Sunday, March 19, 2023

Primary or Caucus in 2024? For Michigan Republicans, it's still up in the air

Recently elected Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo appeared before a Muskegon County Republican Party function last weekend and shed some additional light on where the state party stands with respect to the presidential primary or caucus question for the 2024 cycle. The comments come on the heels of the Democratic-controlled legislature's decision to move up the state-run presidential primary to late February, drawing Republicans in the Great Lakes state out of compliance with Republican National Committee (RNC) rules on the timing of delegate selection events. 

The following is a transcript of the primary/caucus-related portion of the Q&A at that event:
Questioner: "So the Democrats moved... voted to move our primary up to the fourth Tuesday in February. Do you have any idea..."

Karamo: "So, that's a very complicated issue. So, um, what's going on is that the Democrats have voted to move up the primary. And according to RNC rules, if the primary is before a certain date, we will be penalized at the RNC convention. And we'll have... We'll be voting with a smaller delegate strength at the RNC convention for president. That's the way it works. So, what happens is, is when we vote in a presidential primary, all of our delegate votes go to whoever won the popular vote in our state. And then all the various delegates go to the RNC convention and then vote for the candidate for president. And that's how our Republican nominee for president is decided. Um, with that penalty from the RNC, that means that we'll lose some of our delegate votes which means we lose attention and all kinds of things in Michigan." 

"So, we're working that out. I'm not prepared to speak on all the details. I will say that isn't a decision that we make. Uh, or that I make or [Michigan Republican Party co-chairwoman] Malinda [Pego] makes. Uh, that is a state committee issue, but we're kind of not saying a lot about it until we go through everything. One of the things I am working on is having like a -- I hate to use the word listening tour -- but having an opportunity for people on various sides of the issue." 

"Because one solution is to have a caucus where it will be [Michigan Republican Party] delegates voting on who the Republican nominee for president is in our state. So, that's some conversation that is being had. And so, I'm not taking a formal position as an individual on either side of the conversation. I've had my opinions, but then after talking with people on the other side of the opinion, I was like 'Ooh, this is a little bit of a complicated issue.' So, I'm not prepared to speak beyond that, but I think there is a lot of conversation that we need to have as a party of what we're going to do." 

"Because we are in a pickle. Because if the RNC doesn't grant us the waiver that means we're voting with less delegate strength. So then, sometimes the option is a caucus. And some people like a caucus because it keeps Democrats out of our primaries. [Statement greeted approvingly among those in attendance] Because that's a big problem that they jump in our primaries and if they do not have a new candidate... If they don't primary Joe Biden, then that means all of them will jump into our primary. And so the caucus prevents them from jumping in our primary and only actual Republicans are voting for president. So, there is a lot of conversation to be had, but I guess that's pretty much all I... I don't really have anything else to add to it."

Questioner [following up]: "Is the date locked or is there any challenge to moving that, or is this for sure going be the fourth week of February for our primary?"

Karamo: "Well, that's the Republican to Democrat legislature [transition], so I need the exact date, but that's totally up to them [Democrats in the legislature]. That's... That's one of the reasons why if we do find ourselves in the situation where we still have a primary, I think the RNC is... It would only be right for them to grant us a waiver. It wouldn't be fair to punish us for something we have no control over."

[Emphasis above is FHQ's. Michigan is not a winner-take-all state as Karamo seemed to imply. Even if Democrats in the Michigan legislature had not moved the date of the presidential primary to the end of February, the mid-March date would still have fallen before the point at which state parties could allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. Michigan is a baseline proportional state in the Republican process with a winner-take-all trigger that is activated if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote statewide.]

Look, Karamo says a lot there that does not really reveal much of anything as of now. Obviously, this is a complicated matter. The state party is concerned about the impact of any RNC penalties if a waiver is not extended by the national party. But Karamo was quick to voice the virtues of conducting a closed caucus/convention process as opposed to an open primary that may invite some idle Democrats into the process. The former seemed to be the "side of the opinion" on which Karamo fell, but the chair also left open the door to alternatives (in a matter that will be decided by the state committee).

There are a couple of factors that FHQ would add to this. 

First, is that the RNC may or may not take an active role in all of this. The national party could remain hands off and let the Michigan Republican Party battle to opt out of the primary and hold caucuses that comply with the RNC rules instead. However, the RNC could alternatively choose to be more hands-on and issue a waiver only for the contest -- primary or caucus -- that it would prefer. If a primary occurs and there is a Republican vote (meaning Michigan Republicans were unable to opt out), then that statewide vote would, under RNC rules, have to be used to allocate delegates instead of later and rules-compliant caucuses. In other words, Great Lakes state Republicans would have to get a waiver in that case to hold caucuses and allocate/select delegates to the national convention through them. But it could be that the RNC would prefer the state party use the primary, even if it technically violates the rules, but with a waiver. As Karamo said, it is "very complicated."

Second, Karamo noted later in her remarks that the state party was in the hole after the prior administration (under the previous chair) left office. How much? $460,000. A state party that is in debt may be less willing to opt out of a state-run primary -- again, even a non-compliant one -- with few ways to actually fund an alternative. And the state party running a debt would definitely factor into any decision to conduct and pay for state party-run caucuses. That is not to say that the Michigan Republican Party could not raise the necessary funds, but that reality would factor into the decision making process. 

It is still a mess. And from the look of it, that mess will extend into the future for the Republican Party in Michigan. The RNC has a deadline of October 1, 2023 for state parties to have finalized their plans for delegate selection in 2024. Some resolution will likely come before then.


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