Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Yes, Donald Trump is ahead in the delegate battle. That has not changed.

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...
  • Earlier this month Utah Republicans informed the state that the party would opt out of the state-run presidential primary and conduct caucuses on Super Tuesday instead. There has been some primary-to-caucus movement this cycle, but it has been muted and the maneuver by Beehive state Republicans is not exactly like the rest. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
FHQ appreciated the delegate story from CNN yesterday, but honestly, I cannot really tell what contribution it is making. The general story is that in the race for delegates in the Republican nomination process, former President Donald Trump is ahead. He is ahead in influencing the setting of what the Trump campaign considers to be favorable delegate rules. [They certainly are rules that benefit frontrunners, assuming said frontrunner hits some particular benchmarks in the voting across the country during parts of the first six months of 2024.] That, in turn, should give Trump a leg up when delegates are actually allocated. Or in the worst case scenario -- again, from the Trump campaign perspective -- insulate the former president to some degree should an insurgent (or insurgents) rise, prolonging the race for the nomination. 

But most of the tale that the folks at CNN tell is one covered throughout 2023 in reporting at other national outlets. In fact, it ends on essentially the same "rigging/Ken Cuccinelli" note that a Politico story from earlier in August detailed. There is not a lot of news here. However, that is not to say that there is none

It has been clear for much of the year that both Trump and the campaign apparatus around him have been working his connections with state parties built during the course of his presidency. That network is stronger in some areas of the country than others, but it is an area of strength that one would expect for a former president. Trump should be ahead in these efforts and he is. Actually, it would be a much bigger story if he was not. But the story beyond Trump is perhaps what is more interesting and it is twofold.

First, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his campaign continue to appear to be the only other entity putting up much of a fight on the delegate front. But the DeSantis effort is different as CNN describes: 
The pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down is running much of DeSantis’ political campaign from the outside. Many state parties only allow the campaigns themselves in the room for crucial talks, forcing Never Back Down to operate from a distance. DeSantis allies did not immediately respond to questions from CNN about this dynamic.
It is being run through its affiliated super PAC, Never Back Down. And that conduit to state parties is far less efficient, meaning that the DeSantis push to chip away at Trump's advantage here is being done on some level with one arm tied behind its back. That is another variation in the story of the Frankenstein's monster that the broader DeSantis campaign is attempting to assemble between its formal campaign and affiliated groups for 2024. Lobbying state party officials from afar is a tougher enterprise than doing so on a more intimate level as Trump has been doing for the last two cycles. 

The second thing is that if other campaigns outside of Trump and DeSantis are waging a delegate fight, then they are doing so very quietly. To be clear, it is still early to be organizing for any looming delegate battle next year. Those strategies may still be forming even in the top campaigns. One should actually expect those plans to be somewhat dynamic in nature anyway given the constant influx of new events and new inputs. However, it is way too late to be jumping into the game of influencing state party officials to put rules in place that are, if not beneficial, then clearly do not advantage one other candidate over all of the rest. 

Moreover, that those efforts from everyone not named Trump or DeSantis have been so quiet remains a big story under the surface of this race. After all, the rules are not yet set in stone at the state level. And they will not be on the Republican side until October 1. If campaigns have not already been out there advocating for particular rules for delegate allocation and selection already as they have locked in in fits and starts over the summer, then that says a great deal about either 1) their comfort level with the rules as they are or 2) that they just do not have the manpower to adequately make a push at all. Either way, that is an important invisible primary story. 

BONUS: For more reactions to other aspects of the CNN delegates story, see FHQ Plus.

Look, I love James Pindell. He and I have had some great conversations over the years about New Hampshire and the primary calendar. But I am going to continue to point out what I consider to be journalistic malpractice when I see it on the broader 2024 story about New Hampshire and the DNC's revamped early calendar. I understand the audience to which Pindell's recent New Hampshire Magazine piece was directed. Readers are primarily going to be made up of folks who want to see the presidential primary in the Granite state remain first. So throwing some blame at the feet of the national party makes sense. They changed the rules. New Hampshire has a state law. The national rules and the state law conflict. Impasse. That is fine. More to the point, it is true. However, it is only part of the equation.

Try as New Hampshirites might, defusing this situation does not completely revolve around the DNC and it caving, letting New Hampshire Democrats hold a contest wherever the secretary of state schedules it. The DNC is not the only one "in a pickle." New Hampshire Democrats are too. The state party has options it has ignored but could "fix" this situation. And most everyone else is ignoring those possibilities too. 

Secretary Scanlan is very likely to set the date of the New Hampshire presidential primary for January 23. That will conflict with DNC rules. And no one expects that contest not to happen. No one. That is not the question here and has not been since December. However, New Hampshire Democrats do not have to use the results of that contest to allocate delegates to the national convention. The state party could do that in some alternate party-run process that is conducted under conditions compliant with national party rules. Something in addition to a neutered, beauty contest Democratic primary on January 23. 

That the Democratic Party in the Granite state has not given one inch toward that possibility, doubling down on "live first or die," is unlikely to play well with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee after September 1, the new deadline for New Hampshire Democrats to comply. That is the same attitude that got Democrats in both Florida and Michigan in hot water in 2007. It is also what led to fairly significant penalties from the national party being levied against both. The DNC may again try to find an off ramp for New Hampshire, but at some point, whether that is immediately after September 1 or not, Democrats there are either going to have to take that off ramp or prepare for severe delegate penalties. 

It is a two-way street and all too often folks in and out of the media are only looking in one direction on this story. Look at what the state party is not doing too. That will play a role in how the DNC reacts and how this all plays out. 

From around the invisible primary...

See more on our political/electoral consulting venture at FHQ Strategies. 

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