Monday, January 7, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Trump's Reelection and the 2020 Delegate Game

As we head into 2019 and the heart of the invisible primary, FHQ is beginning a series to catalog some of the maneuvering going on among and between the various campaigns and candidates as they move from the nascent to the real. We have been doing this for some time on Twitter, but in an effort to protect against some of the activities disappearing into the ether, we'll archive them here. 

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

While the Republican National Committee had an opportunity in 2017 and stretching into the first three-quarters of 2018 to make changes to aspects of the presidential nomination process for 2020, the party largely left well enough alone. And that is in keeping with how parties have approached process questions when they occupy the White House. Candidates who have won not only nominations, but the presidency tend to like the process that got them there. As such, the parties under their direction more often than not will either make no changes at all or only minor changes.

Look at the DNC in the 2009-2010 period. There was a commission -- the Democratic Change Commission -- that examined the way in which the party nominated its presidential candidates, but once the recommendations had worked their way through the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the result was a just a handful of small changes. The clustering bonus, where neighboring states could schedule their contests together after a certain point on the calendar in order to net a 15 percent increase in their delegation, stands out. But the most consequential, although often overshadowed change, was the increase in the total number of base delegates from 3000 to 3700 in the convention call. That had the effect of diluting the impact of superdelegates, or would have if the 2012 Democratic nomination had been competitive. In reality, it rewarded more Democrats with a trip to the national convention.

But those are the sorts of changes that often come out of White House-occupying parties.

And the 2017-2018 Republicans were no different. They had an opportunity through the Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process to examine the rules for 2020 and make any recommendations for changes. And they did. But the only change that emerged was the elimination of a 2016 creation: the debates sanctioning committee.

Everything else was left untouched. And that included the Rule 40 threshold determining whose name can be placed in nomination at the national convention. That was left alone because only the convention can change it.

And though the low bar of that threshold remains as it was set in 2016 at the convention, it has been a topic of some discussion in recent weeks. But the efforts to change it -- to raise it -- are both too late and have been shot down by the Trump reelction effort.

The campaign will endeavor instead to protect itself by "dominating the delegate game," by focusing not on changes to the national rules governing delegate selection, but on state-level rules for selecting and allocating delegates (created in response to the national guidelines).

In that patchwork of state party rules opportunities exist for presidential candidates. Creating the most advantageous calendar, for example. Or altering the balance of winner-take-all or proportional states for another.

Actually, this is at least part of where we are likely to see some changes during 2019. State parties will finalize their delegate selection processes in both parties as 2019 wears on. And although it is a gamble -- because what appears advantageous now may not be in 2020 -- we may see an effort on the Republican side similar to what was witnessed on the Democratic side in 2011: a national party urging action on the part of the states.

If a state is viewed now as a strong Trump state in the nomination phase of the process, then why not move it to a point on the calendar where the number of Trump delegates could be maximized? Take Georgia. Traditionally the Peach state has been a Super Tuesday mainstay. And it may still be in 2020. However, the newly elected Republican secretary of state there may hear from the Trump campaign. So might the Georgia Republican Party. The former could set the date of the Georgia primary for some point after March 15 and that would allow the latter to set the allocation method for winner-take-all (without penalty).

The same could be said for other early primary states where there is some combination of Republicans control of state government and perception of Trump doing well there in 2020. If one wanted to massage the delegate game a bit in order to raise the number of Trump delegates at the national convention, then this would be the way to do it.

And bear in mind, any changes to the primary calendar that Republicans make affects the Democratic process too. While the Democrats of 2011 sought to potentially influence the 2012 Republican process, this 2019 Republican maneuvering adds an additional element: protecting the president.

Elsewhere over the weekend...

1. Elizabeth Warren had a pretty good roll out to her presidential campaign from exploratory committee announcement to the trickle of stories about staffing hires to her initial Iowa trek. She was in the news or steadily made it all week.

2. Castro has surround his January 12 announcement event with trips to all the early states but South Carolina.

3. Cory Booker won't be the first and won't be the last to visit the Palmetto state, but he'll speak there on MLK.

4. The Booker super PAC continues to take shape.

4. Biden continues to hold support at home.

5. And no one has passed his test to keep him out of the 2020 sweepstakes yet either.

6. California donors are willing to let the dust settle a bit on the Democratic nomination contest.

7. One can't do one of these without an O'Rourke mention. Draft Beto has moved into South Carolina.

8. According to his wife, Sherrod Brown is heading for an announcement "within the next two months".

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