Monday, June 5, 2023

The Rules Help Frontrunners in Both Parties, not just Trump

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

Elaine Kamarck had a really good piece up over at Brookings late last week. Breaking the nomination process timeline into three parts -- invisible primary, early contests and everything -- could perhaps use another layer, the opening of the winner-take-all window on March 15, but that is a small quibble. The hypothesis that someone will have to trip Trump up in one of the early states to take him down is a sound one as well. 

But FHQ breaks with Kamarck on an earlier section she penned...
"A few months ago, I helped create the now conventional wisdom which says that a large field of challengers will help Trump because the Republican winner-take-all or winner-take-most delegate selection rules are tailor made for a candidate who holds a solid base among primary voters and who can wrack up a series of plurality wins."
First of all, this is not exactly wrong. Winner-take-all rules certainly would not hurt a frontrunner with a built-in base of support like Trump seems to have. However, that is not the only layer of the rules that might help. There is another facet of the delegate selection process in both parties that could also help frontrunners in a similar position: the qualifying threshold. After all, candidates in both parties have to receive a minimum amount of support to gain any delegates in the first place. It is a standard 15 percent across all states, territories and jurisdictions in the Democratic process, and although it varies on the Republican side, the qualifying threshold can be no higher than 20 percent. In fact, more Republican state parties moved toward the 20 percent maximum qualifying threshold for the 2020 cycle. That remnant from the changes for the last cycle will potentially benefit the former president as well. 

But it is not just Trump who is helped by such rules. Frontrunners of all stripes can reap the benefits of a qualifying threshold. Here is an example. Say Trump wins 40 percent of the vote in the Minnesota primary on Super Tuesday next year. Ron DeSantis comes in a distant second at 20 percent, enough to qualify for delegates under the proportional rules Minnesota Republicans used in 2020. Trump in that scenario falls below 50 percent, so the winner-take-all trigger is not activated. Yet, only he and DeSantis qualify for delegates. Only their collective vote counts in calculating how many delegates each is allocated. Trump would not receive 40 percent of the delegates. The former president would claim two-thirds of them. DeSantis would take the remaining third. While that is not all of the delegates going to Trump, it would be a fairly healthy net delegate advantage coming out of the state. And if replicated across other states on a Super Tuesday with a number of primaries and caucuses, the delegate count could get lopsided quickly.

And this is not just a Republican phenomenon. This very thing happened to Joe Biden on Super Tuesday in 2020. Yes, some of his competition dropped out after South Carolina (and before Super Tuesday) and endorsed the former vice president, but they were still on the ballot, gobbling up votes and hovering well below the qualifying threshold. Who was above it? Biden, Bernie Sanders and a revolving cast of characters who nudged above 15 percent barrier across the slew of Super Tuesday states. The result was that Biden built a large enough lead in the delegate count to pressure others to cease campaign operations thereafter. 

Look, this is not all just delegate selection rules. As Seth Masket pointed out last week, winnowing matters a great deal in all of this. But the fact remains that it is not just winner-take-all rules that help just Trump. The delegate selection rules in both parties help frontrunners. Kamarck is not wrong, but her hypothesis is a bit too narrowly crafted. 

The Republican National Committee late last week also released the qualifying criteria for the first presidential debate this August in Milwaukee. Some candidates are already complaining. Others are too:
“It seems that the RNC is going out of its way to purposely narrow the field at one of the earliest times in the party’s history,” said a Republican consultant working for one of the presidential candidates who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “And rather than finding a way for as many conservative voices to be heard by Republicans throughout the country, they are attempting to make this a two-man race.”
The RNC was going to catch some flak on this decision regardless, but this is much more about one candidate -- a dominant former president as frontrunner -- than it is about squelching the others struggling to gain support. How much lower than topping one percent in the polls was the national party supposed to go? The donor threshold is lower at 40,000 than it was for Democrats in their first debate four years ago. And Democrats managed to have 20 qualifiers across two debates on consecutive nights. The difference is not those on the low end. This is about the someone at the top end of polling crowding others out of a debate in which he may not even participate. 

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • In the endorsement primary, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam threw his support behind South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
  • Never Back Down, the super PAC aligned with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, started canvassing in New Hampshire, continuing to test the effectiveness of the practice outside of a traditional campaign.
  • Granite state Rep. James Spillane flipped his endorsement from Trump to DeSantis. [There has been some early churn in the endorsement primary between these two among state legislators. That may or may not be a story, but it signals that both sides are seemingly (and intensely) battling for the support of this subset of elected officials (especially in early states.]
  • And action (or inaction) over in Iowa may help explain why state legislators are so sought after: Republicans elected statewide are for the most part staying neutral for now. That is true in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. South Carolina is the exception. Trump has endorsements from the governor and senior senator.

On this date... 1972, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty withdrew from the Democratic presidential nomination race on the eve of the California primary. 1984, in a series of five contests to end primary season, Colorado Senator Gary Hart won the delegate vote in California and primaries in New Mexico and South Dakota. Former Vice President Walter Mondale claimed victories in New Jersey and West Virginia. 2012, both former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama swept primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Obama also took the caucuses in North Dakota. 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Puerto Rico. 2020, President Donald Trump won an online vote among Republican party leaders in Puerto Rico to take all of the delegates from the territory.


No comments: