Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Rules Don't Really Start to Take Shape Until the Candidates or Their Surrogates Get Involved

Back in the late spring of 2012, FHQ had the opportunity to sit down with folks on the Rules Committees of both parties. The bipartisan group at one point was talking about penalties nested in each party's delegate selection rules, and I took the opportunity to gauge the Democratic contingent's thoughts on the (new in) 2008 penalty that stripped candidates of delegates for campaigning in rogue states. I was curious to see if they thought that rule -- Rule 20.C.1.b -- would carry over to 2016.

The response I received was that that rule -- designed to remove the incentive states had to move up on the primary calendar (no candidate attention leads to less or no media attention) -- was a function of an agreement between the prospective candidates (and their surrogates) and the early states. The penalty worked, in part, because the candidates were on board with the rule. And the campaigns obeyed it. Florida and Michigan may have defied the Democratic National Committee rule regarding the timing of their contests, but the candidates stayed away from both.1

Furthermore, DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee members there added that the extension of that rule -- the candidate-specific penalty -- to 2016 was dependent on the involvement of the candidates, campaigns and their surrogates, nascent though they may be even at this point in the cycle. Again, the Democratic rules don't really start to take shape until the candidates or their surrogates get involved. That is why Harold Ickes return to the RBC was actually a significant signal -- albeit one that tends towards being inside baseball. There was not a whole lot of turnover on the committee, but Ickes was a major "new" face on the panel with Clinton connections as Jonathan Martin details in his New York Times piece.2

We don't yet know what the 2016 Democratic delegate selection rules will look like, but there is a baseline for comparison in the 2012 version. Actions by the Republican National Committee may also affect what the Rules and Bylaws Committee devises on the Democratic side. And now we know that when the committee convenes again in November in New Orleans and next year when the real rules work begins, there will be someone with Clinton connections on the panel that will ultimately decide what shape those rules will take. That's noteworthy.

1 Barack Obama along with John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson all went through the extra step of taking their names off of the ballot in the Michigan primary. Clinton appeared, joined by Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel ( well as a line for Uncommitted).

2 Here is a rough comparison between the membership of the Rules and Bylaws Committee as just installed and the one that was in place in 2009:

There are 13 new members on the RBC now as compared to early 2009, though changes to the membership did happen in the interim. Even if that 13 is the baseline, the turnover on the committee now versus then is less than 50%. Hat tip to Frank Leone for posting the 2013 list here and sharing with FHQ the 2009 membership roll.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

North Carolina is the New Missouri

...or How the 2015-16 North Carolina presidential primary process could look like Missouri's in 2011-12.

Now that North Carolina has jumped up the calendar and out of compliance with at least the Republican National Committee rules for 2016, it sets in motion the now-quadrennial dance between the national parties and would-be rogue states. North Carolina is now firmly lodged in that "rogue" area. And FHQ has mentioned several times in reaction to the 2016 presidential primary calendar provocation out of North Carolina recently that the move may result -- depending on how the process within North Carolina goes between now and 2015-16 -- in North Carolina Republicans (and perhaps even Democrats) being forced into utilizing caucuses as a means of allocating delegates.

That point came up again in the recent AP look at the aftermath and ramifications of the North Carolina presidential primary move. The caucus route is still a potential end point for one or both parties in North Carolina in 2016, but it is one of several options:
  1. North Carolina does nothing, takes the penalty and heads to the 2016 Republican National Convention with 12 delegates and a reduced number on the Democratic side as well.
  2. The North Carolina General Assembly does nothing, but one or more of the state parties opts for a later and compliant caucus to avoid penalty from either or both of the national parties. Call this the Missouri Route.
  3. The North Carolina General Assembly could reverse that part of the new law and move the primary back to May where it started.
  4. The North Carolina General Assembly could keep the separate presidential primary, but move it back to, say, March 1 -- the first date on which non-carve-out states can schedule delegate selection events -- or consolidate all the primaries again, but hold them in March and not May. 
Those are all viable options for decision-makers in the Tarheel state. And at least according to the AP piece, there are some within the legislature -- state Representative David Lewis, who is also the RNC committeeman from the state -- who say the issue could likely be revisited. Rep. Lewis even put a nice spin on the move -- anchoring the North Carolina primary to South Carolina's -- by saying that it was meant to "signal that we wanted North Carolina to be a more relevant player in the selection of the nominees".

But how is North Carolina potentially staring down a switch to caucuses in 2016? How is North Carolina like Missouri?

First of all, suffice it to say, there is a lot of time between now and 2015, much less 2016. In other words, much can and will happen between now and then. That said, there are echoes of what happened in Missouri in 2011 in the North Carolina discussion.1 Rep. Lewis, for instance, isn't the only member of the General Assembly with an opinion on the matter. Granted, he is a powerful voice given his position on the Republican National Committee, but he is not the only voice.

Over in the state Senate, Andrew Brock (R-34th -- Davie, Iredell and Rowan), who has brought up bills to move the North Carolina presidential primary for years, seemed/seems less willing to move the election. More importantly, Sen. Brock appears prepared to take on any delegate penalty in exchange for influence over the process (via the AP):
"I would gladly exchange my position as a delegate in exchange for having more North Carolinians in the presidential process."
Now, it may be a leap to say that a difference of opinion among two members of the North Carolina General Assembly will or could derail any move to avoid national party penalty, but those sorts of differences did just that in Missouri in 2011. It helps the comparison that there was division among the two legislative chambers in Missouri and we have different ideas about the North Carolina primary represented by members in North Carolina; one from the state Senate, the other from the state House.

The question, though, is whether either side -- move back or stay early -- has enough support to serve as veto point on the other. Though there has been enough support to push a move through in Missouri during the regular session of the legislature, there wasn't in the decisive special session. The idea of being early -- the lure of it -- was too strong.

But does that sort of division exist in the North Carolina situation?

