Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Haley's Path Forward ...and more in response to New Hampshire

Nikki Haley's path to the the 2024 Republican presidential nomination may have more obstacles.

Leading the day at FHQ...

...for now. 

A day after an expectations-beating performance in New Hampshire, the former South Carolina governor faces a daunting task ahead in her one-on-one duel with Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Mired in the teens in the Granite state as recently as the holiday season, Haley rose as other candidates fell by the wayside. That cleared a path to a head-to-head with Trump, but the results in the New Hampshire primary did little to grease the skids for the former UN ambassador to rise much further. 

In fact, New Hampshire was a good state for Haley on paper: more college educated and fewer evangelical voters (than in Iowa), independents could participate, etc. And she still came up short. Still, the final polls made things looked bleaker than they turned out to be and that is not nothing. But exactly how much that something is worth remains to be seen. 

It buys Haley some time, but not much. And it is tough to chart out a viable path forward to the nomination, much less South Carolina on February 24. Viable path. There is a path, but it entails stringing together what little Haley's campaign can muster in the meantime. She is the headliner on the Trump-less primary ballot in Nevada. Yes, it is a beauty contest primary, and while a win promises no delegates, it may carry the distinction of garnering her more votes than Trump will receive in the Silver state caucuses two days later. Again, that is not nothing, but how much that particular something is worth is hard to gauge. A vote-rich "win" in the Nevada primary coupled with a win the caucuses in the Virgin Islands on February 8 probably does not hurt. 

But what does that buy Haley in two weeks' time? 

Maybe it grants her a bit more time, but it grants her time to consider that she is even further behind in the delegate count and that her home of South Carolina still does not offer much relief. Perhaps the polls in the Palmetto state will have moved by then. Maybe Nevada, the Virgin Islands and/or the campaign will spur such a change. But if the polls do not move, then, as FHQ noted yesterday, the cacophony of winnowing pressures from Republicans in the broader party network are only going to grow louder and the prospect of not just a loss at home, but a big loss, will loom large. 

Again, there is a path forward for Nikki Haley. Only, it is not a particularly good path. And it certainly gets her no closer to the nomination. 

But hey, if she can manage to bankroll it, then why not play it out, grab what delegates she can, cross her fingers that Trump's legal troubles catch up with him and head into the convention in good standing? Yeah, that is a path, too. In theory. It just is not a sustainable path. Whatever incentives the former president's courtroom drama provide to stay in the race, the winnowing pressures will more than offset. And that would affect any "good" standing she may have as the candidate with the second most delegates at the convention.

The convention is way off. Haley's concerns are more immediate. And her path? Filled with obstacles.

All the New Hampshire results are not in, but it looks like the delegate count out of the Granite state is going to end at...
Trump -- 12 delegates 
Haley -- 10

But currently Haley is clinging to her tenth delegate. If she drops below 43.2 percent, then she will fall below the rounding threshold and that tenth delegate will become unallocated. Trump is not in a position to round up unless he approaches 57 percent of the vote. However, he would claim that unallocated delegate formerly in Haley's column because all unallocated delegates go to the winner of the primary. That would push Trump's total to 13 delegates in the state. 



Tuesday, January 23, 2024

2024 has been a weird cycle in New Hampshire ...and more

Leading the day at FHQ...

Happy New Hampshire primary day!

It has been a weird cycle in the Granite state. 

The Democratic primary there today will happen as it always does, but it will not count toward determining the outcome of the nomination after the national party reshuffled its early primary calendar for 2024. [There will be New Hampshire delegates -- reduced by half -- but they cannot be allocated based on the results of an unsanctioned primary.] But all the chatter of bumping the primary and the resulting write-in effort on President Biden's behalf in New Hampshire will likely garner a few seconds more attention than the primary otherwise would in an incumbent cycle for Democrats. And that is to say, not much.

On the Republican side, well, this looks like it. If the last polls, especially the tracker in the field after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign, are taken as the final results or anything near them, then Donald Trump is in for another romp. A 60-38 win would translate to a 14-8 delegate win for Trump over former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. And that, not the net delegate gap, per se, but the 3:2 loss in a state that is supposed to be "good" for the former UN ambassador, would make it a little easier to bow out with her home state up next. Haley is not on the ballot in Nevada, so South Carolina would be next. And even in the event of a closer than expected loss, Haley would be staring down the prospect of getting whipped at home for a month and a day. In other words, she may have made it out of New Hampshire with a win relative to expectations, but that would not necessarily carry her all the way to and through South Carolina. The winnowing pressures would have grown deafening in that time.

As FHQ said before Haley's third in Iowa took some of the [limited] air out of her sails, "Haley may or may not become a disruptive factor in her bid for the presidential nomination, but if she does, it is more likely to be in the form of a speed bump rather than a total roadblock."

But that it came down to two viable Republicans by New Hampshire -- just the second contest -- is the weirder thing for the Republican contest relative to past cycles. It is one thing to have local Granite staters politically plugged into the politics of it all complain in the year before the primary about candidates not showing up as much as they used to, but it is quite another for folks on the ground in New Hampshire to be talking about how dead things are in the 24 hours leading up the voting. 

New Hampshire typically does at least some of the winnowing -- and the primary may yet in a limited capacity for 2024 -- but most of the winnowing took place in the invisible primary (and after Iowa) before New Hampshire. And a lot of this is it is just the nature of the cycle. After all, there is an incumbent president running on one side and a former president running on the other (and one of them is not even on the ballot in the Granite state). 

Again, it has been a weird cycle. But it is not clear that some of the same forces will not return to New Hampshire for 2028. It remains to be seen if the Democratic National Committee wants to take another shot at shunting New Hampshire to a different slot on the calendar, but the nationalization of the process in the invisible primary preceding New Hampshire will continue to be a factor that likely detracts from the way the New Hampshire primary "used to be."

Over at FHQ Plus... 
I pushed back on what has seemingly become a dominant narrative in how the delegate rules came together on the Republican side for 2024. There has been way too much Trump was heavy-handed in forcing state parties to adopt favorable rules and not nearly enough examination of the actual rules. 

If anything the delegate rules are marginally less favorable to Trump in 2024 than they were in 2020. 

That does not mean that they are not well suited to the former president. Far from it! But there very simply was not much improving Team Trump could have done in 2023. They did some incremental work, but most of it was working the phone lines to defend what they established for the 2020 cycle. That is the story of the Republican rules for 2024.


Friday, January 19, 2024

How many delegates do New Hampshire Democrats have anyway?

Leading the day at FHQ...

By now the story is old hat. At least around these parts it is. The Democratic National Committee altered its presidential primary calendar rules for the 2024 cycle. New Hampshire Democrats did not take kindly to the change that saw South Carolina's primary nudged into the first slot and spent 2023 openly defying the national party rules changes. 

Now, under the delegate selection rules of the Democratic Party, such a move on the part of New Hampshire Democrats carries a penalty, a 50 percent reduction in the size of the base delegation. That reduction has taken place, and New Hampshire Democrats now have 10 delegates to the national convention in Chicago later this summer. But the reporting, if one reads it closely, still seems to toggle between saying that New Hampshire Democrats will lose/have lost half of their delegates and that Granite state Democrats will lose/have lost all of their delegates.

So which is it? Half or all?

Actually, it is both. The actions of the New Hampshire Democratic Party -- opting into the noncompliant state-run presidential primary on January 23 -- cost the party half of its delegates. That is done. However, due to a tweak in the national party delegate selection rules for the 2024 cycle, state parties cannot allocate any delegates to any candidate who campaigns in a state like New Hampshire which has a primary scheduled in violation of the guidelines. Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson cannot even win any actual delegates by being on the ballot in the upcoming primary in the Granite state (even if they manage to qualify). 

So, New Hampshire Democrats have 10 delegates but cannot allocate them. Half and all, all rolled into one. 

The question is, what happens with those 10 delegates? Obviously the back and forth continues between the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the national party to resolve their impasse. But in the meantime, here are some thoughts at FHQ Plus on where things may go as primary season progresses

In the continuing state-by-state series on delegate allocation rules, FHQ examines changes for 2024 in...
  • Utah: Republicans in the Beehive state have once again shifted to caucuses for selecting and allocating delegates. Otherwise, the same eccentricities remain under the surface in the allocation process.
  • Vermont: FHQ often says that there are only so many ways to proportionally allocate three congressional district delegates under RNC rules. Well, that is true in terms of the 17 delegates Vermont Republicans have to offer as well. Nevertheless, Republicans in the Green Mountain state have built some unique features into their delegate selection plan.


Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Trump's firewall isn't the delegate rules, it's his support ...and more in response to Iowa

Leading the day at FHQ...

Over at FHQ Plus yesterday, I had a long takedown of the notion that Donald Trump has a firewall in the state-level delegate allocation rules across the country. 

Look, the rules Team Trump crafted for 2020, and for the most part defended for 2024, are not a bad thing for the former president. But no firewall provides any real safety if it is a conditional firewall. And for the next month, true success in the delegate count for the Republican frontrunner is going to depend on how often he hits 50 percent in states and in congressional districts in many cases. 

If the results in Iowa demonstrated anything it was that Trump's support among Republicans is his firewall. Yes, the Hawkeye state is state that is well-suited to the former president, so one should use some care not to extrapolate too much from the caucus results. But still, a majority is a majority in Iowa and that does not mean nothing. But if the caucuses prove to have been a harbinger of things to come, then Trump will likely rack up a lot of delegates in March. 


Speaking of delegates...
As it stands now, the delegate count coming out of Iowa will end up somewhere around the following:
DeSantis -- 9 (21.2 percent)
Haley 8 -- (19.1 percent)
Ramaswamy -- 3 (7.7 percent)

That is no different than it was last night before I turned in, but overnight there was an interesting shift and a delegate moved to unallocated. And how do the Iowa Republican rules work in the case of an unallocated delegate? Here is what FHQ had to say on the matter last month in our rundown of the Iowa rules:
Hypothetically, there is one unallocated delegate after rounding and Donald Trump has won a little more than half the vote. His raw, unrounded share of the delegates ends up at 20.47. On the other hand, Asa Hutchinson receives a little more than one percent of the vote (but under 1.3 percent) and his raw, unrounded share lands on 0.48 delegates. Hutchinson would receive the last delegate because his remainder is closer to the .5 rounding threshold than Trump. He would gain one delegate and Trump would stay on 20 delegates.
Well, overnight Ron DeSantis saw his vote share drop from 21.3 percent to 21.2 percent. Big deal, right? Actually, it meant that his raw delegate share dropped below the rounding threshold, lowering his total from nine to eight delegates and leaving one delegate unallocated. 

But that also left him with a fairly high remainder. The unallocated delegate came down to Trump (20.4 unrounded delegates) and DeSantis (8.48 delegates). DeSantis has the highest remainder under the rounding threshold, and as such, the unallocated delegate goes (back) into his column. 

Rounding rules at work!

[Yes, it is more than a little eerie that the very same .48 remainder I made up for Hutchinson in the hypothetical above was the remainder DeSantis ended up on.]

Maybe New Hampshire shakes things up next week, but I stand by this from that Firewall piece over at FHQ Plus:
First, let’s dispense with the obvious: Trump remains a heavy favorite to become the Republican Party standard bearer atop the ticket in the general election. Haley may or may not become a disruptive factor in her bid for the presidential nomination, but if she does, it is more likely to be in the form of a speed bump rather than a total roadblock.
DeSantis placing second in Iowa had many on cable news last night speculating about whether that may have blunted any momentum Haley had or has heading into the Granite state next week. It also had them -- and this was true on Fox News last night and NPR this morning -- falling back on the tired 2016 adage that Trump does well when his opposition is divided among several candidates. 

Maybe, but it is not as if DeSantis coming in third last night and joining Ramaswamy among the winnowed candidates was going to set his supporters rushing off to Haley. Some DeSantis folks may gravitate toward Haley, but many, maybe even most, would likely drift over to Trump, bolstering the former president's prospects even more moving forward. Still more may have decided to stay home rather than participate in subsequent primaries and caucuses. 

It just is not clear at this point that a continued split in Trump's opposition is hurting the opposition. It may just be that Trump has majority support and the opposition cannot be helped ( least not to a winning position). 

Perhaps DeSantis and Haley need each other to limit Trump's delegate haul through the early part of March. Of course, that sort of three person race is not sustainable long term. The winnowing pressures are only going to pick up in the days ahead. And besides, one them will have to figure out how to not only win, but win consistently to derail Trump. 

On to New Hampshire.



Monday, January 15, 2024

What if Iowa Republicans used the old Democratic caucus rules? ...and more

Leading the day -- caucus day! -- at FHQ...

In the coming days there is going to be enough written on Iowa's Republican caucuses and the results therein. Who finished second? Did Trump beat the expectations (that many worked feverishly over the last weekend before the caucuses to set)? The questions go on and on.

One thing that struck FHQ in this final weekend before the (in-person) voting phase of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race begins was how candidates campaigned (bundled up!). But not just where they were but how they approached one another in their final pitches to potential Iowa caucus goers. After months of relative quiet -- an implicit truce if not an unofficial alliance -- Trump turned on Ramaswamy. And after going toe to toe on the debate stage last week, DeSantis and Haley continued to attack one another (and also draw contrasts with Trump). 

But it is funny. Rather than shrug those off and chalk them up as normal caucus fare, those strategic decisions made me think about how things might be or have been different under different rules. Iowa Republicans, after all, will caucus on Monday night, but that process differs from how Hawkeye state caucus goers convened and operated on the Democratic side four years ago. Yes, Iowa Democrats bungled their attempt at a revamped caucus. But FHQ is not talking about that. 

Rather, I mean the difference in how both state parties have traditionally handled the caucuses. Republicans, when they gather in gyms, conference centers and living rooms across Iowa, will hear speeches from candidates or in most cases their proxies and vote by secret ballot on presidential preference. Some will leave. Others will stick around and haggle over party business and choose who will move on to the next stage of the caucus/convention process. 

Yes, the Democratic process in Iowa is new, different and later for 2024. But Democrats, relative to Republicans in the state, have traditionally convened, heard similar pitches, conversed with neighbors, friends and others and then gathered with likeminded supporters to express presidential preference. There is no secret ballot. Individuals physically move to join with the Biden group or the Sanders group or whomever to express presidential preference. Those candidate groups with more than 15 percent of all of those in the room move on to the next round. 

However, the people in the candidate groups with less than 15 percent then become free agents. Their candidates are eliminated in a given precinct and they can realign with a viable group (one with more than 15 precent support). Post-realignment movement helped Barack Obama surge across the state in 2008 and sunk Joe Biden in some cases in 2020, for example. After that process is complete, some folks leave while others hang around to do exactly what Republicans will do after the preference vote tonight. 

But it is that middle part, the difference in process, that sets the Republican and (old) Democratic methods in Iowa apart. And it is exactly that which would have some impact on the stretch run of the campaign. 

Take the Selzer poll of the Iowa Republican caucuses that was released over the weekend:

Yes, Trump has a commanding lead. Yes, Haley slipped into second place. Yes, DeSantis and Ramaswamy, after their full and double Grassleys, are further back in Iowa.

But if the caucus rules were different, then how each of them has talked about the others might have been different down the stretch. Under those old Iowa Democratic rules, Ramaswamy might be above 15 percent in a handful of precincts across the state, but would be well under it in most. His supporters in the caucuses, again, under Democratic rules, would then become free agents. Would Trump have been attacking Ramaswamy over the weekend or courting his voters with a second round after realignment in mind? 

And DeSantis would be facing a similar situation, albeit in the inverse. As opposed to Ramaswamy, DeSantis would likely be above 15 percent in most places, but below it in a handful of precincts. And honestly, at 20 percent, Haley would likely be in a similar but perhaps less vulnerable position as well. In past races on the Democratic side, that is a situation where campaigns of those two candidates might strike a deal. If DeSantis groups slipped under the 15 percent threshold and were not viable in some precinct, then under the agreement, they would realign with Haley supporters to give her a better shot against the frontrunner. And Haley groups would do the same for DeSantis when they failed to reach viability and a DeSantis group made it. Strategically, the collective moves would potentially keep delegates away from the frontrunner. 

Look, this is not the way things will work tonight in the Republican process. But this what-if does shed some light on the impact the process -- the rules of the process -- has on campaign strategy. What has been witnessed in the Republican campaign as the caucuses draw nearer may have been different under different rules. Yes, rules matter. 

Something fun to consider as everyone passes time until caucus o'clock. 

Happy caucus day, everyone!

In the continuing state-by-state series on delegate allocation rules, FHQ examines changes for 2024 in...
  • Oklahoma: The year may be different but the rules are not for Oklahoma Republicans in 2024. All the fun quirks are back again from when the Republican presidential nomination was last competitive.
  • Tennessee: There are frontrunner-friendly delegate rules and there's the Tennessee Republican delegate selection rules. While other states may have moved in a Trumpier direction for 2024, the Volunteer state did not. But that does not necessarily mean it is any easier for non-Trumps.
  • Virginia: After an incumbent cycle using a state convention for delegate selection, Virginia Republicans are back to a primary, but with markedly different allocation rules in 2024 than in 2016.