Sunday, February 26, 2012

On the Nature of 2012 RNC Rules Changes

FHQ is impatient. FHQ is cantankerous. FHQ just doesn't get it.

Well, we get it [the rules changes], but few others seemingly do. And I don't say that to brag -- I don't know that it is something to brag about.1 -- but merely as a means of pointing out that some of the tomes that are being written on the subject are not accurately telling the story. That's frustrating because it can be misleading to folks that generally just want to gather information about the process. Look, I know the Republican National Committee rules governing the nomination/delegate selection process are difficult to grasp due to the myriad interpretations and implementations of the rules from state-to-state. And mind you, regular readers of FHQ will know that we have gone to great lengths to describe this process without getting too bogged down in the minutiae. But it is nigh impossible to not almost immediately jump into the weeds.

It gets wonky in a hurry.

As FHQ sees it, there is one main misconception going on regarding the rules right now [There are a bunch more, but I'll spare you.]: The overall rules changes are drawing out the process and this is mainly driven by the RNC switch to proportional allocation rules from winner-take-all rules. The first part of that statement is true. The overall rules changes have had the effect of lengthening the nomination process. The second part of the statement, though, is patently false. It is build on a logic that is nothing more than a house of cards. FHQ has raised the myth of proportionality, but I fear that that was perhaps the wrong way of framing it. The real problem in interpreting the nature of the Republican Party rules changes in 2012 is not the myth of proportionality (though it is a part of the problem), but rather the myth of winner-take-all rules. As I have been wont to say for the better part of six months now, too much of the writing on this subject treats the methods of allocation on the Republican side as binary; that a state has or has had either proportional or winner-take-all rules.

This is not the proper way of thinking about this process or the rules changes as a starting point. And because much of the logic behind the various rules changes discussions hinge on this notion -- that binary choice between methods -- they are all or mostly off base. Many of us are doing our taxes now. If you mess up one of the early calculations on the form, it affects the all of the remaining calculations on down the line. By starting off thinking of Republican delegate allocation in binary terms, many are affecting the ways in which they are thinking about the ultimate outcome: who wins the nomination.

There are many points of confusion. Much of it, however, lies in a few places. First of all, as much as there is a misconception that the new rules require the Democratic Party version of proportionality in states with contests before April 1, there is just as much of a problem on the backend; after April 1.2 As that logic goes, if the RNC is requiring proportionality before April 1, then it is requiring winner-take-all rules after April 1. THIS IS FALSE. Let's focus on the post-April 1 part of the calendar to start. The simple truth of the matter is that states with contests after April 1 have the latitude to decide how they would like to allocate delegates. That is the same sort of leeway that all states have traditionally enjoyed on the Republican side. The RNC has left the matter up to the states/state parties in the past and for 2012 took the unprecedented step of laying some ground rules for how states before April 1 should allocated delegates. Very few post-April 1 states, as a result, made changes to their delegates selection rules relative to 2008. To the extent there were changes, it was actually in the opposite direction -- more proportional. In both Connecticut and New York, despite moving back from February 2008 contests to April 2012 contests, the rules were made slightly more proportional. It was far easier for post-April 1 states to leave well enough alone rather than make a change -- presumably to winner-take-all rules. Overall, then, there has been a drop in the number of strictly winner-take-all (as in the electoral college) states from 2008 (10 states) to 2012 (6 states).

Now, for the front half of the calendar, it should be noted that there have been some changes relative to 2008. But let FHQ state once again, for the record, that we have yet to see the impact of those changes.  Why? Well, none of the states that have held contests thus far have rules that differ from 2008 in any way. THE 2012 DELEGATE COUNT WOULD BE THE EXACT SAME AS IT IS NOW USING THE 2008 RULES. Well, that's not true. The Nevada Republican Party made its delegate allocation binding based upon the results of the precinct caucuses this year; something it did not do in 2008. Fewer delegates, then, would have been allocated so far in 2012 using 2008 rules.

What that means is that any changes that we have seen so far are based on two things: 1) the changes to the calendar and 2) the dynamics of this particular nomination race. It has nothing to do with the winner-take-all or proportional delegate allocation balance in 2012 as compared to 2008. None.

...not yet anyway.

