Saturday, August 5, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] Newly adopted California Republican delegate allocation rules offer clear benefits

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 

But the plan is a gamble for Trump and the state party for different reasons:

Did FHQ not just discuss California delegate allocation rules?


But the California Republican Party executive committee jettisoned that widely circulated (and panned) plan in favor of an alternate version, a version that seemingly balances the party’s desire to draw candidates into the Golden state and the Trump campaign’s push to maximize its delegates in the contest next year. Those benefits are clear enough on the surface, but neither is guaranteed. 

And that means the revised delegate allocation scheme for 2024 is a gamble of sorts. For California Republicans and for Trump. Delegate allocation rules can be a zero sum game and the friction that developed in and around the Executive Committee meeting on Saturday, July 29 from multiple sides was evidence of the high stakes involved. 

What changes did the California Republican Party make? And what does that mean for the 2024 race for the Republican presidential nomination?

The adopted changes

The initially proposed changes offered by the California Republican Party set up a plan with a few notable features:

  • A proportional allocation of the 13 at-large (and automatic/party) delegates based on the statewide vote with no qualifying threshold and no winner-take-all trigger (should one candidate win a majority of the vote statewide)

  • A proportional allocation of the 3 delegates in each of the 52 congressional districts based on the results within each congressional district. The top finisher in a congressional district vote would receive two delegates and the runner-up would receive the remaining delegate. Like the allocation of the at-large delegates described above, there would be no winner-take-all trigger should one candidate win a majority of the vote within the district

That method differs from the system the state party utilized in 2020 and it is also different than the plan adopted on Saturday. The newly adopted plan — the allocation plan California Republicans will use in 2024 — shed the separate allocation scheme for at-large and congressional district delegates and returned to a system that resembles the 2020 plan with one big exception: there is no qualifying threshold. But exactly like the 2020 delegate allocation among Golden state Republicans, the 2024 system will have the following provisions:

  • All 169 delegates, including at-large, automatic/party and congressional district delegates, will be pooled (meaning they will all be allocated as one bloc). Again, that is just as it was for 2020.

  • All 169 delegates will be allocated proportionally based on the statewide results. That, too, is just the same as under the 2020 rules

  • If any candidate wins the California primary with more than 50 percent of the vote, then all 169 delegates will be allocated to that candidate. Just like the 2020 plan, California Republicans have included in their 2024 rules a winner-take-all trigger or winner-take-all threshold. 

However, unlike 2020, more candidates will likely be eligible for some share of the 169 delegates available because there will no longer be a 20 percent qualifying threshold, the highest bar allowed under Republican National Committee rules. That is a big difference. 

How big? 

The impact of 2020 versus 2024 rules

Pretty big.

Using the results from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary with the 2020 and 2024 California Republican Party allocation rules highlights the scale of the change.1

With no qualifying threshold, as under the 2024 rules, five additional candidates would have been allocated delegates as compared to the 2020 rules. And candidates with as little as two percent support would have claimed at least some share of the pool of 169 delegates.2 But importantly, the top two candidates — the only two who would have cleared the 20 percent threshold to qualify for delegates under the 2020 rules — would have lost a significant chunk of delegates in the transition from 2020 to 2024 rules. Sanders would have lost 34 and Biden, 26. 

Now, imagine that Sanders pulled in closer to half of the voters in the last California primary. Pretend Elizabeth Warren was not in the race and that the 13.2 percent the Massachusetts senator won went to Sanders instead. Under the 2020 California Republican allocation rules, Sanders would have won 108 delegates compared to 84 delegates according to the 2024 plan. What is clear is that Sanders would pay a price in delegates won without a qualifying threshold

FHQ raises the second scenario because Trump is currently hovering around the 50 percent mark in polling both nationally and in California. The penalty for not hitting the winner-take-all threshold, which is in the 2024 California Republican delegate allocation rules, would be significant, but it will be greater in the absence of a qualifying threshold. It makes strategic sense to secure the former threshold, but it is a gamble. 

If Trump does not hit it, then the price is steep and the net delegate advantage coming out of the California primary would likely differ very little from the original 2024 rules proposal that Republicans in the Golden state floated. However, if Trump does eclipse the 50 percent barrier and trips the winner-take-all trigger, then it is clearly close to a death knell for his opposition. A +169 is tough to overcome even if Super Tuesday’s results are mixed and states with truly winner-take-all rules lie ahead on the calendar. 

It is not that there are not advantages for Trump in this change (either relative to 2020 or the alternate 2024 proposal), but the new rules do place a great deal of pressure on the campaign to make it happen.


But why is there not a qualifying threshold?

That is the gamble the state party is making. 

If more candidates are eligible for delegates, then that may be enough of a carrot to lure candidates of all stripes into the state to campaign and spend money. In theory that makes sense. But in practice, the cost/benefit analysis may not work in the favor of California Republicans who are championing this revised plan. 

The candidates will go to California. They always do to raise money. But turning around and spending that money (in a variety of ways) in the Golden state may not offer as much bang for the candidates’ buck as it might in other states. Yes, California is the most delegate-rich state out there — and promises 169 delegates to anyone who can clear 50 percent in the primary — but it is also prohibitively expensive to reach voters and in turn win votes/delegates. And as long as Trump is threatening to hit the winner-take-all trigger, it may be enough to ward off concerted investment in the state. 

But where this plan is clever is in the fact that it potentially motivates all of the candidates. It draws the Trump campaign in to expend resources in the state to win all of the delegates. Yet, it potentially entices other candidates to take a risk to keep Trump under the majority mark and minimize the former president’s net delegate advantage coming out of California and Super Tuesday. 

And that is just it. Much of the above discusses California in isolation. But the California primary is not an isolated event. It falls on Super Tuesday when roughly a third of the total number of delegates will be allocated. Few may be able to run a truly national campaign leading up to March 5. And few may choose to incorporate California directly into their investments for Super Tuesday.3 The options may be better (and cheaper) elsewhere. 

Still, the Trump campaign is calling the change in California a win for them. And it may be. But only if the former president can win a majority. And that is not a sure thing.

1 FHQ is using the 2020 Democratic results because the California Democratic primary was both early (as the 2024 primary is) and competitive. The 2020 Republican primary in California was also on Super Tuesday but uncompetitive, and the 2016 Republican primary in the Golden state was later and fell after Donald Trump’s viable opposition had withdrawn from the race. 

2 That allocation outcome depends to some degree on how California Republicans choose to round. All fractional delegates are rounded up starting with the top vote-getter and progressing from there in descending order of vote share. Under different (and more conventional) rounding rules, even more candidates would have qualified for delegates (and with less than one percent support).

3 Candidates may choose to indirectly hit California through national ad buys instead.


No comments: