Monday, February 8, 2021

Are the Parties Taking Different Paths on the 2024 Primary Calendar?

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."
    -- Robert Frost (opening line from "The Road Not Taken")

Since the inauguration the other week FHQ has devoted considerable (virtual) ink to the 2024 presidential primary that is coming into shape, even two years before the first serious/viable candidates are likely to throw their respective hats in the ring. 

Look, it is early. But already there are some important stories about the 2024 nomination processes and particular focus has been placed on the order of the earliest states on the primary calendar. Iowa had problems with its caucuses in 2020. Nevada is considering a switch to a primary, and further may opt to challenge Iowa and New Hampshire in so doing. And New Hampshire is New Hampshire: free to allow an empowered secretary of state to simply wait things out (and hope the national parties do not turn their penalties on the Granite state to enforce a new order).

All of this -- even among a small group of states -- highlights the overlapping interests and incentives involved in both maintaining and reforming (or often merely tweaking) the rules that govern how both national parties select and allocate the delegates that ultimately nominate their presidential candidates. 

The national parties on some level enjoy the stability/certainty of an early calendar order that persists across cycles. No, it may not be perfect for one or both parties, but the devil one knows is often preferable to the unknown one that may bring with it unintended consequences that leave a system worse off than the status quo ante. And that is often true even in the face of (legitimate) pressure to make changes from groups within the broader party coalition. 

The states and state parties offer at least two other sets of interests and incentives and they two do not always work in concert with one another (and sometimes that goes beyond just simple partisan differences between the governing party in a state legislature -- if there is a unified one -- and an opposition state party). 

Take the delicate dance now starting in Nevada. Democrats control not only the state legislature, but the state government. Between the legislative and executive branches, there is unified Democratic control. Both seeing an opening in the wake of Iowa's 2020 issues and responding to pressure within the Democratic party coalition, the state government seems poised to move away from caucuses as the means of allocating national convention delegates to a state-run presidential primary. And Republicans in the state -- both in the legislature and within the formal state party apparatus -- are not opposed to that change.  And that is a reflection of the different incentives on the Republican side within the party coalition and ahead of a likely open and competitive presidential nomination race in 2024. 

Those realities make it less likely that Nevada Republicans will have any desire to rock the boat. And that shows, particularly when it comes to any effort to move any hypothetical Nevada presidential primary to the first position on the primary calendar. Silver state Republicans very simply do not want to jeopardize their current position in the order. 

And that is a concern of sorts on the Democratic side as well. The forthcoming primary bill's sponsor, Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D), told the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“We will have to work through (the bill’s) language and work with the national parties — both Democrats and Republicans — and convince them of Nevada’s importance in the West.”
DNC member from Nevada, Allison Stephens, in the same story added:
“We don’t want to compromise our position as No. 3 in the nation. We can not fall below third. If changing to a primary would jeopardize our early state status, I would be concerned. We do have to work within the parameters of the party.”
But although the interests and incentives may be similar, the actions to this point in the cycle across the two parties are noteworthy. This primary effort may go forward with bipartisan support in the Nevada legislature, but both sides on the state level are cognizant of the stakes there and on the national party level. And so far the two parties have diverged in important ways. 

On the Republican side, there has been a concerted effort among carve-out state members of the Republican National Committee to band together in order to protect the status quo. That is why Nevada Republican Party chair, Michael McDonald acknowledged a desire in the state to be first but also noted that:
"We're united with the RNC to make that happen. We have a great working relationship with the four carve-out states and a great working relationship with the RNC. We respect each other and we don't intend to move anything. We respect each other's position."
Democrats in Nevada and nationally are performing a similar dance, but the one big thing to this point in how the calendar in particular is coming together for 2024 is that the same carve-out state coalition to protect the status quo start to the primary calendar has not yet materialized among the national party membership from those states. That is not to suggest that that will not happen. But it has not to this point, in stark contrast to how carve-out state Republicans are approaching the cycle. 

This may in retrospect months from now be much ado about nothing. But it could also be that once again there is a different approach to this across parties. And importantly that says something about the stability of the system long term. Changes tend to last when both parties agree to them, whether formally or informally. And there is a divergence between the two parties at this early juncture. 

No comments: