Monday, September 17, 2012

The Iowa Caucuses: Still Not Going Anywhere

FHQ has never been a proponent of the tweet and run approach to Twitter, but in a rush on Friday I fell victim to the practice when responding to a Charlie Mahtesian tweet (and post) on the impact of the resignation of a pro-Ron Paul presidential elector in Iowa. Let me flesh out my elementary schoolyard, "No it isn't" response.

First of all, the story was that one of the members of the elected slate of Iowa Republican presidential electors resigned her post after suggesting that she might use her electoral college vote to send a message to Romney/the RNC for treating Paul -- from her point of view -- unfairly during the primary phase of the presidential campaign. That's all well and good. Talk of faithless electors is like talk of electoral college ties: premature and the chances of either happening beyond just entertaining talking points are infinitesimally small.

No, where FHQ took issue with Mahtesian, and by extension his piggybacking on a Craig Robinson post at The Iowa Republican, is on the contention that this is a blow to Iowa and/or the first in the nation status of its caucuses. Is this another in a string of black eyes for Iowa? Perhaps, but that is in the eye of the beholder.  Sure the "trouble" stretches back through June when Paul backers overwhelmed the state convention winning the majority of delegate slots to the national convention in Tampa and back further into January when Romney won the caucuses on caucus night only to have Santorum emerge victorious when the vote was certified two weeks later.

There is, however, a difference between black eyes and black eyes that actually yield some sanction on the state party in Iowa and its caucuses. The former is apparent. The latter is not.

Iowa and its caucuses are not going anywhere.

Given Craig Robinson's former position with and proximity to the Republican Party of Iowa, he may have more inside dope than I do. But if Tampa accomplished anything in terms of the 2016 delegate selection rules, it was to further bolster -- to further insulate -- the institution of the Iowa caucuses as first on the calendar. Some may quibble with me and suggest that the redefinition of the delegate binding mechanism in the new RNC rules will create some tension in the Iowa/New Hampshire relationship due to the way New Hampshire's primary law is written. But Iowa basically gets an exemption there (see the last clause of that statute -- That describes Iowa without naming Iowa.). The new protections for the carve out states means that...

1) They are not penalized if any non-carve out states thumb their noses at the new, stiffer penalties, forcing Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina to jump to dates any time before February and...

2) If that holds, then there will be just four states -- the carve outs -- jockeying for calendar position in a February window that stretches from February 1-20. [Michigan and Arizona have primaries scheduled for February 23, 2016 and Michigan has already received a waiver to hold its primary then without penalty.] That means there will be far less competition for slots or at least a lesser number of competitors vying for them. In turn, that makes it even more likely that Iowa would find its way to the front of the calendar.

The only problem with this argument is that the RNC also passed at its convention new rules to give the body the opportunity to amend its rules between conventions given a three-fourths vote. That may be what is troubling to Mr. Robinson and other Iowa Republicans about this latest episode with Paul backers within the state party. If Iowa continues to cross the line in the eyes of the RNC, the new and favorable (to Iowa) rules/penalties may be changed and Iowa may find itself on the outside looking in on a first in the nation contest elsewhere in 2016.

Of course, there are a couple of reasons why that won't happen. If Romney wins, Republicans/RNC will very likely leave well enough alone in terms of 2016 rules. In-parties simply have not been motivated to alter their delegate selection rules in the post-reform era. Now, when they become out-parties that quickly changes. But assuming a Romney win, the status quo rules will govern the de facto Republican nomination process. If, however, Obama is reelected, that does not lead to the Iowa Republican caucuses being given the heave ho. No, an Obama victory on November 6 means that both parties will have active nomination races in 2016, and barring an unforeseen challenge to Iowa's position on the Democratic side, Iowa Democrats will have the first contest on the 2016 Democratic presidential primary calendar. FHQ is hard-pressed to envision the RNC changing their rules and throwing Iowa Republicans under the bus in that scenario, thus opening the door to a Florida-in-2008-in-the-Democratic-race division. Quite the contrary, Republicans will not want to stir that hornets' nest at a time when they -- at least in this scenario -- are still trying to take back the White House.

Iowa is safe for 2016.

...perceived black eyes and all.

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