We shall see. The North Carolina presidential primary is now early and noncompliant with RNC rules. Are the penalties enough to right the ship (...triggering either options #3 or #4 above)?  Is there a compromise position that can be met in the meantime ( the second of the two options in #4 above)? If the answer is no to either of those and a veto point in the coordination problem that is setting the primary date exists in the process then the "do nothing" part of option #1 becomes much more likely. That also, in turn, likely means the North Carolina Republican Party steps in to avoid penalties by switching to caucuses.

But there are hints of Missouri in what is happening so far since North Carolina moved. Whether they are there in the future -- and to what extent -- is a question for 2014 when the North Carolina General Assembly reconvenes.

1 To quickly recap, the Missouri General Assembly voted during its regular session in 2011 to move the presidential primary from February to March and back into compliance with both national parties' delegate selection rules. That bill was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon because it also contained a provision that would have limited gubernatorial power in filling vacancies to various statewide offices. Even the initial regular session passage was not without fanfare. Some -- particularly in the Missouri Senate -- wanted to keep the primary early despite the penalties. That same division -- mostly occurring along line separating the two chambers of the Missouri General Assembly -- emerged again with the presidential primary issue was raised at during the 2011 special session that was called. In the context of that session the division became gridlock and the bill, after passing the House, went nowhere in the Senate. That meant no move for Missouri. Even steps after that in the special session to eliminate the presidential primary -- to save the state money -- failed. And in the midst of all of that -- and out of fear of the penalties from the RNC -- the Missouri Republican Party chose to hold caucuses for allocating their convention delegates.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Iowa's Diminishing Power in Republican Presidential Nominations

Did I miss something between Saturday and Sunday about Iowa?

All anyone has been talking about since then -- at least when it comes to the Hawkeye state and my Twitter feed -- is that Iowa is (perceived to be) losing the battle to remain relevant in the Republican presidential nomination process.

Is Iowa's power in the nomination process diminishing?

Did Iowa lose its position at the front of the presidential primary calendar line Saturday night without my knowing it?

The answer is no. And that calendar position is the main reason why Iowa is not going anywhere in the minds of voters or the campaign strategists who will run the campaigns of the candidates for the Republican nomination in 2015 and 2016. For pundits and some folks in Iowa on the Republican side of the aisle, the equation is different,  though.

We certainly hear about the diminishing relevance/influence for Iowa, and that prospect is definitely nudged along by current divisions within the Republican Party of Iowa. But by other metrics it doesn't necessarily look that way. Prospective candidates are visiting at quite a clip -- more so than at a similar point four years ago. Even Chris Christie may make an appearance there in the next year with a competitive governor's race in the offing. The Democratic Party has no plans of removing Iowa as one of the four early states, and the RNC has added new protections for the carve-out states -- Iowa included -- for 2016. None of this is evidence that Iowa is going anywhere or that its role is decreasing. It isn't. It is evidence that the dynamics of any given presidential race in any given year are different and filter through the unique Iowa environment (even that is not a constant) somewhat differently each time. That is to say that Iowa's role in any given Republican presidential nominating contest is evolving. It always has. The events of one cycle affect the future events of another.

There are some constants. Iowa's first. A sizable bloc of its Republican caucusgoers are apparently conservative. [They are. That provides some modicum of certainty that campaign strategists like.] Given that, it is more than reasonable to talk about what an uphill climb it possibly is for an establishment-type candidate to win/compete there. [It can be, but doesn't have to be.] Yet the candidates of all ideological stripes still head out to the heartland to varying degrees of frequency. And the process in both parties still filters significantly through Iowa.

Do either the straw poll or caucuses signal a winner of the nomination?

Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't.1

And that still isn't what a first contest is normally going to do in a presidential nomination race. Iowa -- both the Ames straw poll and the caucuses collectively -- serves as a winnowing contest. The way in which it winnows differs from year to year, but it still begins the winnowing process.

...and not necessarily the picking of the next nominee.

The instances where those two -- Iowa correctly identifying the nominee and winnowing the field -- converge are the years in which, as Cohen et al (2008) would put it, the party decides or has decided in the invisible primary time leading up to the the first delegate selection event. In years when that convergence does not happen around Iowa, the Hawkeye state does what it normally does: influence the presidential nomination race.

As long as Iowa is first, the "skipping Iowa" issue that always pops up now when there is a Republican nomination contest on the horizon with no incumbent involved (which is to say, a competitive race) will continue to come up. [This is also something that Jon Bernstein dealt with rather eloquently again last week. We're recycling these things from 2012, folks. (see Bernstein here and here also] And people will continue to question the state's relevance.

That's part of being first; something Iowa wants to protect (and probably why a little paranoia about losing them -- real or imagined -- is a good thing for the state). But the bottom line now -- in 2013 -- is that Iowa is safe for 2016. The rules protect them and that guarantees a significant role in the nomination process. that will evolve over the next couple of years and perhaps even look a little different than in 2012 or 2008 or...

1 There's some folly in reading too much into electoral precedents anyway. Two primary phase precedent bubbles were popped during 2012 for instance. 1) The winner of the Iowa caucuses always finishes first or second in the Ames Straw Poll. Michele Bachmann didn't. 2) The winner of the South Carolina Republican Primary has been the ultimately Republican nominee in every competitive nomination since 1980. Newt Gingrich won South Carolina but not the nomination.

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I Am Not an Ames Straw Poll Apologist

...but FHQ is among the most skeptical of skeptics when the conversation turns back toward the "Is Ames Dead?" discussion.

Look, I thought Jonathan Martin's piece Sunday in the New York Times was illuminating. This -- the "Is Ames Dead?" discussion -- is absolutely an ongoing topic within and outside of the Republican Party of Iowa and it has at least some tangential bearing on the progress of any Republican presidential nomination race (Results may vary.). But when it comes to actually killing off the straw poll -- the quadrennial August Republican rite in the year before a presidential election year -- well, it is a bit more complicated than the straw poll is on its death bed.

...and there are certainly more perspectives within the state party about the event than it being like a "Civil War doctor amputating a gangrenous leg to save the life of the patient".

Let's take Mike Murphy's comment from the article first because that is a great place to start. I don't know whether Murphy was channeling Wallace Shawn in Princess Bride or not, but invoking land wars in Asia is a good analogy in the context of an establishment candidate wading into a supposedly ultraconservative affair in Ames. The line is also analogous in a great many ways to attempting to put the halt on the straw poll altogether.


This is something FHQ will revisit later this week in a slightly different scenario, but in this instance there currently is a veto point within the Republican Party of Iowa concerning the Ames Straw Poll. Yes, it is significant that Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) has openly called for an end to the practice. Very significant. Rare are the times when states volunteer to lose attention in the presidential nomination process. But the party infrastructure itself is not -- at least on this issue -- on the same page with the governor. That makes it quite difficult to stop the practice.

Not impossible, mind you. But difficult.

An example...

Take Obamacare. Republicans on the Hill and nationwide have made no bones about wanting to repeal what is considered by some to be among the signature pieces of legislation to work its way through Congress on the president's watch. However, the law is in place, it is taking effect in the staggered way in which it was intended (and in some cases not initially intended), and there are also veto points within the process of reversing the legislation. There is a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Democratic president standing in the way.

The institution has been erected in other words and is increasingly difficult to tear down the more it becomes, well, institutionalized over time.

Back in the Iowa context, then, there are interests that want the institution that is the straw poll in Ames to continue. And those interests pull the strings within the state party now, too. That makes the interests (ending the straw poll practice) of the governor and other Republican officials and operatives in the Hawkeye state -- those somewhat echoed by the national party or vice versa -- harder to bring to fruition.

Institutionally speaking, there are roadblocks -- prohibitive ones at this point in time -- to putting an end to the straw poll.

At one point -- nine months ago when this issue was last raised so prominently nationally -- there was talk of "tweaking the event" involved in this discussion as well. That sentiment has not disappeared, FHQ would wager. And really, that is where this is likely to end if change is in the offing for the Ames Straw Poll. It is an event -- a fundraiser at its core -- for the party. It is an event that is also somewhat insulated by the fact that Iowa has and will continue to lead off the presidential nomination process in 2016. That is not going to change. In fact, Iowa and the other three carve-out states have received additional protection from the RNC since the 2012 caucuses. And the order of those states is codified in the DNC rules that are likely to carry over to 2016. Iowa's caucuses have no real threat -- not of losing delegates anyway -- on the Republican side from non-carve-outs and have rules-backing on the order of the first four contests on the Democratic side.

Now, FHQ is not saying that there is no way for the Ames Straw Poll to die. But institutionally there are obstacles within the Republican Party of Iowa to that happening. More to the point, there is division within the party about whether holding the event is good or bad for the caucuses early the following year. The space between the two camps and the balance of power there is such that change is unlikely now, and if it occurs, is likely to be somewhere between holding the straw poll as usual and killing it.

And if it isn't totally dead in 2015, that means it ended up tweaked in some way.

...a way that likely favors those holding most of the cards on the decision. The state party.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Two Outta Three Ain't Bad in South Carolina

The RNC and now the South Carolina GOP.

Perhaps some on the other side of the aisle are skeptical, but count FHQ among the group of folks with a different take on the South Carolina Republican Party Executive Committee resolution barring CNN and NBC from hosting presidential primary debates during the 2016 cycle. [See the full resolution here.]

Rightfully, many are questioning the ability of the national party to enforce such a resolution during 2015 and 2016. The temptation will certainly be there for candidates and state parties to shirk. However, if both the national party and state parties are against CNN/NBC debates -- and for a reduction in the total number of presidential primary debates -- then such action becomes more manageable from the national party's perspective. It helps. It removes one potential obstacle to the end goal coming to fruition.

Now, does it completely solve the problem?

No. The candidates will have a say in all of this as well. But it becomes harder for the candidates and their campaigns to justify siding with the two blacklisted networks over both the national party and state parties; particularly if this spreads in/across the other early states/state parties.

Still, will this resolution end up a "crumpled up piece of paper in the trash come 2015/2016"? Well, it isn't out of the realm of possibility. This is a resolution and not a party rule, mind you.

...for now.

FHQ doubts that will change on the state level, but the RNC could add some teeth to its debates resolution in its 2016 delegate selection rules deliberations in the coming months. For the time being, though, it is noteworthy that at least one early state state party is in lockstep with the RNC on the matter.

That's a good thing from the national party perspective.

Friday, August 23, 2013

As Expected, Mostly Quiet on the 2016 Democratic Rules Front in Scottsdale

Frank Leone explains:
No old business.  New business included the rules for the election of At-Large DNC member and Exect Comte members at the DNC meeting tomorrow.  under the rules, there will be no nominations from the floor and vote will be on the chair’s slate.  The RBC recommended a Charter amendment addressing  gender balance for DNC officers – providing that they be equally divided by gender as practicable. 
Next meeting likely in New Orleans in Nov – RBC will start looking at 2016 national convention delegate selection process and may address issues including calendar and state order and convention delegate affirmative action guidelines.  The DNC will consult with RNC re calendar as was done for 2012.
No, there is not a whole lot in there about the 2016 rules other than the mention of matters like the primary calendar being on the RBC's radar for consideration at future meetings. But, then again, the expectations were not for there to be fundamental changes to the rules coming out of Scottsdale.

The only other thing is the point that the DNC and RNC will be interacting with the 2016 rules in mind. FHQ will be in DC in late September for the one planned face-to-face between some of the rules makers from both parties. I'll have more on that as it approaches.

Thanks, as always, to Frank for chiming in on the the RBC's activities.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Deeper Dive on the New RNC Rules Subcommittee

It is perhaps premature to start talking about the implications of the newly created subcommittee that the RNC Standing Committee on Rules created last week to reexamine the party's rules regarding its presidential nomination process. There are, after all, no recommendations on the table yet; no formal proposal for reform large or small. All we have is a list of member names and one informal discussion to go on here. And the details of the latter are quite limited. At this point, that is not really all that surprising. There is still a year before the RNC will finalize the rules, so it is an ongoing process.

