Monday, July 31, 2023

Let's talk about the state of Republican delegate selection rules for 2024 (Part One)

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...
  • California Republicans have new delegate selection rules for 2024. And it seems like some folks are racing to score the change as a win for Trump. It might be! But that is not guaranteed. There are some California-sized caveats, but CAGOP may be the big winner. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
FHQ will level with you. I have found the Washington Post's coverage of the evolving Republican delegate selection rules to have been fabulous all year. Reporters there have done a fantastic job of digging up state-level changes, large and small, and have furthermore done well in contextualizing them for a unique 2024 Republican nomination race. Look, the Post has a much larger, much broader audience than FHQ, and the stories are crafted with such an audience in mind. 

They do not necessarily get down in the weeds. And they do not have to! Leave that to niche sites like FHQ with equally niche audiences. Hey, we are happy to fill the void. 

And while that overall view of WaPo coverage has not changed, FHQ did find their article on delegate selection rules following the change in California from this past weekend lacking. And some of this is just cranky blogging, pet peevish stuff for FHQ. But there were also some nuggets in the piece that left me shaking my head, stuff simply not backed up by the facts. So let us endeavor to set the record straight on a Monday. 

Winner-take-all by congressional district

Right out of the gate, Maeve Reston and Michael Scherer hit readers with this:
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign notched a major victory Saturday when members of the California Republican executive committee voted to parcel out convention delegates based on the statewide vote next year — doing away with the state’s longtime system of awarding them by congressional district, which had been perceived as a more level playing field for lower-tiered candidates.
Okay. That is a loaded clause highlighted there. And some of it is technically correct even if it glosses over the nature of delegate selection rules changes made by California Republicans in recent cycles. It is true that California Republicans have had a winner-take-all by congressional district allocation scheme for most of the 21st century. And it was still on the books until its death sentence was signed this weekend (technically for 2024 and for good afterward). 

However, that allocation method was overridden in 2019 for the 2020 cycle with a contingency provision that called for the proportional allocation of the entire California Republican delegation. [Yes, that sounds an awful lot like what the Republican Party in the Golden state just adopted. It is quite similar.] That temporary condition was added in 2019 because the Republican National Committee rules prohibit winner-take-all by congressional district methods of allocation before March 15. Therefore, the state party had to make a change because the 2020 primary fell on Super Tuesday, before March 15. 

But again, that was a temporary contingency that expired at the beginning of 2021, leaving California Republicans with the same default winner-take-all by congressional district method in place. Time passed and the RNC carried over the same winner-take-all prohibition for the early calendar into the 2024 rules. So that was never going to be the method Golden state Republicans used in 2024. Look, California Republicans were not going to give up the one feather in their cap in this process. Theirs is the most delegate-rich state on the Republican calendar. The state party was not going to give up half its delegation -- the penalty for using an unsanctioned winner-take-all by congressional district allocation method in an early March primary -- to keep that method. They just were not. 

That brings the timeline to May of this year when the LA Times had an article describing how California Republicans were going to have this strategically unique delegate allocation method for 2024. The method? Winner-take-all by congressional district. Yes, the very same noncompliant method detailed above. FHQ raises the LA Times piece because it set a baseline that has subsequently poisoned the discourse on these changes that California Republicans have actually made for 2024. 

It was that article that made it seem as if California Republicans were going to use that noncompliant method when all it ever was was a placeholder until the state party set rules for 2024 this summer (just as the party did in the summer of 2019). Indeed, before the new plan was adopted over the weekend, there was an alternative proposal that called for a proportional districted method of allocation. Still districted, but proportional and compliant.

Moreover, that baseline set in the LA Times piece from May has led subsequent news accounts to compare changes relative to what was never going to be a winner-take-all by congressional district allocation method. In reality, the comparison should have been to the rules used by the state party in 2020, rules that were compliant. Yes, those rules expired, but to better understand the nature of the change for 2024, the 2020 rules are the better comparison and the better encapsulation of the state party's thinking on how to craft compliant rules for an incumbent cycle (2020) versus a competitive one (2024). 

The press has dropped the ball on this one. 

Fortunately, the newly adopted 2024 California Republican delegate allocation rules sunset at the end of next year. Not just the subsection detailing the compliant proportional allocation, but the whole section including the legacy winner-take-all by congressional district method. Make note of that now. Hopefully that means we all will not be talking about these same noncompliant rules in California in 2027. No one should be comparing any changes then to that method anyway. 

To circle back to the WaPo reference to "the state’s longtime system of awarding them [delegates] by congressional district," it really was not necessary. That is a false point of comparison for the new method. And it is one that did not need to feature as prominently as it did in that story or the similar story about the rules change from the LA Times

Did the winner-take-all by congressional district method warrant a mention somewhere in either story? Sure, but the endless parade of quotes from Republicans in California seemingly pining for the "old system" just made those folks look out of touch. To repeat, the California Republican Party was not going to sacrifice half of their delegates to allocated delegates the old way (2016 and before). 

Okay. FHQ got that one off its chest. What else? 


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