for reelection does. While he has drawn a challenger, all of the arguably most viable alternatives are not readying for long and divisive bids. In fact, many of them have already signed on to advise the president in his quest for reelection. Those around the president are suggesting he is running and the president has hinted at it himself. The only thing he has not done is say, "I'm running."

But that has not stopped a steady stream of stories in recent days from reporting on planning going on in the event that he does not throw his hat in the ring or speculation about the field of candidates that could line up to seek the nomination in his stead. All of this, of course, belies the reality presented above.  And races involving the incumbent are usually boring. The same things happened four years ago on the Republican side. But then it was stories about Weld, Sanford and Walsh, how Trump was going to play the delegate game and Republican state parties opting out of contests. It is the same thus far in 2023. But replace those Republican stories from four years ago with stories about Biden's (similarly weak) challengers and the primary calendar shake up (which is also being spun as an incumbent defense). 

There may be some there there in the Democratic presidential nomination process in 2024, but it is a relatively small there. Actions, not words.

In the travel primary, T-minus one day until DeSantis descends on Iowa for the first time. And there is a Las Vegas stop in early primary (caucus?) state, Nevada, on Saturday as well.

The contests in four states conflict with Passover next year. [Yep.] One of those states, Maryland is on top of it: 
The Maryland House speaker and Senate president both came out in favor of changing the date for next year’s primary. A spokesperson for Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, told JI on Tuesday that he “supports moving next year’s primary Election Day so it does not fall on Passover.”

But the Jewish Insider goes on...
In Pennsylvania, no such effort is yet underway. 
[Uh, well...]

Actually, there is an effort to move the Pennsylvania presidential primary. Two of them, in fact. Passover may not be the impetus for that change, but there is a change in the works. Oh, but JI goes on...
There is currently another push in Pennsylvania to change the Democratic presidential primary date for 2024. Democratic legislators introduced a bill to move the Democratic presidential primary next year a month earlier, to March 19, to give Pennsylvania a bigger say in the party’s nominating contest. If it were implemented, that bill would not affect the Republican primary — still set for April 23 — or other statewide primaries set to take place on that date.
That is not how this works. States may move a consolidated primary up. [And that is what is happening in the two bills proposed in Pennsylvania.] They may split a presidential primary off from the rest in order to schedule it earlier. But rarely does a state split up a consolidated primary and then schedule two separate presidential primary elections. That is just too expensive for most states. South Carolina stands out as the only state with two separate, state-run presidential primaries; one for each party. But the Palmetto state is the exception to the rule.

On this date... 1976, Jimmy Carter bested George Wallace in the Florida presidential primary, seen as a southern elimination contest after Carter's victories earlier on the calendar. Wallace had won the primary in the Sunshine state in 1972. 1980, John Connally (R-TX) pulled out of the Republican nomination race, raising and spending a lot of money along the way to win one delegate. 1992, Tom Harkin (D-IA) withdrew from the Democratic nomination race following wins in the Iowa, Idaho and Minnesota caucuses. 2000, it was the day of the South Carolina Democratic firehouse primary. It was the last cycle that South Carolina Democrats held a contest after Super Tuesday. It was also the day that both Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) gave up bids for their respective nominations after big Super Tuesday losses. 2004, it was (again) the day of the Florida presidential primary. The contest in the Sunshine state had not moved from that second Tuesday in March position on which it had been conducted since the beginning of the post-reform era. Florida, infamously, was not in that same position in 2008.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Winner-take-most, please

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) continues inching toward a presidential bid. No decision is on the horizon in the near term, but initial hiring has taken place and super PAC infrastructure is taking shape. Former Senate colleague, Cory Gardner (R-CO) heads one such entity, and Rob Collins, who was involved with the super PAC, Future 45, during the 2016 cycle, is in the fold as well. Future 45 often gets pegged as a Trump-aligned group but most of the money it took it in was spent against Hillary Clinton rather than for Trump in that cycle. In the staff primary of 2024, Collins' support of Scott is noteworthy but it seems more like just that -- Scott support -- rather than a defection from Team Trump.

Douglas Schoen has an op-ed up at The Hill assessing the state of the Republican presidential race. And that is fine. But this section violated a major pet peeve of FHQ's:
The design of the Republican Party’s winner-take-all delegate system also inherently benefits a candidate like Trump, whose devoted base comprises roughly 35 to 40 percent of the primary electorate. This is far from a majority but is enough to carry him to the nomination, as it did in 2016.
Technically, this is right. There is a "winner-take-all design" to the Republican presidential nomination process. But when one describes it in this manner without all the important caveats, it just ends up perpetuating the myth that the Republican allocation process is ALL winner-take-all. It is not

Look, it takes a lot to explain all of the caveats. Truly winner-take-all rules, where one candidate can win all of a state's delegates if he or she wins a small plurality even by just one vote, are prohibited before March 15. But states can be proportional with a winner-take-all trigger, where if a candidate wins at least a majority of the vote statewide, he or she wins all of the state's delegates, before March 15. And states after March 15 can still adopt a variety of rules. They are not all winner-take-all after that point. 

The answer to this should be pretty simple. So, for 2024, call the Republican delegate allocation process winner-take-most and be done with it. Winner-take-most encompasses the full range of proportional (winner-take-more), hybrid and winner-take-all rules without having to get down in the weeds about the caveats to all the different plans. This holds when comparing the Republican process to that of the Democrats as well. The latter mandates proportional rules while the former allows a variety of winner-take-most rules. 

Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein has a good one on how an organized Trump campaign in 2024 might be able to exploit the divorce between delegate allocation and selection in the Republican process and use it to his advantage even in the event he doesn't win a majority of allocated delegates. A few things on this one:

1. There may be some tinkering at the margins that brings some delegate allocation in line with the allocation process on the state level, but it is probably too late in the 2024 process to mount a full scale effort to change the rules. The national party rules are already locked in for the cycle and have been since April of last year. But there may be some efforts on the state level to alter state rules on the matter. 

2. Still, there is reason to think that those efforts will be limited. As Bernstein notes, delegates on the Democratic side have to meet the approval of the candidates/campaigns they will represent at the national convention. That is not necessarily the case on the Republican side. But there was an attempt to add candidate approval to the rules that were to come out of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Here is the FHQ dispatch from Tampa at the time and the relevant excerpt from a proposed rules change that did not make the cut: 

Proposed Rule 15(b):
For any manner of binding or allocating delegates permitted by these Rules, no delegate or alternate delegate who is bound or allocated to a particular presidential candidate may be certified under Rule 19 unless the presidential candidate to whom the delegate or alternate delegate is bound or allocated has pre-certified or approved the delegate or alternate delegate.

Analysis of Change:
This is the rule that has drawn so much backlash from Paul supporters, Santorum supporters and other state party officials and has threatened to throw the convention into a floor fight. Honestly, this change has the potential to be the proportionality requirement of of 2016: an overhyped rule with no real impact on the process. At the heart of the conflict is the notion that delegates being approved by candidates is a power grab at the expense of a state party's right to choose how it allocates its delegates. Further, it takes a grassroots activity meant to build the party and turns it over to the candidate or candidates. FHQ gets the rationale, but I struggle to see what fundamental impact the change will have.

Actually, I do see the impact it will have. Together with Rule 15(a) the candidate approval mechanism altogether ends the possibility that a statewide vote can be overturned in subsequent steps in a caucus process by enthusiastic and organized supporters of a candidate that did not comprise a majority or plurality of the statewide vote. We can call it the Ron Paul issue. It isn't a problem because the Paul folks and their supporters were behaving well within the confines of the rules laid out for the 2012 cycle. It is, however, perceived as a problem by the national party. It takes what has been an orderly process and leaves the order up to chance every cycle; opening the door to discord within the party and a less than cohesive national convention that could hurt the presumptive nominee for the party.

The backlash was pretty severe and was seen as another in a series of power grabs by the national party orchestrated by Ben Ginsberg who was running the show for the Romney team on the convention Rules Committee at the time. I mean, conversations about the Ginsberg power grab and the true grassroots of the party took place among RNC members for years after this. State parties are loathe to make changes that shift the balance of power away from them. Most will resist efforts to change the linkage (or lack thereof) between the delegate allocation and selection processes. 

The bottom line here is that Trump has in 2023 an institutional advantage that he and his campaign did not have in 2015. That is important.

On this date... 1988, it was Super Tuesday. Well, not only was it Super Tuesday, it was Southern Super Tuesday, the first real concerted effort at a regional primary date. I have put 3/8/88 into a lot of datasets a lot of times over the years. It is burned into that gray matter.

Pennsylvania House Bill Would Move Presidential Primary from April to March

A group of five Republicans led by Rep. Keith Greiner (R-43rd, Lancaster) has introduced legislation to shift the Pennsylvania general primary, including the presidential primary, to the third Tuesday in March

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Hawaii Senate Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

The Hawaii Senate on Tuesday, March 7 passed legislation creating a presidential primary in the Aloha state and scheduling the stand-alone election for Super Tuesday.


See more on our political/electoral consulting venture at FHQ Strategies. 

Invisible Primary: Visible -- New Hampshire's Primary Asterisks

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

There is not exactly a who's who lining up to try their hand at challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. Yes, Marianne Williamson is in (as noted a day ago in Invisible Primary: Visible). And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. revealed on the Politics and Eggs circuit in New Hampshire that he, too, is considering a run. These are not names that are going to capture the imaginations of Democratic primary voters in 2024, but it is no mistake that both have stopped in the Granite state early on in their considerations. They may not capture imaginations, but they may draw some protest votes their way in a rogue New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary next January

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley earlier this year before the DNC finalized the calendar rules for 2024 told Politico that Biden losing to a "mechanic from Arkansas or Oklahoma" (or whoever files to gain access to the New Hampshire primary ballot) would be a potential early embarrassment for the president. Maybe. But if New Hampshire goes rogue, then the president will not be on the ballot there. Candidates stand to lose delegates if they campaign in states that break the rules. And no president is going to break the rules of the party that he or she leads. 

That means that either Biden cannot lose (a contest that will not mean much during primary season) or that a write-in effort (not organized by the reelection campaign) might fall short of protest votes against a president who attempted take first-in-the-nation status away from New Hampshire. But if Williamson or Kennedy stand to gain in that scenario, it may not be Biden who loses. It may be New Hampshire that loses even more clout with the national party for 2028.

Speaking of New Hampshire, the AP went looking for Biden resistance among Democrats and found some in of all places, New Hampshire. 

Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is back home in Tallahassee today to deliver the State of the State address as the legislature in the Sunshine state revs up for a quick 2023 session.

Harry Enten had a nice look at Trump's position in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race relative to history. He called Trump a frontrunner (which he is) but also added:
It would be easy to dismiss Trump’s numbers as merely the product of high name recognition, but history suggests something different. The eventual nominees from this group include, among others, President Gerald Ford for 1976, Vice President George H.W. Bush for 1988 and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole for 1996.
Likening Trump to Bush and Dole in particular gave off real next-in-line vibes; a flashback to a whole different era Republican nomination races. Trump is not so much next in line as he reluctant to give up his spot in line. But it remains unusual in the post-reform era for former presidents to seek their party's nomination after they have lost a general election. 

On this date...

... in 2000, it was Super Tuesday. And it was a crowded Super Tuesday at that. Nearly 50 percent of the total number of delegates were on the line in the Democratic process that day. Only the Titanic Tuesday of 2008 has eclipsed that 2000 Super Tuesday in the percentage of delegates allocated on one date.

May Presidential Primary Bill Continues Its Quick Pass Through Idaho Legislature, but...

The Idaho legislation to consolidate the stand-alone March presidential primary with the primary elections for other offices in May emerged late last week from the Senate State Affairs Committee with a Do Pass recommendation. 

With just two dissenting votes, the panel passed off H 138 to the full state Senate for consideration on the floor. But that move followed quick passage through the state House and a committee hearing on the upper chamber side that heard far more testimony against the move to consolidate the presidential primary with later contests. And both the trade-offs involved in the discussion and the battle lines drawn offer an interesting mix of factors in a state long under unified Republican control.

Part of the equation is a classic tale in the journey that some bills take to move a presidential nominating contest around on the primary calendar. Bill sponsors (and Secretary of State Phil McGrane) in this case have touted the savings that eliminating the separate presidential primary will have once merged with the primaries for state and local office in late May. Indeed, the move would strike an estimated $2.7 million from the state budget. No one providing testimony offered much to counter that reality. 

Instead, the resistance came from the Idaho state Republican Party and to the supposed infringement on its right to free association under the first amendment. To boil the session down to its essence, it was a struggle between a state party's right to determine when to hold a nominating contest and the state's obligation to foot the bill for such an election. 