Still, there is a bit of tea-leaf reading that can be done in this case about what may emerge from this group's efforts and go before the full Rules Committee and possibly the full RNC. At its most basic level, there should be some line of inquiry about the 17 folks on the subcommittee. I mean, are we talking about a slew of establishment types, a bunch of Paulites or something in between? The make up of the group has some bearing on what rules changes -- if any -- it is likely to recommend.

Though it is perhaps a crude measure, FHQ is of the opinion that the roll call vote the Rules Committee had at its April spring meeting on Morton Blackwell's package of amendments is an initially good lens through which to examine the new subcommittee. Recall that the Virginia national committeeman's laundry list of changes to the rules that came out of the Tampa convention would have essentially reversed course and have reverted the rules to their 2012 nomination state. Further, that vote was a narrow victory (28-25) for the establishment, rejecting a return to the old rules. On some level, then, this vote is a pretty good proxy for a change back (grassroots)/stay the same (establishment) set of camps involved in any future subcommittee discussions.

First, let's have a look at the membership: The RNC member's state-level position is in parentheses. The vote on the the Blackwell amendment package -- where a Yes vote means changing the rules back -- as well as any other notes about the member's proximity to either the establishment or grassroots camp is also included where available.

That's ten No votes and seven Yes votes on the Blackwell package of amendments, plus any vote Chairman Priebus may have in the subcommittee process in the future. The reason that vote is a crude proxy is that there were a host of changes in there. Some of those Yes votes may have been for part of the changes specifically rather than the entire package. Once or if that is disaggregated and individual changes are dealt with in the subcommittee setting, some of those votes -- on either side -- could change.

Still, this is a rough proxy. We know, for instance, that the establishment position has the upper hand based on the numbers above. We have that as a baseline and know that the full group fits the "somewhere in between" distinction described earlier. That points toward some changes being made to the current set of rules, but not necessarily a fundamental rewriting of them or reversion to the 2012 model.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

DNC's Turn at Presidential Nomination Rules This Week in Scottsdale

Like the Republican National Committee a week ago, the Democratic National Committee is set to gather in Scottsdale, Arizona later this week (August 22-23). Also like their Republican counterparts, the DNC will consider a number of resolutions, though none will likely meet the same level of attention the Republican resolution barring debates on NBC and CNN had.

But the question, as always around these parts, is whether anything substantive will emerge from the Democratic meeting on the 2016 presidential primary rules front. We were treated to rules talk in Boston about debates, June conventions and a Republican Rules Committee meeting with few fireworks last week. Little, other than the creation of a subcommittee to Rules, came of it though.

Will that be different in Scottsdale?


This DNC meeting will largely resemble the January winter meeting of the RNC in Charlotte. In other words, there will be talk about the present and future of the party, but with little in the way of actionable results. least on the 2016 delegate selection rules.

The real reason the January RNC (Rules Committee) meeting is the best approximation of DNC (Rules and Bylaws Committee) meeting is that the real business at hand is the selection and settling of new members on the various underlying party committees; an orientation, if you will. And that has always been the case. Higher ups in the DNC -- on the RBC anyway -- have been saying all year that the Democratic Party would not really begin the process of examining the rules governing it delegate selection process until 2014. The meeting later this week is consistent with that timeline.

August is for installing new RBC members, who will, in turn, work with the remaining members of the RBC to begin fashioning a new set of rules that will be finalized around next year this time.

So don't expect many rules changes out of Scottsdale.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Can a National Party Manage or Control Presidential Primary Debates?

And Can the RNC Accomplish That Goal Through New Rules?

FHQ chose to lead with this manage/control dichotomy because I think former New Hampshire governor, John Sununu, was absolutely right in January when he told the winter conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State -- in a panel FHQ was on -- that national parties are often fighting the last battle when it comes to how they will govern future presidential nomination rules. He expanded on his point by adding that those same national parties -- or at least the internal struggles within them -- attempt to control a process that can only really be managed.

Problems in the process in one cycle are not necessarily problems the next time around. And new attempts at rules often have unintended consequences. A great case in point is the addition of superdelegates to the Democratic Party process for the 1984 cycle. The intention of adding superdelegates was to empower a group of party elites to serve as arbiters in any unresolved nomination contest. But that sort of scenario did not happen in 1984. It was not until 24 years later that the term superdelegate crossed any lips outside of Democratic circles.

Another such issue, but on the Republican side, was the addition of the proportionality requirement for 2012. Now, some will argue that the lack of winner-take-all contests prior to April 1, 2012 did help to slow the Republican nomination process down. That wasn't the case. Instead it was the distribution of contests across the entire calendar -- no contests throughout much of February after a January start point and only a small trickle of contests between Super Tuesday in early March and late April when there was a Mid-Atlantic/Northeast subregional primary.

But the point is that I think of those talking points every time a new set or portion of delegate selection rules comes along. A national party has to be deliberative and careful in laying out any new rules. And sadly, there is no test facility to where either Democrats, Republicans or both can head to try these things out. Unintended consequences only come around in the midst of a primary campaign. And then it is too late.

This is a lengthy way of FHQ saying that I agree with most who have responded to the RNC debates resolution -- the one ending any potential partnering relationships between the party and CNN and NBC for the purposes of presidential primary debates -- with skepticism.

No, the party really has no control over candidates or state parties when it comes to whether they agree in principle with any debates overtures they receive from either "rogue" media outlet. If a candidate or state party wants to debate and can agree with one of those networks on the parameters of a debate, then there will likely be a debate. Granted, this is all somewhat situational. If, by 2015, there is a clear or even marginal frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, then said candidate is perhaps less likely to go along with an increasing number of debates.1 That has the impact of potentially insulating an establishment candidate. However, the RNC and any establishment candidate/campaign may actually want more debates if that establishment candidate is not the frontrunner candidate. If a frontrunner is insulated and the establishment candidate -- if there is one emergent establishment candidate -- is behind, then that desire for fewer debates dissipates.

