Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Winner-take-most, please

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) continues inching toward a presidential bid. No decision is on the horizon in the near term, but initial hiring has taken place and super PAC infrastructure is taking shape. Former Senate colleague, Cory Gardner (R-CO) heads one such entity, and Rob Collins, who was involved with the super PAC, Future 45, during the 2016 cycle, is in the fold as well. Future 45 often gets pegged as a Trump-aligned group but most of the money it took it in was spent against Hillary Clinton rather than for Trump in that cycle. In the staff primary of 2024, Collins' support of Scott is noteworthy but it seems more like just that -- Scott support -- rather than a defection from Team Trump.

Douglas Schoen has an op-ed up at The Hill assessing the state of the Republican presidential race. And that is fine. But this section violated a major pet peeve of FHQ's:
The design of the Republican Party’s winner-take-all delegate system also inherently benefits a candidate like Trump, whose devoted base comprises roughly 35 to 40 percent of the primary electorate. This is far from a majority but is enough to carry him to the nomination, as it did in 2016.
Technically, this is right. There is a "winner-take-all design" to the Republican presidential nomination process. But when one describes it in this manner without all the important caveats, it just ends up perpetuating the myth that the Republican allocation process is ALL winner-take-all. It is not

Look, it takes a lot to explain all of the caveats. Truly winner-take-all rules, where one candidate can win all of a state's delegates if he or she wins a small plurality even by just one vote, are prohibited before March 15. But states can be proportional with a winner-take-all trigger, where if a candidate wins at least a majority of the vote statewide, he or she wins all of the state's delegates, before March 15. And states after March 15 can still adopt a variety of rules. They are not all winner-take-all after that point. 

The answer to this should be pretty simple. So, for 2024, call the Republican delegate allocation process winner-take-most and be done with it. Winner-take-most encompasses the full range of proportional (winner-take-more), hybrid and winner-take-all rules without having to get down in the weeds about the caveats to all the different plans. This holds when comparing the Republican process to that of the Democrats as well. The latter mandates proportional rules while the former allows a variety of winner-take-most rules. 

Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein has a good one on how an organized Trump campaign in 2024 might be able to exploit the divorce between delegate allocation and selection in the Republican process and use it to his advantage even in the event he doesn't win a majority of allocated delegates. A few things on this one:

1. There may be some tinkering at the margins that brings some delegate allocation in line with the allocation process on the state level, but it is probably too late in the 2024 process to mount a full scale effort to change the rules. The national party rules are already locked in for the cycle and have been since April of last year. But there may be some efforts on the state level to alter state rules on the matter. 

2. Still, there is reason to think that those efforts will be limited. As Bernstein notes, delegates on the Democratic side have to meet the approval of the candidates/campaigns they will represent at the national convention. That is not necessarily the case on the Republican side. But there was an attempt to add candidate approval to the rules that were to come out of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Here is the FHQ dispatch from Tampa at the time and the relevant excerpt from a proposed rules change that did not make the cut: 

Proposed Rule 15(b):
For any manner of binding or allocating delegates permitted by these Rules, no delegate or alternate delegate who is bound or allocated to a particular presidential candidate may be certified under Rule 19 unless the presidential candidate to whom the delegate or alternate delegate is bound or allocated has pre-certified or approved the delegate or alternate delegate.

Analysis of Change:
This is the rule that has drawn so much backlash from Paul supporters, Santorum supporters and other state party officials and has threatened to throw the convention into a floor fight. Honestly, this change has the potential to be the proportionality requirement of of 2016: an overhyped rule with no real impact on the process. At the heart of the conflict is the notion that delegates being approved by candidates is a power grab at the expense of a state party's right to choose how it allocates its delegates. Further, it takes a grassroots activity meant to build the party and turns it over to the candidate or candidates. FHQ gets the rationale, but I struggle to see what fundamental impact the change will have.

Actually, I do see the impact it will have. Together with Rule 15(a) the candidate approval mechanism altogether ends the possibility that a statewide vote can be overturned in subsequent steps in a caucus process by enthusiastic and organized supporters of a candidate that did not comprise a majority or plurality of the statewide vote. We can call it the Ron Paul issue. It isn't a problem because the Paul folks and their supporters were behaving well within the confines of the rules laid out for the 2012 cycle. It is, however, perceived as a problem by the national party. It takes what has been an orderly process and leaves the order up to chance every cycle; opening the door to discord within the party and a less than cohesive national convention that could hurt the presumptive nominee for the party.

The backlash was pretty severe and was seen as another in a series of power grabs by the national party orchestrated by Ben Ginsberg who was running the show for the Romney team on the convention Rules Committee at the time. I mean, conversations about the Ginsberg power grab and the true grassroots of the party took place among RNC members for years after this. State parties are loathe to make changes that shift the balance of power away from them. Most will resist efforts to change the linkage (or lack thereof) between the delegate allocation and selection processes. 

The bottom line here is that Trump has in 2023 an institutional advantage that he and his campaign did not have in 2015. That is important.

On this date... 1988, it was Super Tuesday. Well, not only was it Super Tuesday, it was Southern Super Tuesday, the first real concerted effort at a regional primary date. I have put 3/8/88 into a lot of datasets a lot of times over the years. It is burned into that gray matter.

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