That happens across the country from time to time. But what is unique here is that this is a Republican-on-Republican dispute. A majority of Republican legislators are driving a change to a process that the state Republican Party opposes. The latter wants an earlier presidential primary that does not fall after the nomination has already been decided. That is the typical draw for the frontloading of presidential primaries and caucuses. 

But interestingly, Idaho is stuck in this weird vicious cycle where the lessons of the past are forgotten and bound to be re-learned on some level. To garner attention in the presidential nomination process, the state Republican Party abandoned the May primary in 2011 in favor of earlier (Super Tuesday) caucuses. That pushed the state government -- again, under Republican control -- to eliminate the presidential primary line from the May primary ballot altogether. And those moves had implications. First, the earlier caucuses actually brought 2012 Republican candidates into the Gem state to campaign. But the caucus process also proved arduous for the state party. Financing it was one thing, but finding the requisite manpower to pull it off was another. Often, there is no substitute for a state-run process, even if that means a later date. 

But it did not end up meaning a later date. In fact, ahead of the 2016 cycle, Idaho legislators revisited the idea of a presidential primary. And the legislature opted to set aside funds for a separate, earlier election a week after Super Tuesday. That expenditure was offset by the prospect of bringing in candidates again and bringing in any financial windfall that brought for Idaho businesses in the process. Only, that windfall never came. 2016 Republicans focused on delegate-rich Michigan instead. And not only did those gains not come in 2016, but the Idaho presidential primary was even less of a draw to Democrats in 2020 on a date crowded with other, more delegate-rich contests. 

And that is why proponents of H 138 are talking up the cost savings and the potential gain in turnout in the May primary. The irony, of course, is that those turnout gains may never be realized. The state Republican Party may be forced to abandon the potentially later presidential primary to hold earlier caucuses once again. And that, in turn, may put legislators in 2027 right back where they were in 2015: considering an earlier presidential primary for the upcoming cycle. And so it continues in Idaho.

A few other odds and ends from this hearing:
1. Former state senator and current Ada County Commission chair, Rod Beck noted in his testimony before the committee that the bill they are considering does not, in fact, do what proponents set out to do. It eliminates the separate presidential primary, but does not also build back the legal infrastructure that was in place before the presidential line was eliminated from the May primary ballot in 2012. This is something FHQ noted in the initial post on H 138. In other words, under the provisions of this bill, there will not be a presidential primary in March OR May. That is an additional nudge to the state party (or state parties) to move to caucuses for 2024.

2. As another in a long line of folks testifying on this bill noted, a late May primary also creates a logistical nightmare for the state party. The point was that a late May primary forces a caucus/convention process to select delegates into a very small window before a July national convention. That point was, perhaps, a bit exaggerated. After all, other states have begun the selection process before a late primary allocates slots to particular presidential candidates in the past. There would be ways to work around that in Idaho as well. However, that late May primary date would push Idaho much closer to the new 45 day buffer the RNC has put in place for 2024. States have to have completed their delegate allocation and selection processes before the end of May. So there is probably some wiggle room for Idaho under the scenario where the state conducts a late primary, but not a whole lot. 

3. Yet another person who offered testimony raised questions about the supposed impact a move to consolidate the primaries would have on turnout. Obviously, if the parties move to adopt a caucus procedure, then those effects will be minimal. But the point made was that Idaho has changed the process so often in the last decade plus that it is difficult to get a baseline to compare turnout to, a baseline that is not just some function of the quirks of any given presidential nomination cycle. 

More on the committee hearing in the state Senate here and here.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Super Tuesday is just a year away

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

There have not been a lot of them this cycle, but this figures to be the week that "candidates aren't heading out to Iowa like they used to" stories die. Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will visit the Hawkeye state on March 10, and former President Donald Trump (R) will follow on the 13th. The other candidates -- announced and not -- have already made initial forays into the first state on the 2024 Republican presidential primary calendar but the frequency of visits will only grow with the current top two candidates in the Republican race hitting the circuit. 

Marianne Williamson (D) is in (again), Larry Hogan (R) is out, and JB Pritzker gets a white knight profile in the Times. Meanwhile, Biden, who has not officially entered the 2024 race but is widely expected to, is not getting a serious challenge from the likes of Pritzker for much the same reason Trump did not four years ago: incumbency. It has its advantages and is something Trump, former president though he may be, cannot claim for 2024. ...with not entirely unpredictable results.