Again though, planning -- or attempting to control -- for those types of scenarios is very difficult this far in advance. That is the sort of trap that national parties can let themselves get dragged into in efforts to fix the past. No party can fix the past, but they can affect the future in ways they cannot expect.

That's why FHQ thought former RNC chair and current co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, was dead on in his comments to Politico about regulating presidential primary debates.2 By expanding the certainty of what a bipartisan debates commission produces from the general election to the primary phase as well may open the door to an open discussion that produces a plan that eliminates the problems in the process that affect both parties. Coordinating -- even if only loosely -- the process across parties can generate a plan that may not overreach into the area of unintended consequences in the way that a one-party effort might.

The primary process has witnessed something similar over the last few cycles in terms of how the parties have collectively dealt with the issues of rogue states and frontloading of delegate selection events on the calendar. There is now a set of semi-coordinated rules and penalties in place across both parties to deal with both. That the parties are now -- even if only partly -- a united front it is better than two different mindsets on the problem.

Of course, there are two different mindsets on the debates "problem". The Democratic Party has not had the same sort of issues that the Republican Party appears to have had in 2012 and thus, does not see the need for a change. Yet, that is not that different from the differences between the parties on the above rogue/frontloading problem. After 2004, the Democratic Party wanted to nip frontloading in the bud. What it came up with was a rules-based plan to penalize not only states but candidates if states moved into non-compliant dates on the calendar and candidates campaigned in those states. Both would lose delegates.

Now, a Florida and Michigan mess later, it would not appear as if the plan worked. However, that had more to do with the fact that Democrats had attempted to go it alone rather than a flawed system. Without Republicans onboard, the plan was much less likely to succeed. Witness the provocative Florida maneuver in 2007. Florida Republicans, though they ultimately had some Democratic support in the state legislature, orchestrated the move of the Sunshine state presidential primary into January 2008.

After a second consecutive cycle that saw primary season kick off in Iowa on January 3, both parties are largely on the same page on this issue. Both national party apparatuses recognize the need for some informal coordination of rules and penalties for those would-be rogue states and candidates willing to flaunt the rules. The RNC, then, ultimately converged with the DNC on its thinking concerning doling out and enforcing penalties on rogue states; though the penalties were different across parties.

There is, though, a divergence between national parties on the thinking behind the debates issue. What the RNC sees as a problem, the DNC does not. Coordination is difficult under those circumstances. But, then again, it does not appear to FHQ that coordination is necessarily needed in this instance. It might help, but coordination is not necessary in the same way that it was on the timing and primary calendar issues above.3 [But truth be told the certainty of a united front between/across both parties on the issue of primary debates could be a good thing.]

Given that there is no convergence between the parties now, what can the RNC do to get what it wants in the realm of presidential primary debates. The resolution from the RNC summer meeting this week in Boston is one part. Theoretically, reducing the number of partnering media outlets could help to also reduce the number of debates. But that cannot be the only part or the RNC gets right back to where it started from: with uncertainty over whether candidates and state parties are actually going to toe the company line.

This is the exact reason that FHQ -- in reaction to the creation of a Rules subcommittee charged with reexamining the rules of the primary process -- mentioned that that subcommittee would be the forum in which the regulation of debates will be deliberated. They will be.

But the question remains: What can the RNC do to either manage or control this process?

There is one model out there that may provide those curious about where the party is going rules-wise with some guidance. FHQ should note that unlike some of the other rules discussions in this space -- namely the proportionality requirement and timing rules -- I have no "inside information" on the RNC's intentions. That said, there are only so many options available to the RNC and the party has a very fine needle indeed to thread to even approach getting this debates issue "right".

The truth of the matter is that the presidential nomination process involves a confluence of political interests: Those of the national party, those of the states (governments), those of the candidates and those of the state parties. [Oh, and hey, perhaps those of the voters as well.] What one group wants is not necessarily what another group desires. So, while the RNC may want to decrease the number of debates, there still exist very difficult-to-manage incentives for state parties and the candidates and their campaigns to resist that call. The answer for the national parties -- the model, it appears -- is to remove those incentives. How?

The process has seen this play out before, albeit in another area. Again, the Democratic Party devised in the wake of a second consecutive defeat to George W. Bush in 2004 a way to keep states and candidates in line in terms of the constant calendar jumping. The way that the party dealt with rogue states and candidates in the rules for 2008 was to strike at the interests of those entities. Go earlier than is required by the party rules? Lose half (then all, then half, then none of) your delegation. Campaign in a rogue state? Lose your delegates from that state at the convention.

Did Florida and Michigan defy those rules? You betcha. But the party meted out a penalty that was in effect until it was clear that 1) it would not have changed the outcome at the convention and 2) it was serving an injurious purpose to the party and its nominee by angering convention activists in two typically competitive states.

On the other end, did the penalty work on the candidates? Yes, it did. No one campaigned in Florida until after the primary -- when the rules allowed a resumption -- and no one campaigned in Michigan after it was clear in the late summer of 2007 that Michigan was, in fact, going rogue.

[It should be noted that the process of deriving and instituting these rules was partially dependent on the the campaigns -- and their surrogates within the DNC -- and the usual band of carve-out state representatives being onboard. The early states were and the would-be campaigns were as well. That was the glue that kept the rule together.]

Is this a roadmap for the RNC regulating presidential primary debates?

Yeah, I think it is one potential course of action. And on the positive side of the ledger, it is not even really something that requires buy-in from the DNC. By and large, there are not a huge number of coordinated primary debates across the parties. I can think of one coordinated, double debate that happened in New Hampshire on the eve of the primary in the Granite state in 2008. But those are the exception rather than rule. Unlike regulating the movement of primary contests -- something that involves getting past bipartisan interests within states -- this debates issue is something that can potentially be handled in-house.

