Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Michigan Republicans Make Small Change to 2020 Delegate Allocation Rules

Over the weekend it was reported that the Michigan Republican Party had made some changes to their delegate selection rules for the 2020 cycle.

But this is a story that unsurprisingly, since it deals with rules changes, deserves some context. There are a number of changes that are happening on the Republican side this cycle. Primaries and caucuses are being cancelled in states like Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina. And delegate allocation rules are being altered in still other states, among them Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio.1

All of those are examples of changes that can be viewed as either Trump- or incumbent-friendly. And the Michigan change can be too as has been widely reported. However, as compared to the formula Michigan Republicans used in 2016, this recent alteration of the rules in the Great Lakes state is far more modest when compared to rules the changes in other states thus far.

Massachusetts is a good point of comparison. Republicans in the Bay state made the decision to increase their delegate qualification threshold from 5 percent in 2016 to 20 percent for 2020. Candidates have to receive, in other words, 20 percent of the vote to be allocated a proportional share of any delegates Additionally, the Massachusetts GOP added a winner-take-all threshold. Should a candidate win a majority or more of the vote, then that candidate is eligible for all of the delegates.

Those are both significant changes: a 15 point increase in the qualification threshold and the addition of a winner-take-all threshold. Bill Weld surpassing five percent may or may not be likely, but the former Massachusetts governor getting up to 20 percent in that primary seems a stretch. That is certainly true of Trump not clearing 50 percent in that primary as well.

The Massachusetts change, then, is clearly Trump- or incumbent-friendly.

But Michigan?

Again, the changes the Michigan Republican Party has instituted for the 2020 cycle are much more modest. In 2016, Michigan Republicans employed the same proportional allocation formula with triggers they will in 2020. The party also had a winner-take-all threshold in place last cycle. Both carry over to 2020.

The change?

What the party altered was the qualification threshold, raising it from 15 percent to 20 percent. Just how Trump- or incumbent-friendly that change is depends on just how likely one perceives Bill Weld's or Mark Sanford's or Joe Walsh's chances of clearing 15 percent of the vote in Michigan, much less the new 20 percent threshold (the maximum allowed under RNC rules). What is most likely at this point in time is that Trump, embattled though he may or may not be, clears the majority threshold and claims all of the delegates from Michigan.

But that is not a new addition. That winner-take-all threshold was in place in 2016, and is the most likely benefit Trump will exploit in 2020. Overall, this Michigan change is a modest change in Trump's direction, but it is way down the scale from Trump- or incumbent-friendly changes being made elsewhere by Republican state parties ahead of primaries and caucuses next year.

1 The change in Ohio was to the date of the primary in order for the state Republican Party to retain a winner-take-all delegate allocation formula for 2020.

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