Speaking of that lack of incumbency on the Republican side, there continues to be a steady stream of stories confirming that 2023 Trump is more organized than his campaign was in 2015 but not in the dominant position he was in 2019. Incumbency (or lack thereof) is part of but not the only explanation. 

The operative question at this point is whether Trump is closer in 2023 to 2015 than to 2019. That answer likely differs depending on what area one is talking about. On the delegate rules, 2023 Trump is likely closer to the 2019 version. But it is much harder to map out how the delegate rules will work in a competitive setting than in one with one or more viable alternatives. On endorsements and financing, there is some greater distance between Trump 2023 and Trump 2019. On media coverage and legal proceedings, 2023 is much different than both 2015 and 2019. But it is also early in a dynamic process. Things could turn back in Trump's direction on those fronts should it appear that the race is, well, turning in Trump's direction. That could happen in the invisible primary and it could develop during primary season.

Walter Shapiro has more on the pitfalls to avoid when trying to project the winding path that 2024 is likely to take.

Kansas is trying to revive a presidential primary that was never really used in the past anyway. But there is a twist this time that may change that. 

On this date... 2024, the nomination process will be just on the other side of Super Tuesday, a day that will once again feature primaries in California, Texas and eleven other states (as of now). 2012, it was Super Tuesday, anchored by the primary in Ohio. That was such a backloaded calendar with California opting to return to its June consolidated primary, Texas forced to late May because of redistricting delays, and states overcorrecting in the face of new RNC rules that prohibited winner-take-all allocation before April. 1984, it was just another Tuesday. Democratic Party rules allowed non-exempt states to hold primaries and caucuses only as early as the second Tuesday in March. Super Tuesday, or what passed for it in those (still) early days of the post-reform era, was still a week away.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Kansas Bill Would Reestablish Presidential Primary in the Sunflower State

New legislation introduced this past week in Kansas would reestablish a presidential primary, schedule it for May and consolidate that election with the primaries for other offices.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

What's the Baseline for 2024 Republican Rules Changes at the State Level?

The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump campaign has been doing its due diligence of late, attempting to get a jump start on an often hidden aspect of the invisible primary: the battle over delegates. Or in this case, the battle over the state-level rules that will define the ways in which candidates will receive delegates based on primary and caucus results across the country in 2024. 

While Trump running for a second term after losing a previous bid is unusual in the post-reform era, it is not out of the ordinary for a candidate and his or her campaign to flex its muscle early like this. After all, this is a candidate and a campaign that have done this before. And this is a campaign that may not be as dominant as it was four years ago, but is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was eight years ago. And tending the garden on the state level in an attempt to reap a harvest of delegates down the road is clear evidence of that. 

Moreover, that touches on a theme Jeff Greenfield highlighted late last year in a piece at Politico:
But if you really want to know whether Donald Trump is ascendant or in free fall, you might do better to focus on what might seem like a recipe for narcolepsy: the Republican Party’s delegate-selection process across the 50-plus states, territories and commonwealths. Over the next year and a half, there will be no better clue to the strength and weaknesses of Trump and his competitors. Why? Well, for one thing, the way that delegates are chosen by state primaries, conventions and caucuses are far more important than a dozen debates and tens of millions of campaign dollars. And how the GOP state parties decide how their convention delegates are selected may also tell you whether these state parties are out to hobble the former president — or put him on a glide path to another nomination.
Look, as a rules person, the expectation is that FHQ is going to agree with that assessment. I do. part. The rules are important, but they are just a piece of a larger matrix of variables -- polls, endorsements, fundraising, etc. -- that provide observers with a sense of the former president's strength during the 2024 invisible primary. And again, the early signs are that Trump is behind where he was in 2019 but ahead across the board on each of the above metrics compared to where he was in 2015. The Party Decides showed that endorsements matter. They demonstrate a measure of institutional support for a candidate. But if the bulk of elected officials and other elites within the Republican Party network waver in making 2024 endorsements of any candidate as they did during the 2016 cycle, then this rules tinkering in 2023 may serve as a proxy of that institutional support. 

But the thing about both the Washington Post article and Greenfield's opinion piece is that they lack context. The Post reports that the Trump campaign is attempting to make inroads and Greenfield speculates that Trump-aligned and Trump-opposed forces may make rules changes to aid their specific candidate or candidates. But from where are the states starting? What moves might they make? How common -- or uncommon -- is such tinkering on the state level in the first place? 

