Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"In return for forfeiting its coveted third-in-the-nation contest this year, Nevada would receive promises of stricter future sanctions to protect its early state status in the long term."

That's Anjeanette Damon of the Las Vegas Sun on the mounting pressure being placed on the Nevada Republican Party to shift back its presidential caucus meetings to accommodate the Republican National Committee, and probably more importantly, New Hampshire. Allow FHQ to shunt to the side the fact that Nevada may move into the fifth position on the presidential primary calendar behind Florida for a moment to focus on the stick the RNC is promising the Republican Party in the Silver state it will wield in future presidential election cycles. My question is simple:


Better yet, how and in what ways does the RNC propose to unilaterally impose stricter sanctions in the future? To be fair, the parties have traditionally set and imposed -- or not imposed -- delegate selection rules with varying levels of success. The trajectory over the last two cycles is toward less success. But as I argued recently, that is likely a goal that is only attainable through the coordination of not only rules but penalties between the two national parties. A party could go-it-alone, but in an era when state-level actors are becoming much shrewder in their ways in which they challenge the prime calendar positions held by Iowa and New Hampshire -- and now Nevada and South Carolina -- it is becoming a much more difficult coordination problem. The states already have the upper hand here. To put in the terminology of my academic research, some number of states already have the willingness to move at will even into non-compliant positions on the calendar, but a smaller faction of that group is also enhancing its ability to not only move at will but to effectively vie for a lead position on the calendar.

FHQ takes the RNC at is oft-repeated word that it will maintain the penalties on rogue states heading into the Tampa convention next summer. I have also taken it as a fact that the RNC would revisit its rules in the intervening years between the current election cycle and the next primary season. But I am still left wondering what the RNC can do on its own to make states comply with national party delegate selection rules. It will take more than a 50% delegate hit, the seating of a rogue state's delegates behind load-bearing columns next to Guam at the convention and hotel assignments three states over to keep willing and able rogue states in line. This is even more problematic in light of the reality that presumptive nominees are motivated to forgive states their penalties in the interest of general election campaign party unity.

FHQ is not privy to these discussions between current-RNC Chair Reince Priebus and state Republican Party officials in Nevada, but I am curious about whether the Nevada Republicans ask the very same "How?" question. Honestly, it will take at least language similar to that used in the Republican Party rules concerning the informally agreed to calendar alignment codified in its modified 2008 rules (Rule 15.b.3):
If the Democratic National Committee fails to adhere to a presidential primary schedule with the dates set forth in Rule 15(b)(1) of these Rules (February 1 and first Tuesday in March), then Rule 15(b) shall revert to the Rules as adopted by the 2008 Republican National Convention. 
Theoretically, that same sort of tit-for-tat structure could work and informally bind the parties to shared penalties. Yes, that is open to the same sort of problems attendant to the current system. The states would still be tempted to test the parties and the national parties would still be tempted to back out and forgive potentially vital general election states their delegates (if that continues to be the penalty). That said, this is still the next logical step in the rules/penalties progression. The parties are motivated to do as little as possible to the current system because it still fulfills its basic function of nominating candidates well-equipped for the general election and for fear of unintended consequences.

Of course, in the end, the RNC could just be banking on a win in 2012 so that they can pass the calendar headache on to the Democratic National Committee alone for the 2016 cycle.

Now let's have a look at the Nevada situation.

The RNC is pushing an incentive-ladened package on the Nevada Republican Party in the hopes that Silver state Republicans will move back into February to make enough room for New Hampshire between Iowa and South Carolina. They get...

  • a protected position in the pre-window period
  • a promise of stronger future sanctions
  • to keep first in the West status
  • to keep a full slate of delegates for holding a rules-compliant contest
  • a promise of high-level party surrogates to raise money in the state (It is unclear, though, likely this is for the general election. But those funds could also be utilized to organize in order to avoid some of the party's caucus system problems in 2008.)
  • a date -- presumably February 4 -- all to themselves four days after the Florida primary and three days before non-binding caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota. Maine Republicans will begin their process on February 4, but that will not end until February 11 when all of the caucuses have been completed. That Nevada has delegates at stake would hypothetically attract the candidates more than the three non-binding contests list above. [FHQ will have more on the Missouri situation later this evening. The Show-Me state is also slated to hold a non-binding primary on February 7 as of now.]
  • no more headaches at the mere mention of Bill Gardner's name. 
  • no more pressure from the RNC, Iowa Republicans and New Hampshire's Republican leadership, elected officials and media outlets.

Is that enough to persuade Nevada Republicans into moving and quelling the calendar "chaos" at the beginning of the calendar? It seems that way, but we won't know for sure until the Saturday, October 22 meeting of the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee.

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