The drawbacks take this conversation back to something FHQ said early on in this post. To make rules like this work, a national party almost has to get it right the first time. If the penalty isn't right (see 50% penalty for violating the RNC timing rules in 2012), then the move could backfire. There is no testing ground for this other than an actual nomination race.

So how does the RNC provide disincentive for state parties and candidates on partnering with or participating in a supposed superfluous debate (...whether on CNN, MSNBC or otherwise)? The obvious answer is by taking away delegates as the DNC did for timing violations and campaigning in 2008.

But how much? Debates are not like primaries. A primary or caucuses in a state are one-off events. They are held and over in one fell swoop. Debates are not like that. There are, for instance, multiple debates in, say, Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina during the ramp up to the actual delegate selection events in those states. Does a national party go straight for the jugular and penalize everything or a sizable amount of delegates for one rogue activity? Alternatively, does the party attempt to mete out a penalty based on the number of violations? Complicating matters, does the RNC also devise a separate penalty for partnering with unsanctioned networks? Before this notion is dismissed out of hand, recall that the RNC had no answer in 2012 for a state that violated the proportionality requirement and the timing rules. There was only one 50% delegate hit a state could receive. Once one rule was violated, the RNC had no further stick to use against multiple violations.

FHQ does not have the answers to these questions. But they are important questions that the RNC Rules subcommittee on primary rules will likely consider if they are serious about regulating these presidential primary phase debates.  If regulation is the end goal, then attacking the existing incentive structure is the only path for the party to take.

...but does that veer off into fighting the last fight or fall under the category of an evolutionary management of the system?

We'll see.

1 And yeah, there was a bit of savvy to the RNC resolution. It served two purposes. First, the move played to the base of the party by going after a familiar whipping boy: the liberal media. But as many have pointed out, it also has the byproduct -- by reducing the number of outlets for debates -- of helping to reduce the number of actual debates that take place in the lead up to and during primary season in 2015 and 2016.

2 Those comments:
Former RNC Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf encouraged Priebus after the election to set early parameters for the number of debates and coordinate with Democrats, who will face similar pressures for tons of debates — especially if Clinton decides not to run.
“My friends at the networks make a carnival atmosphere out of it all,” Fahrenkopf said. “You’ve got to this situation where a candidate was afraid not to participate in a debate, even if they didn’t want to.”

Fahrenkopf, who is co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, points to the certainty in a general election context of always hosting three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate.

“It gives the candidates cover from the standpoint of not being compelled to do every single debate because they’ll offend some interests,” he said. “I don’t know whether the right number is 10 or 12 or 8. That’s not for me. But they ought to say there will be [X] sanctioned debates. Then a candidate can say when the Lion’s Club in some small town … calls, ‘We’ve already agreed to the two sanctioned debates in New Hampshire.’”
3 That said, one could certainly see a future where there is some convergence between the parties on the presidential primary debates issue. Regardless of whether any speculative new rules work for the Republican Party in 2016, the Democrats could -- as the Republicans ultimately did on the calendar issues -- come to the same conclusion. Debates are too numerous and detrimental to the nomination process and/or the success of the party's nominee in the general election. That may not happen in 2016 or even 2020, but one could envision a time when the Democrats' are pushed in that direction.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

June Conventions?

Why does this keep coming up? 

...with no details about how a June convention is even logistically possible in the context of a primary calendar that stretches into that month?

The draws of an early convention are obvious. Candidates, nay, presumptive nominees, can make the financial transition to the general election warchest. That can be a big deal for said nominee following what may be a moderately to very difficult nomination race that has run deep into the well of primary phase money. This makes sense.

But the drawbacks -- or more appropriately the political and structural impediments -- to shifting up a convention to that early a point are quite onerous. Again, recall that the Republican autopsy of the 2012 election and the primary process -- the Growth and Opportunity Project Report -- mentioned that a nominee needs "an estimated 60-90 days to prepare for the Convention". That is, there should be 60-90 days between the conclusion of the delegate selection process and any subsequent national convention. Even a late June convention means that delegate selection will have had to run its course in all states two to three months in advance. In the best case -- 60 day -- scenario, that's some time in April.

As the autopsy's convention point goes on:
"If the Convention were to be held in July, the last primary would need to be held no later than May 15. If the Convention were to be held in late June, the final primary would need to be held no later than April 30. Moving primaries up will require states and state parties to cooperate."
FHQ is less concerned with those date thresholds, but that last statement is noteworthy. Moving primaries up will require states and state parties to cooperate. Does that mean the same states and state parties that have cooperated in the post-reform era in not moving up to non-compliant dates on the front end of the calendar?

Actually it does not. The rogue states have been the same cast of characters for quite a while. By now, regular readers here can reel them off from memory quite quickly. And Arizona, Delaware, Florida, and Michigan are not really the ones the RNC needs to worry about. They are already compliant with not being in that April to June window that would be problematic for a June convention.

No, the states that litter the latter part of the primary calendar are a different lot and offer a different set of issues.

...all while potentially facing the same sort of penalties that have dogged the rogue states challenging the early end of the calendar.

What sorts of issues?

For starters, there are partisan concerns. California and New Jersey -- two states that dropped early and separate presidential primaries in favor of later (June) consolidated primaries in 2012 -- strike FHQ as states not necessarily willing to budge on the move in the future. That may or may not have anything to do with the inertia of making yet another change, but it will certainly have something to do with which party is in control of the date-setting apparatus in those states. In the Golden state, Democrats maintain unified control of the legislature and the governor's mansion and will not shift the date unless there is some clear benefit to the Democratic Party or one or more of the potential Democratic candidates.1 An RNC directive will not do much to move that needle. A similar DNC measure may affect some change in California and other Democratic controlled states at the back of the calendar queue. Granted, Democrats are not necessarily high on the idea of a June convention. Folks FHQ has chatted with in the DNC are willing to go along an earlier convention, but not as early as June.

Those sorts of partisan divisions -- or lack of unified control -- now exist not only in California and New Jersey but in New Mexico, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, Oregon and Kentucky among the May and June states alone. That could be problematic if the end goal for the RNC is a June primary.