In other words, what is the baseline? 

The story of where states begin 2024 starts in 2019
To the extent there was any discussion in 2019 about efforts on the Republican side to craft rules for Trump's reelection, it mostly revolved around the canceling of a handful of primaries and caucuses. But that belies the bulk of what went on behind the scenes in the 2020 Republican invisible primary. Yes, the cancelations got spun as efforts to protect Trump against a challenge. However, Trump got from Bill Weld and Joe Walsh and March Sanford the sort of challenge that President Biden will get from Marianne Williamson in 2024: a token challenge. Trump's grip on the 2020 Republican nomination was never threatened, so the cancelations were less about protecting the nomination and more about protecting his dominance in winning the nomination. 

But the state-level contest cancelations were just the tip of the iceberg and that has implications for 2024.

The Trump team was unusually active in nudging state parties toward changes for 2020 that 1) made it easier for Trump to gobble up delegates as the nomination process moved through the calendar of contests and 2) made it much more difficult for multiple candidates to win delegates. Bear in mind that there were minimal changes to the 2020 rules at the national level and that trend has largely held as 2020 transitions into 2024. There have been national rules changes, but they were aimed at cleaning up small problems from the past or to accommodate a July convention. Or to add a debates committee back into the rules

However, in 2019, there were changes made in 30 states and territories (out of 56 total). And it was not just the cancelations of a primary in South Carolina or of a preference vote at caucuses in Alaska. Take the Massachusetts example WaPo provided:
For his 2020 reelection campaign, Trump advisers Justin Clark and Bill Stepien worked for more than a year to change party rules to ensure he would not face a challenger at the nominating convention. In Massachusetts, for example, the Trump campaign changed the delegate selection plan to winner-take-all based on the primary result to prevent moderate Gov. Bill Weld (R) from being able to seat potential allies at the convention.
Now, Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Maeve Reston mischaracterized the nature of the change, but it is indicative of the moves made by Trump's reelection effort. Massachusetts Republicans retained their previous proportional manner of allocating delegates based on the results of the presidential primary in the Bay state, but upped the qualifying threshold from 5 percent in 2016 to 20 percent in 2020. That meant that for a candidate to have received any delegates, he or she would have needed to clear 20 percent of the vote statewide, the maximum qualifying threshold allowed under Republican National Committee (RNC) rules. 

Furthermore, the state Republican Party in Massachusetts added a winner-take-all threshold in 2020. If a candidate cleared 50 percent of the vote statewide -- a level that a largely unopposed incumbent president should easily clear under most circumstances -- then that candidate would win all of the delegates from Massachusetts. That is not winner-take-all. Functionally, it is in a cycle with a popular incumbent. But in reality, it is the same proportional plan Massachusetts Republicans have used for years with the knobs turned toward "protect the incumbent's dominance." And those two thresholds are the keys. The qualifying threshold was set to its maximum and the winner-take-all threshold was set to its minimum (50 percent under RNC rules). 

And the moves in Massachusetts were indicative of the changes other state Republican parties made for 2020. Of the 26 states in 2020 that could have a qualifying threshold -- those with some form of proportional rules -- 18 of them set it to the maximum 20 percent. Just ten states of the 31 that could have a qualifying threshold had the maximum in 2016. The 20 percent maximum was by far the modal qualifying threshold for states in the 2020 cycle. 

Of course, that was just one type of tinkering that took place. Among his speculative allocation changes for 2024, Greenfield describes another:
By contrast, suppose New York Republicans are firmly in Trump’s corner. Trump might be confident he can win a significant portion of voters — but not a majority. So in a state like New York, his campaign might press to drop the 50 percent threshold and fight for a winner-take-all by plurality standard.
Well, New York Republicans already did that. The legislation that the New York State Assembly passed in 2019, codifying the delegate selection process for both state parties for 2020, shifted the Republican delegate allocation method back to winner-take-all in the Empire state for the first time since 2008. New York was not alone in adopting truly winner-take-all rules -- rules where a plurality winner statewide wins all of the delegates at stake -- for the 2020 cycle. There is a prohibition on truly winner-take-all allocation in the Republican process for states with contests before March 15, but of those states with contests after that point in 2016, just nine were truly winner-take-all. Collectively, those nine states accounted for 391 total delegates (or nearly 16 percent of the total number of delegates at stake in the process). 

The number of truly winner-take-all contests in 2020 ballooned to 19 states, more than double the number of that type of contests from four years prior. And those states represented 764 delegates, almost 30 percent of the total 2550 delegates at stake in 2020.

Finally, there were other moves that were also beneficial to an incumbent president seeking to portray a certain dominance in the nomination process. The number of states that pooled their delegates, combining the separate pools of at-large and congressional district delegates, increased from 25 in 2016 to 37 in 2020. The above shift toward truly winner-take-all methods explains a lot but not all of that. The subset of states that pooled their delegates and had a winner-take-all trigger -- as was the case in the Massachusetts example above -- doubled from six in 2016 to 12 in 2020. Those contests became functionally winner-take-all no matter where they were on the calendar, whether in the winner-take-all window or before it in the prohibited zone. That is a subtle change, but a meaningful one. 

And in total, all of that can be neatly filed into one category: incumbent defense, or this case, incumbent domination. Trump got that, and in the process, set the baseline from which any changes will be made for 2024. 

How common is rules tinkering on the state level in the Republican process anyway?
That depends.

Rarely does a cycle go by where some state party does not make some change, however small, to its delegate selection and allocation process. Although, often it is less about delegate allocation and more about positioning contests on the primary calendar. And that is a change that is initiated not by the state party but in the state government, the state legislature to be more precise. That entails quite a bit more wrangling on a playing field that potentially involves partisan division if not partisan roadblocks.

And some of those same obstacles seep into the delegate allocation process as well. At least that is the case in states where state law defines delegate allocation stemming from a state-run presidential primary. The 10 percent qualifying threshold New Hampshire Republicans use, for example, is one defined in state law. 

But on the whole, most of that is set by state parties. And more often than not, state parties are loath to change delegate allocation rules. They are averse to straying from traditional methods because it is difficult to game out the impact those possible changes will have a year or so into the future when conditions may be completely different. It is one thing to project what a shift toward winner-take-most or winner-take-all rules will have in a cycle when an incumbent president is running for renomination as Trump was in 2020. Those rules are intended to and often do help incumbents. But in a competitive cycle with some measure of uncertainty, that is a more difficult call. 

As Greenfield noted, Ohio Republicans shifted toward a truly winner-take-all plan in 2016 with Governor John Kasich (R) in mind. And Kasich did win the primary in the Buckeye state six months later. The change panned out. But with a favorite son involved, there was perhaps a bit more certainty among state party decision makers in how the move would play out once primary season went live. The less a sure thing it is, the more likely it will be that the status quo delegate allocation method will persist into the next cycle. 

That is an important point. If decision makers in state parties across the country cannot see a clear advantage to an allocation change one way or the other, then it is more likely that the 2020 baseline method survives into 2024. That theoretically helps Trump. ...if he is the frontrunner. But if Trump is not the frontrunner once primary season kicks off, then any shift away from the 2020 baseline -- a baseline with the knobs turned toward incumbent defense (or frontrunner defense) -- may end up helping a candidate other than the one intended. 

Another factor adding to this uncertainty is how decision makers view a change playing with rank and file members of the party. If elected officials or other elites in the party are wary of endorsing one Republican candidate or another, then they may also be less willing to make an allocation change for fear that it would be viewed as helping or hurting Trump. In other words, it looks like they are putting their thumb on the scale one way or the other. That is the sort of view that augurs against change. And again, the status quo likely helps Trump (if current conditions persist). 

Basically, the bottom line is this. Allocation changes are tough. They are tough to make because there is uncertainty in the impact those changes will have. It is much easier to see the potential impact of moving a primary to an early date for example. It could help a favorite son or daughter candidate. But an earlier primary or caucus definitely better insures that the state influences the course of the nomination race. If a contest falls too late -- after a presumptive nominee has emerged and clinched the nomination -- then that contest has literally no impact. Some impact, no matter how small, is better than literally zero impact. The same is true with respect to the decision to conduct a primary election or caucuses. There are definite turnout effects that come with holding a primary rather than caucuses. And greater participation in primaries typically means a more diverse -- less ideologically homogenous or extreme -- electorate.

Things are less clear with allocation rules changes. 

