Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Republican "Sticks" and Democratic "Carrots"

I'm going to run the risk of heaping it on George Will, but something he said in his Sunday column begged for a response.

Any Republican delegate-selection event held before the first day of April shall be penalized: The result cannot be, as many Republicans prefer, a winner-take-all allocation of delegates. March events "shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis." This means only that someof the delegates must be allocated proportional to the total vote.

Because Democrats are severe democrats, they have no winner-take-all events, so they do not have this stick with which to discipline disobedient states. Instead, they brandish -- they are, after all, liberals -- a carrot: States will be offered bonus delegates for moving their nominating events deeper into the nominating season, and for clustering their contests with those of neighboring states.

First, I question the level of punishment the Republican shift to proportional delegate allocation rules -- no matter how formulated -- will affect states opting to hold presidential delegate selection events before April. By FHQ's count, there are 32 states whose governments -- or state parties in the case of caucus states -- will have to move from their current positions to avoid "punishment". Our guess is that a sizable portion of those 32 states will take their "punishment" and attempt to influence the process. After all, that is the commodity states trade in during the presidential nomination process: influence. Will mentions that the national parties desire "lengthening the nomination process to reduce the likelihood that a cascade of early victories will settle the nomination contests before they have performed their proper testing-and-winnowing function". Well, national parties want that insofar as the process ends like the 2008 process did for the Democratic Party. But that will not always be the case. There has been a fair amount of talk about the Tea Party/Establishment GOP split within the Republican Party. Will proportional allocation only accentuate that division?* Some states may take their punishment in an effort help a non-establishment candidate, if one has emerged to take the mantle, stay in the delegate race for the nomination. [FHQ will have more on this issue of non-establishment goals in a post tomorrow.]

States, in the end, are self interested. They want influence over the identity of the presidential nominee. And that is a goal that is, depending on the angle, at odds with what the national parties want. In other words, the national parties end up with what they don't want: a nominee who is initially unelectable or becomes unelectable because of a divisive nomination decision. I just don't see how the states are penalized by the change to proportional delegate allocation.

One other point on the above excerpt: Will deftly employs some revisionist history in discussing the Democrats' "carrots". He fails to mention that the bonus delegate regime began across the aisle with the Republicans at their 1996 national convention in San Diego. It was there that the GOP put in place a bonus delegate system for the 2000 Republican nomination.

Will also fails to recognize the "sticks" the Democratic Party utilized in 2008 and has carried over to the 2012 cycle. Sure, states under the Democratic rules, as is the case under the Republican rules, lose half their allotment of delegates, but they also call for candidates who campaign in violating states -- those that go too early -- to lose their delegates from that state at the national convention (Rule 20.C.1.b from the 2008 and 2012 Democratic Delegate Selection Rules). In theory at least, that rule would have had more bite in 2012 if the Democrats had not flip-flopped and then flipped again twice on how to deal with Florida and Michigan. That muddled implementation of the rules may end up hurting both parties in 2012, but the Republicans more since theirs will be the only contested nomination. What I mean is that states will be more likely to test the Republican rules because of the Democrats' actions in 2008. The Republican Party still has the half delegation penalty plus the new proportionality requirement as penalties to rule-breaking states. FHQ is still skeptical as to whether that will be an effective rule in curbing state frontloading.

If a short history of presidential primaries is going to be constructed, it would at least be helpful to include a full and accurate account of the most recent events that will more greatly affect the next nomination cycle.

*Of course, that assumes that the Tea Party faction is a lasting one that faces no backlash following the 2010 midterms or before the 2012 nomination race kicks off in earnest.

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