Sunday, June 1, 2008

Half and Half: The Florida and Michigan Story

Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure this out. If you have one candidate calling for a full seating of delegates from Florida and Michigan and another candidate stressing that neither contest counts, you're going to, more often than not, get something in the middle. See, even I can figure it out (and that's saying something). In this case, something in the middle was seating the full delegations from both Michigan and Florida, but counting each delegate as only half a vote. What a long and strange trip it has been to essentially come full circle and return to the sanction the Rules and Bylaws Committee settled on almost two years ago.

[The scene opens two years ago in the summer of 2006.]
RBC member 1: "Let's take half the delegates from any state that moves its primary ahead of February 5."

RBC member 2: "That sounds good."

[Fast forward to the late summer of 2007]
RBC member 1: "What? Florida moved? Let's make an example of them and take away all their delegates."

RBC member 4: "Yeah, they shouldn't have done that."

RBC member 2: "Don't we already have rule for that?"

RBC member 1: "Well yeah, but this will keep other states from moving."

RBC member 2: "Isn't Michigan's legislature exploring its options and considering a January 15 primary?"

RBC member 4: "Yeah but, see, if we punish Florida, Michigan won't go through with that."

RBC member 2: "If you say so."

[Later that fall...]
RBC member 1: "MICHIGAN MOVED! Now we'll have to take away all their delegates."

RBC member 2 (hesitantly): "I guess."

[Move ahead to the day after Super Tuesday...]
RBC member 1: "You're kidding. The nomination battle is close and those delegates from Florida and Michigan might actually mean something? And it might tear the party in two?"

RBC member 2: "Maybe we shouldn't have stripped them of all their delegates."

RBC member 4: "Nah, that's crazy talk. We had to do that."

[May 2008]
RBC member 4: "Let's just do what the Republicans did and take half the delegates."

RBC member 3: "Wasn't that was our plan, too, before we stripped Florida and Michigan of all their delegates?"

RBC member 2: "Thank you. I've been saying that for months."

RBC member 1: "Hush up, you two! ...well, let's go with half."

RBC member 2: "Now all we've done is dangle this carrot in front of Clinton and her supporters for four months. And we just pulled the rug out from under them. We may have messed this thing up."

RBC member 1: "Eh, we'll be fine. Do you always always mix metaphors when you're worried?"

RBC member 2: "Only when we potentially blow the best shot we've had since 2004 to take back the White House."

RBC member 3: "Next on the agenda: the rules for 2012."

RBC member 4: "Well, the guy at Frontloading HQ says that reform will be difficult."

RBC member 1: "I say we take half of their...Hey, you read that crap!?!"

RBC member 2: "Now we're taking half again? What if some state actually violates this rule?"

RBC member 1: "That would never happen. ...but if it did we'd probably have to strip them of all their delegates to the convention."

RBC member 2: "I'm outta here. Does anyone know if Bloomberg is running in 2012?"
[fade to black]
So the Dems have returned to the original sanction. What now? Moving forward, it will be interesting to see whether the protesters yesterday were just a vocal minority or if they represent a sizable coalition of voters that could hand the general election to McCain. How long that sentiment is sustained will have a lot to do with how Hillary Clinton responds the proceedings from a day ago. If Harold Ickes remarks are indicative ("Hijacking four delegates..."), it could be a rough healing period. Of course, if hijacking four delegates makes it tough to start to party toward unity, I guess accusing the party of hijacking those delegates is just as bad.

Recent Posts:
Carl Levin's Statement to the Rules and Bylaws Committee

A Timeline of the Florida/Michigan Impasse

Will Kennedy's Diagnosis Hurt McCain?


Robert said...

An interesting play. Actually the Republican solution didn't work if the objective was to prevent frontloading in future elections. Michigan kept Romney in the race, and Florida gave the nomination to McCain. The two states actually benefited from their movement. They mattered. For the Republicans it was more about momentum and timing than it was about the delegates.

If the Democrats has instituted the same strategy, Clinton would have probably won both places (but by lesser margins) and it could have influenced the vote on Tsunami Tuesday. They would have been willing to have sacrificed the delegates for the attention and influence. By taking away all of the delegates and then giving them back, they humiliated the two states and reduced their ability to make a difference.

Thus, I think the Democrats did closer to the right thing than the Republicans. Now we will see how the Democrats can find a way to unify. Also, it will be interesting to see if this example will have any effect on frontloading for 2012. It seems to me that it will embolden Republican party operatives at the state level and stifle Democratic party operatives.

MSS said...

Robert makes an excellent point about the GOP sanction not working.

However, if the Republicans did not use winner-take-all (statewide in Florida, once then sanction was imposed, and mostly by CD in Michigan), those states would not have matter nearly so much.

Romney and McCain would have closely divided the Michigan delegation and Florida would not have been decisive for the nomination.

Romney won 80% of Michigan's (halved) delegation on 39% of the vote, and McCain won 100% of Florida's on 36%, having shortly before won 79% of South Carolina's on 33%.

McCain had quite a petal-strewn path to the nomination, and it had more to do with undemocratic delegate-allocation rules than with sanctions for violating national party rules.

Robert said...


You make excellent points. I concede the petal-strewn path due to the undemocratic selection process. However, if Michigan and Florida had gone on Tsunami Tuesday, I think McCain's victory in Florida would have been obscured by all of the other contests, and he might not have won the nomination. Huckabee could have concentrated elsewhere, and Romney had the money to possibly have won California with both primaries on the same day. By finishing off Romney in Florida, Huckabee did not have a chance. A three-way battle coming out of Tsunami Tuesday would have made it difficult for McCain to succeed.

Anonymous said...

These are all good points.

The Republicans combated frontloading in 2008 the same way they have fought it since 2000 for the most part. But they aren't as interesting in the prevention of frontloading because their goals are slightly different. The Dems want a bottom-up, inclusive approach to nominee selection, whereas the Republicans are more interested in quickly choosing someone that the elites are firmly behind. The frontloaded system then, is something that is beneficial to the goals of Republican nominee selection. At the same time, it is a concept that bothers some Democrats based on the idea of inclusion.

So if we couch the prevention of frontloading in normative terms, then yes, the Democrats are probably closer to preventing states from violating the sequencing aspects of the delegate selection rules. However, is that something that the Republican Party is genuinely interested in? We will get a better idea of that this summer at their convention. How far the Ohio Plan makes it will tell that tale.

Yes, the rules matter, but as I said just last week, so too does luck. McCain benefited from several well-placed contests with some rules that were advantageous to his pursuits.

This is a good discussion, everyone.