But let's assume for a moment that those states look more like, say, South Dakota after midterm or state elections in 2014 or 2015. That is, they are controlled by Republicans. That rids the national party of a political problem but does not erase a very real structural one. Revisit that California/New Jersey discussion above. The issues in those states were a combination of partisan and structural. Beyond the partisan complications that we have assumed away in this thought experiment, there is some benefit to pretty much every state at the end of the calendar having consolidated primaries -- combined presidential, state and local primaries.

Altering that structure would mean moving everything up -- presidential, state and local -- or creating and shifting up a separate presidential contest like what North Carolina did just this past week. The former is something that state legislators of all partisan stripes are not always open to. It affects their reelections whether a threat exists affecting those chances or not. The system has worked for those legislators in winning office one or more times in the past. Why change it? In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The alternative is to create and fund a separate presidential primary election. Not every state requires the $100 million it takes to fund such a contest in California, but state governments are not racing to expend multiple millions of dollars in the current economic environment for these sorts of purposes. That outlook may change between now and 2015 when these date-setting decisions will be made, but don't place any wagers on that just yet. That dilemma, if it was even a dilemma, did not seem to affect the calculus in North Carolina recently. The General Assembly in the Tarheel state charged ahead with the primary change with little or no mention of the estimated $4 million price tag of a separate presidential primary.

Still, as FHQ has shown, one of the primary determinants of state movement -- or non-movement in this case -- in the post-reform era has been whether a state holds its presidential primary concurrently with the primaries for state and local offices. Those with consolidate primaries have been much less likely to move.

Given those constraints, what is the RNC to do if the end goal is a June convention? Well, it can press forward of course. But the party is very likely to find some resistance, more so from states than state parties. If that is what happens -- the RNC moves on this initiative and finds widespread state-level resistance to the idea -- the only move left at the national and state parties disposal at that point is to transition from a non-compliant consolidated and late primary to earlier and compliant caucuses.

...but that conflicts with another recommendation in the GOP Report: "discouraging conventions and caucuses for the purpose of allocating delegates to the national convention". But the caucus route may be the only one open to the RNC in a number of late states because of partisan or structural complications. However, that would mean the addition of as many as ten or eleven new caucus states; an increase of around 100%. That opens the door to a number of unintended consequences that possibly exacerbates any rift in the party or reverses the inroads made toward cooperation.

A June convention is an uphill battle. Even late July seems tough given the apparently required 60-90 day window.

1 The partisan picture is similar in New Jersey minus Democratic control of the governor's mansion. But a party potentially needs to have unified control of the legislative and executive branches to make these primary moves happen.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

RNC Rules Committee Shunts Reexamination of Presidential Nomination Rules to Subcommittee

After the unanimous vote this morning in Boston at the summer RNC meeting all anyone really wants to talk about is the presidential primary debate stance of the party. FHQ will have some things to say on that matter at some point (in addition to what I have already had to say via Twitter), but first thing's first.

Actions taken Thursday afternoon in the RNC Standing Committee on Rules are going to have some bearing on whatever the party decides to do with debates among a host of over rules matters affecting the 2016 delegate selection process on the Republican side. It was there, in the Westin Boston Waterfront, that the Rules Committee essentially hit the pause button on a continued piecemeal approach to tweaking the nomination rules and gave the greenlight to a subcommittee charged with developing a more sweeping proposal. That is likely -- if we are to see anything more on debates from the RNC -- to produce any rules affecting any and all presidential primary debates during the 2016 cycle. But that proposal is also likely to include a number of fixes to the existing rules.

For one thing, the may/shall issue in Rule 16(c)(2) -- bringing back the proportionality requirement for pre-April 1 primaries and caucuses -- is likely to be handled from within the subcommittee context. A fix to Rule 17 -- to help it better coexist, as intended, with Rule 16 -- will also likely emerge from those subcommittee deliberations at future meetings between now and next August when the 2016 rules will be finalized. Part of the inconsistency is the may/shall loophole. Like the Supreme Court's voiding of the current Section 4 formula in its Shelby case decision that effectively struck down the Section 5 preclearance rules regime, without "shall" in Rule 16(c)(2), the initial portion of Rule 17(a) is meaningless. There is no 50% penalty for states that violate a Rule 16(c)(2) provision that is a suggestion, not a mandate from the national party. The intent of the original combination of Rules 16 and 17 was to put in place a super penalty affecting states that held contests before the final Tuesday in February. But it was also supposed to leave in place the 50% penalty for states not abiding by the proportionality requirement before April 1. The combination of the two rules was suppose to leave an overlap for that last week in February where just the 50% penalty would apply (but only if states are not proportional in their allocation plans).

Of course that still leaves a small loophole in that last week of February where states could hold contests in that window and allocate delegates in a proportional manner to avoid any penalty. That could also be something the RNC Rules subcommittee could examine in the coming months. Indeed, Nevada Republican National Committeeman, Jim Smack, had an amendment that was deferred to the subcommittee yesterday dealing with an inconsistency between those two rules. [FHQ has not seen that amendment.]

But this is all a process and the RNC -- now through a subcommittee of the Rules Committee -- will deal with the primary rules in due time. Our best bet is to take the existing rules as our baseline and mix in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report as a broad guide to what may come out of these discussions.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

In Answer to a Nagging Question About the RNC Delegate Selection Rules

In view of the fact that Morton Blackwell does not appear to be introducing in Boston the same series of amendments to the RNC rules that he issued at the spring meeting in LA, this perhaps is not necessary.

But FHQ did get an answer to one of the questions that came out of the RNC spring meeting back in April. First, the context:

If you will recall, the Virginia committeeman submitted and then argued for a series of amendments to the RNC delegate selection rules at the LA meeting that would basically have restored the overall rules to the version that governed the 2012 Republican presidential nomination process. Those changes would have reversed some of the more controversial changes made at the Tampa convention that did not sit well with those in the Paul/libertarian/grassroots faction of the Republican Party.

