Monday, February 22, 2016

A South Carolina Delegate Post

South Carolina was different in 2016 than it has been in the recent past.

The first and most obvious difference is that Donald Trump won all 50 of the delegates in the Palmetto state Republican primary. Four years ago, for example, Newt Gingrich was victorious by a larger margin (statewide), but ran behind Mitt Romney in the first district, losing those delegates. Even George W. Bush won by a similar margin, but lost the first district to John McCain in 2000. The 50 delegate sweep Trump pulled off in the first in the South primary Saturday night, then, is not something that is often witnessed out of South Carolina.

However, that is a pretty minor point in the grand scheme of things. After all, even including a case like 2008, in which Mike Huckabee won two districts, his delegate grab was still much smaller than the share the winner, John McCain, left the state with. It was near winner-take-all as a result.

Yet, that is just it. Near winner-take-all or completely so, the delegate take from South Carolina was different in 2016 than it has been in the last two cycles. In both 2008 and 2012, the South Carolina Republican Party incurred a 50% penalty from the Republican National Committee for trying to stay first in the South (or ahead of Florida in those two years). A less messy calendar (formation) and an underlying rules change helped. Yes, a stronger penalty kept potential rogue states in line for 2016, but even if there had been repeat rogue activity from Florida or North Carolina, another RNC rules change even further insulated the four carve-out states. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all had at least a month before the next earliest contest to schedule their contests if other states jumped into February. In the past, the carve-outs moving to anything ahead of February meant they ended up with a penalty like any other rogue state.

Those changes have had implications for 2016 already. New Hampshire yielded Trump delegate surplus 50% greater than the one Mitt Romney emerged with in 2012. Most of that is directly attributable to the fact that Granite state Republicans also had a penalty-reduced delegation four years ago. That is even clearer in light of the fact that Romney received a higher share of the vote in New Hampshire in 2012 than Trump did in 2016.

Further south, the story is similar. Gingrich won by more, but left South Carolina +21 in the delegate count at best. And that was a delegation cut in half. Trump, on the other hand, added all 50 (unpenalized) delegates from South Carolina to his total. That is a more than 100% increase in the delegate cushion the winner got from the Palmetto state primary, cycle over cycle.

If this process is about delegates -- and as March approaches, it is -- then that +50 is a big deal. A 21 delegate surplus is not nothing, but all that did for Gingrich was help the former speaker close the overall delegate gap he faced against Romney. The former Massachusetts governor's total was fueled by the endorsements of then-unbound party delegates before the Florida primary at the end of January 2012.

FHQ raises that non-compliant 2012 winner-take-all primary in Florida for a reason. It was winning those 50 delegates that got Romney off to a delegate lead that the other vying for the nomination could not catch as the primary calendar wended its way through more and more events.

South Carolina is that early calendar delegate boost for Trump in 2016 that Florida was in 2012 for Mitt Romney. There are not a lot of +50s out there, but two are on March 15 and both -- Florida and Ohio -- will say a lot about whether Trump ends up in same position Romney ultimately was in 2012.

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