Saturday, January 26, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Republicans Opting Out of Primaries and Caucuses for 2020

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the days that recently were...

FHQ will say that it has quite enjoyed David Drucker's periodic check ins with Republican state parties about their plans for 2020 delegate selection. Some are opting to drop presidential primaries in favor of caucuses, while others a contemplating dropping their caucuses.1 And as he noted in his initial dispatch about South Carolina Republicans forgoing a presidential primary is standard protocol during a cycle where an incumbent Republican president is seeking renomination.

Incumbent renomination cycles are littered with examples of the scaling down of delegate selection operations. Florida and Michigan, famous rules breakers in the 2008 cycle for scheduling primaries in  calendar positions too early based on national party rules, were repeat offenders along with Arizona in 2012. Those too-early primaries forced Democratic parties in those states to opt for caucuses that could be scheduled later in the process. The same was true during a competitive cycle in 2000 when the Republican Party allowed February contests, but the Democratic Party did not. Several Republican-controlled states held early primaries that cycle that potentially put Democrats in their states in a bind. The way out for those Democratic state parties -- in Arizona and Michigan, oddly enough -- was to hold caucuses that could be scheduled in compliant calendar positions.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that the above scenarios all differ from what is happening among Republican state party actors ahead of the 2020 primaries and caucuses. None of these parties are opting out of primaries or caucuses because of something out of their control (eg: the date of a state-funded primary out of compliance with national party rules).

But even this is fairly typical. And the answer ultimately is based in reasoning that we see layered into election law in a number of states. It is not unusual to see states with laws that eliminate primaries, presidential or otherwise, when there is just one candidate on the ballot.

Yes, it is perhaps presumptuous for Republican actors to assume that President Trump will remain unopposed for the Republican nomination in 2020. The ballots, after all, have not been set as of yet. Of course, through another lens, the act of choosing a caucus over a primary can also be viewed as protective of the president.

But another reason this is more customary on the Republican side -- standard protocol as described above -- is that the rules of the Republican Party have always allowed state committees to choose delegates to the national convention. That institutional valve has traditionally allowed Republican state parties to cancel primaries as New York, for example, has in uncompetitive Republican nomination cycles (see 2004), or for state parties to go the caucus route rather than conduct a primary as South Carolina Republicans have done in the past (particularly in the era prior to 2008 when state parties were on the hook for primary costs).

So what is happening, or potentially is happening, in Kansas -- the state Republican party likely opting out of its caucuses next year -- is not unusual. What may be considered unusual in today's light is what Kansas Republicans did in 1996, a competitive Republican nomination cycle. Not only did the Republican-controlled state government decide not to fund the presidential primary in the state, but the state party opted not to hold caucuses and allocated delegates via its state committee.

The reason? The party thought native son, Bob Dole, would win anyway. Kansas Republicans in 2019 may feel the same way about President Trump, but at least he is an incumbent president. Times change, but these types of activities are not unusual.

1 The latter is a cost-saving measure for the state party.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Gillibrand's hired a press secretary with some connections to New Hampshire.

2. Speaking of the Granite state, no, Harris has not visited yet, but her campaign's first state-based field director hire is for New Hampshire.

3. Exploratory committee: √; planning a trip to Iowa: Buttigieg is working on it.

4. There are undoubtedly Biden allies in Michigan who would support a White House bid by the former vice president, but there may be fewer in the sixth congressional district if the district Democratic Party chair is any indication.

5. Paul Kane looks in on the House Democrats considering 2020 runs.

6. Early travel plans among those Democrats who have announced include Puerto Rico. [I don't know that I buy the headline that Iowa should move over. When the formation of the primary calendar is more orderly, there is more certainty that allows candidates and campaigns to look further down the calendar to other contests/constituencies. Iowa will be fine.]

7. Finally, longshot presidential contender and former West Virginia state senator, Richard Ojeda quietly bows out of the 2020 race.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

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