However, some of those revisions called for changes to rules outside of those the RNC is permitted -- by rule -- from altering outside of conventions. One of the rules added in Tampa -- Rule 12 -- gave the RNC the power to make changes to the delegate selection rules, but only the ones not specifically dealing with the ways in which the subsequent convention would be conducted. The bottom line is that the RNC can change Rules 1-11 and Rules 13-25. Everything else -- including Rule 12 (which was controversial in its own right) -- is off limits.

Yet, Blackwell's long list of rules revisions at the spring RNC meeting stretched beyond those rules indicated in Rule 12. Rule 41, for instance, was altered in Tampa. The former Rule 40 -- one higher for 2016 because of the addition of Rule 12 -- stated that for a candidate to have his or her name placed in nomination at the convention, said candidate had to control the delegations from at least five states. The new Rule 41 raised that threshold from five to eight states. Again, that was something that stuck in the craw of those in the grassroots faction of the party; something Blackwell sought to change back in LA for 2016.

How, though, can a rule outside of the purview of Rule 12 be amended and how would that be dealt with in the context of all the other rules changes in the Blackwell series? This was something that FHQ and Zeke Miller at Time (and perhaps Politico's James Hohmann as well) went back and forth about via Twitter during the Rules Committee portion of the spring meeting. Does the fact that the amendment contains changes to rules not indicated in Rule 12 void the whole set of revisions? Is their inclusion ignored and only the rules included in Rule 12 changed as a result of the amendment? In April that was unknown.

FHQ fell more toward the latter camp, but the true answer -- after some guidance from the RNC -- is a bit more nuanced. If Blackwell were to have brought back up in Boston the same LA amendment -- reversing the Tampa changes -- and it had passed with a majority of the Rules Committee and three-quarters of the full RNC, then here is what would happen:

The rules able to be changed would be changed immediately as Rule 12 indicates. However, any rule outside of the parameters of Rule 12 included in an amendment -- yet passed by the committee and RNC -- would be sent to the next convention as a recommended change to be dealt with in that context.

As FHQ said at the outset, given that Morton Blackwell has scaled back his amendments from LA for the Boston meeting, the point seems to be moot.

But if it comes up at a future RNC meeting, this is an FYI.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing RE: 2016 Rules at RNC Summer Meeting in Boston?

That all depends.

If the question being posed entering the three day confab in Boston is "Will the RNC put in place rules for 2016 that reflect the initiatives called for in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report?", then the likely output -- as in January in Charlotte or April in LA -- will underwhelm. However, just because the GOP Report is not going to be imminently implemented does not mean the Republican meeting in the Bay state will be a wash.

What should we be on the look out for and what should we expect out of Boston 2016 rules-wise over the next few days?

One big question that FHQ has asked RNC members recently is whether they were of the opinion that Virginia committeeman, Morton C. Blackwell, would once again propose the same laundry list of changes to the entire body of the RNC delegate selection rules as at the LA meeting? The answer I have gotten has been a number of I don't knows. But the best indication of Blackwell's intentions came a little over a week ago when he posted on RedState a letter/rules proposal that he was sending to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.1

The laundry list has been pared to down to probably the most minimal (yet fairly significant) rules change possible. And close FHQ readers should be familiar by now with the "may/shall" issue in Rule16(c)(2). This is something FHQ has been pointing out since we first got a hold of the RNC rules back in January, and is something that some higher ups I spoke with at the Charlotte meeting around the same time were aware of and assured me would be changed.

As a quick refresher, Rule 16(c)(2) lays out the proportionality requirement for states that hold primaries or caucuses prior to April 1 in a presidential election year. For 2012, the rule read that states with contests before that point "shall" allocate delegates to the convention in a proportional manner. It was a mandate (...but one that provided great latitude for states to achieve proportionality). But at the RNC convention in Tampa last year that shall -- as Blackwell mentions in his letter -- became a "may", making the mandate more of a toothless suggestion. It also rendered (actually, it still renders in the present tense) the penalty for violating the suggestion in Rule 17 meaningless.

In lieu of the sweeping return to the the bulk of the pre-convention rules that he and others fought for in LA, Blackwell is taking a more pragmatic approach in Boston by addressing the proportionality issue alone.

This seems like a rare bit of common ground between the Blackwell camp and some in the establishment of the RNC over delegate selection rules. But will we actually see that change made this week?

Maybe, maybe not.

And here's why: The "may/shall" switch may be quietly made and the Rules Committee and RNC move on to other issues. That could happen, but the party could also wait to make that change. The other thing that FHQ has heard is being considered and may come out of this meeting -- or more specifically the Rules Committee deliberations and then the RNC -- is a study committee to examine the whole set of rules that can be altered between conventions according to Rule 12. In other words, Rules 1-11 and Rules 13-25; everything but the convention-specific rules. The "may/shall" issue may be thrown into that group's work as one of several things to address (...later) about the nomination process.

The "may/shall" thing is actually quite significant as it serves as one of multiple rules-based barriers to states moving to earlier dates on the primary calendar and/or threatening the carve-out states' positions. It, then, is a big change if it occurs. And the study committee idea is not without merit either. It just isn't a significant a change. It does potentially provide a medium through which those not happy with the rules can air grievances about the rules, a byproduct of which may be more streamlined Rules Committee meetings at future seasonal RNC meetings. The context of my question to RNC members about the list of Blackwell amendments from LA coming up again, was/is that that had the potential to hijack the Rules Committee meeting at future meetings, making it harder to get any work -- Blackwell's, the party's or otherwise -- done.

But that is what everyone with an eye toward the rules governing the 2016 nomination process should be on the look out for this week out of Boston.

Well, you might also see some stern warnings from some over North Carolina's recent primary move. It will certainly be a topic of discussion, but there will not be any solution to the problem now.

1 This is part of the protocol of Rule 12. That any proposed change to the RNC rules must be submitted and circulated in advance (10 days) of any meeting where said amendment will be considered.

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