Look at the last four cycles -- 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. In particular, take note of the doughnut graphic in the corner of each map charting the distribution of delegates by allocation type. Those are four different cycles run under different conditions and with different rules. But look at the combined share of the distribution that the hybrid and proportional with winner-take-all trigger states comprise.1 Despite the differing conditions and despite the differing rules, somewhere between 51-53 percent of the total number of delegates were allocated in one of those two hybrid fashions. The states changed some at the margins, but the percentage of delegates allocated in that manner remained virtually unchanged. 

And the only reason for the spike in proportional states in 2012 was the RNC's institution of the (truly) winner-take-all ban for the first time that cycle. States overreacted in response and were more proportional than necessary under the 2012 rules. But states parties adapted over time, learning the nuances of the winner-take-all ban and moving over the 2016 and 2020 cycles toward methods that conditionally triggered a winner-take-all allocation.

What changes might state parties make for 2024?
The above exploration of the minefield that state party decision makers wade into when considering allocation rules changes is a cautionary tale. It suggests that, while there may be some changes, there are reasons to think that they will be minimal. And the Washington Post story buttresses that view. If Team Trump is having powwows with state party officials and sending envoys out to them, then that is most likely to preserve what they have in place. As of right now, the 2020 baseline rules help Trump. That could change but such a shift may not occur until after a decision on the rules has already been made (before October 1). 

But just as in the legislative process, uncertainty breeds conflict. Conflict leads to indecisiveness. And indecisiveness yields to the status quo. The same is true in rules changes. Actors, therefore, are going to be more inclined to move toward certainty; changes that yield more certain impacts. Trump opponents are reportedly playing catch up on these matters and may not hit the ground running either effectively and/or quickly enough to make a dent in allocation rules changes. 

But if Trump and Trump allies are looking to shore up their defenses, it may not be in the realm of delegate allocation rules. Instead, they may train their sights on the primary versus caucus decision. And there are some unique opportunities on that front. For the most part, state parties may balk at transitioning out of a state-run primary for a party-run contest of some type. The latter is funded out of state party coffers and that money may be better spent elsewhere. 

Still, some states may be conflicted. Take Michigan. The WaPo story notes how the Michigan Republican Party is stuck between a rock and a hard place. And they really are. Democrats in control of state government moved the primary to a spot on the primary calendar that is sanctioned under new DNC rules but is noncompliant under RNC rules. One logical alternative is for Michigan Republicans to schedule caucuses at a compliant point on the calendar. That is a potentially messy route. But it could be done. And that smaller, more extreme electorate is likely to tip more toward Trump than to his opponents. 

Likewise, there is no indication that any of the states at the end of the calendar are making any moves, not even the Republican-controlled states. And all of those June contests are noncompliant under RNC rules on timing. One alternative may be for the state parties to opt out of the late and noncompliant primaries in those states and conduct earlier caucuses. Similarly, the Trump campaign is reportedly not enamored with the possible shift to a later primary in Idaho. Seeing a pattern here? Shift to an earlier caucus. And Maryland is likely to change the date of its primary because it conflicts with Passover in 2024. If Democrats in control of state government move the contest too early (before March 15), then Old Line state Republicans would be unable to keep the winner-take-all allocation method the party adopted for 2020. And if winner-take-all allocation is that important to the party, then they, too, could opt to hold caucuses in a spot on the calendar that preserves it. 

And that offers a kind of double whammy. A switch to a caucus and a preservation of (or move to) winner-take-all rules in those states. Admittedly, those are paths with a lots of twists and turns. But they are all examples of states that because of one conflict or another may be forced into those decisions. There is still some path dependency there, but the likely impacts are more certain for decision makers. 

But to be able to look ahead, one needs a baseline. And as the 2024 invisible primary kicks into high gear and changes are considered in the coming months, this baseline is going to be important. 

1 In the 2008 and 2012 graphics, the hybrid and proportional with winner-take-all trigger states are rolled into one big category of states that were not truly winner-take-all nor truly proportional. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Second Hawaii Committee Green Lights Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

The lone remaining active bill to establish a presidential primary in Hawaii and schedule the election for Super Tuesday advanced from the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, March 1. 

An amended SB 1005 was quickly passed by the panel with no objections. The move now clears the way for the legislation to be considered by the full Senate.

With the House companion bill bottled up in committee, the Senate version becomes the only viable path to creating a stand-alone presidential primary for 2024 in the Aloha state, a state that has only ever known party-run delegate selection/allocation processes. 

Hawaii is the last state government under unified Democratic control with no state-run presidential primary.