Those rules changes -- as FHQ pointed out in December -- will not kick in until Super Tuesday. And as I also pointed out then, the most frequently utilized method of becoming "proportional" was for states to make their entire delegate apportionment or just their at-large delegates conditionally winner-take-all/proportional. If a candidate receives a majority of the vote, that candidate gets either all of the delegates or all of the at-large delegates. But if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, then the entire delegate apportionment or just the at-large delegates (depending on the state) are proportionally allocated. Even that may be overstating things as those states that have traditionally drawn a distinction between at-large delegates and congressional district delegates, have also usually allocated those congressional district delegates winner-take-all. Most of those states are still doing that in 2012 and winner-take-all by congressional district is something that comports with the new definition of proportional allocation on the Republican side.

To FHQ, then, it is kind of, I don't know, sad when opinion leaders/elected officials in the Republican Party get this wrong:
One prominent critic of the current system is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). “These RNC rules that turned to proportional awarding of delegates, this was the dumbest idea anybody ever had,” he said on Fox News on Thursday. “You're running against an incumbent president who will not have a primary, so your idea is make ours longer so we can beat each other up longer?”
“People do have concerns this has gone on longer than they would like and cost more money than they would like and created more thunder and lightning than they would like. That is a result of people going before the time allotted in the rules," said John Ryder, an RNC committeeman from Tennessee who came up with the idea to assign delegates proportionally. "And had the states complied with the rules the calendar would have been more compressed, orderly and less costly."
In Christie's case, the New Jersey governor has completely missed the point. The proportionality requirement may have an impact but it will be small when compared to the influence the changes to the calendar have had on the process in 2012 versus 2008. If anyone wants to point fingers at culprits for making the process longer, look to the calendar rules not the proportionality rules. Of course, the calendar dispersion, as John Ryder points out, is an issue that comes back to the Florida decision to jump into January which can easily be traced back to the fact that the RNC never adjusted its penalty regime to prevent such a move from happening in the first place.3 Again, the rules were never adjusted for 2012 relative to 2008 on that front. It all comes back to the calendar rules and perhaps more importantly, the penalties for violating the timing rules.


One thing that FHQ has faced is some criticism that we are understating the nature of the changes because of the impact the overall rules differences have on the process in 2012 -- especially campaign strategy. I am sympathetic to that criticism, but it ultimately comes back to the same issue. The overall rules -- driven by the calendar differences relative to 2008 -- are having an influence over the 2012 Republican nomination race. Again, though, it is the calendar that is driving the majority of this coupled with the dynamics of this particular nomination race. FHQ does not understate the overall rules. They matter. They always matter. However, the nature of one portion of those overall rules -- the proportionality requirement -- has been grossly overstated. There is no evidence that those rules have had any impact thus far because the states that have held contests have not changed any of their rule as compared to 2008. None. They may play a role in the delegate count but it will be a marginal impact on the overall race as compared to the sequence of adding delegates -- when states hold contests and how spread out they are on the 2012 primary calendar as compared to the 2008 calendar. Even if we begin to witness strong differences in the ultimate allocation of delegates from 2008 to 2012 on the state level, FHQ will and would argue that it has more to do with the competitiveness of the race -- the dynamics of the race -- in 2012 than it does the method delegate allocation, state-by-state.

What those rules changes -- both the calendar and delegate allocation rules -- do is give candidates an argument to take to donors and voters; that the rules allow the race to go on longer. But that logic -- particularly to the extent that it depends on the proportionality requirement -- is a house of cards. It is bound to collapse when and if one candidate begins to establish and increase a delegate lead.


I know it sounds self-serving folks, but calendar, calendar, calendar. All of this ultimately returns to the impact the changes to the calendar are having. That is what is driving the slow crawl to the nomination; not the new proportionality requirement. And RNC spokesman, Sean Spicer is absolutely right in that piece from The Hill: it is way too early to be overreacting to the rules changes. This is why parties don't make these changes during the heat of primary season. The RNC will revisit the changes in due time -- in the time leading up to and then during the convention in Tampa this summer.

...assuming they have abandoned thoughts of dealing with this outside of the convention as they did for the first time after 2008 in the form of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee.

1 Look, I admit it: I have no life.

2 By Democratic proportional, I mean that if candidate A receives 50% of the vote in a nominating contest, then candidate A gets approximately 50% of the delegates from the state. Now, even the Democratic Party rules aren't arithmetically proportional because of rounding error or delegate movement from one step of a caucus to the next. The point is that there is a difference between what the Democratic and Republican Parties consider proportional.

3 Ryder is also guilty of assuming that the process "has gone on longer" when again, the reality is that the process would have gone on just as long this time as it has using the 2008 rules.

Recent Posts:
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2012 Republican Delegate Allocation: Wyoming

2012 Republican Delegate Allocation: Washington State

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