Thursday, June 8, 2023

Pat Robertson, 1988 and the Modern Caucus Strategy in Republican Presidential Politics

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • Another big daily digest update on primary calendar maneuvering in the mid-Atlantic and northeast and possible delegate allocation rules changes by Republican state parties in a pair of big states. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Many obituaries will talk about Pat Robertson's impact on how Republican presidential candidates strategize around the Iowa caucuses on the day of the televangelist's passing. And while his 1988 run for the Republican presidential nomination expressly targeted Christian conservatives, it was about more than just Iowa and evangelicals. 

The Robertson campaign's savvy on the grassroots level not only delivered caucus victories that cycle in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, but in many ways, it laid the predicate for the modern caucus strategy that recent campaigns like those of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 or Ted Cruz in 2016 mimicked. It has not always been all about evangelicals. Rather, it is about emphasizing the delegate selection process through the caucuses (in most states) to push as many delegates through to the convention to influence the ultimate nominee and the platform (if not the rules for subsequent cycles).

George H.W. Bush, for example, won the preference vote in the Nevada precinct caucuses in 1988 only to have Robertson's team run an end-around on them in later rounds of the caucus/convention process when delegates were actually selected. It is the same thing Ron Paul pulled off in a number of states in 2012, including Iowa and Nevada. 

And the stories from Michigan that cycle are priceless, from electing delegates in 1986 all the way through a rump state convention with Robertson at the center. But again, Robertson's team was able to exploit the delegate selection game to their advantage. It did not lead to the nomination, but it did lead to influence. And the 1988 Iowa Republican caucuses are only part of that story.

It should also be noted that RNC rules have progressively made this caucus strategy more and more difficult.

In the endorsement primary, former President Donald Trump rolled out 50 endorsements from West Virginia state legislators on Wednesday. FHQ did some endorsement math with a similar DeSantis endorsement wave, so it is only fair to do the same here. Trump's 50 endorsements come from 120 possible Republican legislators in the Mountain state.

Not to be outdone, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gained the support of 20 state legislators (out of 121 Republicans across the state House and Senate) in Oklahoma. The list included three representatives who are part of the House leadership team.

And the campaign of Vivek Ramaswamy signed on former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz as one of its co-chairs in the Hawkeye state. Schultz previously served in similar roles for the Santorum and Cruz campaigns in 2012 and 2016, respectively. Both went on to win the caucuses. Ramaswamy also reeled in the endorsement of Iowa state Senator Scott Webster (a defection from DeSantis).

In the travel primary, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, fresh off his campaign launch, is swinging through eastern Iowa on Thursday and Des Moines, Ankeny and elsewhere on Friday.

And President Biden and Ron DeSantis will overlap in northern California later this month. 

On this date... 1976, President Gerald Ford fended off former California Governor Ronald Reagan in the New Jersey and Ohio primaries, but Reagan continued his dominance out west, winning the primary in the Golden state and keeping the delegate count close. On the Democratic side, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter outlasted the competition in the Ohio primary, but lost to California Governor Jerry Brown in the latter's home state. Carter also won the beauty contest primary in New Jersey while losing the delegate battle to Brown and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. 1979, Illinois Congressman John Anderson formally entered the race for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. 2004, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry won the Montana and New Jersey primaries to close out primary season.


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