Showing posts with label Reince Priebus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reince Priebus. Show all posts

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Candidates who participate in unsanctioned debates should be penalized 30 percent of their delegates

That's Reince Priebus from Kansas City discussing the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process before the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference.

Here's the full context from David Lieb with the AP:
Priebus defended plans to shorten the primary season by imposing "a death penalty" for any state that jumps ahead of the national party's calendar, cutting their delegates to the national convention to "next to zero." He proposed to hold no more than eight GOP primary debates, with the party picking the host partners and moderators. Candidates who participate in unsanctioned debates should be penalized 30 percent of their delegates, Priebus said.
Now, FHQ will try not go too deep on this. After all, this just an idea that is floating around out there.1 The "death/super penalty" is on the books, but earlier conventions and presidential primary debates sanctions among other things are not. These are all matters that will be discussed, tweaked or completely changed by the RNC's new Rules subcommittee.

On some level, this is a long way for me to say, "Hey. Look at that 'should' in 'should be penalized' in Priebus' comment about primary debates." Despite the presence of some uncertainty as to the final version of the RNC rules for 2016, the 30% figure does continue to leave us with some questions about any proposed penalties and how they are meted out. And truth be told, those questions are the same basic questions FHQ posed several weeks ago during and in the aftermath of the RNC summer meeting in Boston. But now we have something concrete from the chairman of the national party in the way of sanctions.

First of all, this statement makes clear that the RNC is considering a plan similar to the DNC rules that attempt to rein in rogue states on the primary calendar. The DNC instituted a plan for the 2008 cycle that would not only hit those states in violation of the rules, but also penalize candidates who campaigned in those states. Given Chairman Priebus' comments, the RNC may look to go in a similar direction though seemingly directed more at the candidates than the states/state parties.

The new question that emerges is, "30% of which delegates?"
Is this 30% of the overall delegates a candidate has/will have?  
Is it 30% of the delegates won from a state that holds a rogue debate? 
Why are states/state parties not penalized for holding unsanctioned debates?
The first two subquestions are direct alternatives to each other. Either the RNC under this plan would penalize 30% of all of a candidate's delegates from all states or just rogue debates states. The latter seems more "fair" but if the objective is keep the candidates away from presidential primary debates that are conducted minus the national party's blessing, then that former may prove more effective. If you are Newt Gingrich, for example, then losing about 8 of 23 delegates after having participated in a hypothetically rogue South Carolina debate is probably better than losing 41 delegates from your eventual 135 delegate total.2 Candidates, depending on the race and their relative positioning among each other can probably shrug off the loss at the state level, but would find it much more difficult to do the same if the penalty affected the overall total.

Extending this, what would happen in the case of multiple violations?3 If the penalty is assessed on the state total and not the overall delegate total, the multiple violations problem is somewhat minimized but not completely eliminated. Under that rule/sanction, candidates would be penalized for participating in hypothetical rogue debates in Iowa and New Hampshire, for example. They would lose 30% of their delegates in each state. Under the alternative "penalize the overall total" there is nothing left for the party to use once the penalty is handed down. A candidate could rationalize continued participation in rogue debates by saying either, "I've already been penalized, what's to stop me from taking part in this next unsanctioned debate?" or "There's no way the RNC is actually going to stick to this penalty. I'll go ahead and attend this next debate."

Of course, the same sort of rationale exists for the candidates under the state-level sanction as well if there are multiple rogue debates in one state. They can't be penalized twice.

All of this makes the final subquestion above all the more interesting. Why not penalize the states/state parties as well? To some extent, the penalize the candidates strategy is sound, albeit with some backwards logic. By penalizing the candidates, the candidates are bound to stay away from rogue debates and thus state parties will not hold them. That could happen, but if you are the RNC, why leave it to chance? Even if the frontrunner is an establishment-type candidate, it will be hard for such a candidate to stay away from all of these debates should others participate.


I keep thinking of the 1980 general election presidential debates, particularly that Reagan/Anderson debate. They took aim at Carter instead of each other for nearly the entire time. Carter had no equivalent way to respond. If states/state parties are not checked in some way, what is to prevent them from allowing a similar forum for any and all also-rans through viable alternative candidates from participating and raking the aforementioned frontrunner through the coals for an hour to an hour and a half. Actually, those candidates would have incentive to do so -- attack -- in order to negate the deficit created by the 30% delegate penalty. The objective is to reduce the number of delegates for a frontrunner by making that candidate less palatable to voters. And again, without a debate stage, it is most difficult for a non-participating candidate to respond in kind. How does a national party disincentivize this outcome without penalizing the states/state parties as well.

Overall, this is a tough calculus for the campaigns to undertake. It isn't as if what we're talking about here are real delegates allocated after a given state votes. Rather, the issue to attempting to ascertain the impact of all of these movements on a virtual delegate count in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

This can go any number of ways in practice. The cautionary tale of the unintended consequences nested in seemingly innovative or simple rules changes in the post-reform era is or should be ever present for the national parties. That said, there are two paths that FHQ sees as more likely than some of the others:

  1. Backfire. The rules change instituting a candidate penalty backfires. Either an establishment-type candidate is frontrunner and is baited into participating in rogue debates as a defense mechanism or a candidate other than an establishment-type is the frontrunner, is able to stay away from any rogue debates, and begins primary season against a group of candidates who, on the offensive, were forced to participate in unsanctioned debates and are at a delegate deficit before any delegates are actually allocated. 
  2. A redefined invisible primary. Let's call this one the "Only winning move is not to play" strategy. No, I'm not talking about not playing in any rogue debates; I'm talking about not playing at all. If the calculus of all of this is so rigorous, why not skip it? Delay jumping into the race as much as possible. If you are a frontrunner (or potential frontrunner), establishment-type candidate and incentives exist in the altered rules for your adversaries to attack and attack and attack you in rogue and sanctioned debates, why not remove the target? Don't run or delay running until the last minute. [Think of the possibility for white knight stories!!!] This option seems like a magic bullet for the RNC, but one that looks good in theory, but not necessarily in practice. Yes, there may be an emergent and perverse pressure among the viable candidates to hold out as long as possible, but 1) It is hard to invisibly/unnoticed put in place the infrastructure necessary to run for a presidential nomination; 2) Given that reality, states/state parties may still have incentive to host rogue debates; and 3) Additionally, the press involved in those hypothetical debates would be potentially likely to ask participants about the policy positions of looming candidacies whether they have an presidential nomination exploratory committee or not. 

Some form of backfire seems most likely. However, the bottom line here is that tinkering with rules in this particular area borders on being a fool's errand. It crossed the line from managing the presidential nomination process to attempting to control it. National parties that have crossed that line in the post-reform era have been the parties that have faced unintended consequences -- often bad ones -- when the rules go from paper to practice.

1 Granted, the idea is one that is coming from someone -- the RNC chairman -- with some power over the process, but still, it's just an idea; not a rule.

2 This exercise utilizes Gingrich's delegate figures from 2012 in South Carolina and overall.

3 Recall, that the multiple violations problem was an issue for the RNC in 2012. There was no contingency in place for states that violated both the timing rules and the proportionality requirement. There was only one 50% penalty that could be levied whether one or both rules were broken by states. Florida, for instance, did not face two 50% penalties for holding a non-compliant January primary and allocating its delegates in a winner-take-all fashion.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

RNC Chair Makes Clear Rules Will Be Enforced on Early, Non-Compliant Primary/Caucus States

Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, made quite plain in a Tampa press conference this morning that the RNC plans to stick to the enforcement of its 2012 delegate selection rules. More specifically this applied to the group of rogue states considering early and non-compliant primaries and caucuses.

“There is a pretty big desire by the committee to make sure rules are enforced,” he [Reince Priebus] said at a Tampa press conference this morning.
FHQ, as we have mentioned recently, has a different way of thinking about the environment in which the 2012 presidential primary is in at the current moment. The above statement from Priebus is nothing observers watching this process should not expect anyway. Of course the chair of the Republican Party is going to maintain a line in which he touts the rules the party has set for delegate selection in next year's presidential nomination race. That 50% delegate deduction is the only real weapon the national party has against potentially rogue states.

Priebus is going to flex whatever muscle he has on this issue, then. But it is still an open question if leaning on that penalty in public -- and in private possibly the fact that the party can stiffen the penalties on states in violation (Rule 16.e.3) -- will be enough to get states in line with the rules. In FHQ's estimation, that is not a possibility at this point with Florida, Arizona, Michigan and maybe Georgia and Colorado. The objective of the national party now is to prevent those rogue states from becoming "too rogue".

As we have maintained here at FHQ since the Arizona-to-January-31 possibility came to light, the 2012 calendar is in murky territory now. Most states have moved already or are on a path to moving into compliance with the national parties' rules. However, there are a handful of free agents where the aim is not clear; not publicly anyway. But that free agent status allows these states a freedom and flexibility unlike most other states. The Floridas, Michigans, Arizonas and Georgias of the world can wait later to decide on dates and that puts them in a position to negotiate with the national parties -- in this case the Republican Party -- for a prime spot on the calendar. And they can hold the possibility of calendar chaos over the national party's head as a bargaining chip.

That is what we are seeing now. Arizona, Florida, Michigan and others are threatening the calendar and the national party is responding. The response isn't any different from the Republican perspective than it was in 2008 and that did not and does not apparently wield enough power to outweigh these rogue states' willingness to defy the rules in order to have an impact over the nomination contest. Comments from Arizona governor, Jan Brewer's (R), spokesman, Matthew Benson, highlight the balance at the heart of a rogue state's decision making (via Mary Quinn O'Connor at Fox News):
"She is leaning towards January 31, a date that would put Arizona toward the front of the primary schedule," Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson told "She thinks it would be appropriate for voters in this state to really have an opportunity to weigh in on the selection of nominees for president."

"More than anything, she wants to make certain Arizona plays a central role in the nomination process... that they have the ability to see presidential candidates and sell their platforms," said Benson.

"There are consequences to moving in advance of March 6, but it is important to keep in mind that our state law gives the governor unilateral authority to move up the primary date," said Benson.

"Moving the primary date backward would require changing state law," said Benson. "It is a possibility. She is weighing the consequences of violating these rules but she is leaning towards moving it up." [emphasis is FHQ's]
Again, gentle public reminders are just that. It is what is happening behind closed doors between representatives of the states and the national party that is consequential -- not to mention difficult to follow -- now. What we do know is that these states want a place at the table with other early states. However, we don't know how compressed with other states they are willing to be nor how much influence they are after. The former very definitely affects the latter. And actors at the state level are wising up to that reality. There is a reason that some states opted to move back and hold delegate selection events in some cases concurrently with neighboring states: It potentially maximizes the attention a state receives from the candidates/media and the impact that state has. Compared to inching up to the very front of the calendar with a host of other states on Super Tuesday, it does anyway.

Regardless, we are in a behind closed doors period of negotiations that will play out throughout August and September before a final calendar is likely settled during October some time.

NOTE: One additional note of correction to that FOX News item linked to above. It is a good rundown of things with some helpful comments from the states and the RNC. However, the last paragraph is factually incorrect. Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, has to make a decision on a primary date at least 150 days in advance of the primary for the benefit of elections officials in the state, not the RNC. The RNC rules require states to inform the party of when they will hold primaries or caucuses on or before October 1. There is no 150 day buffer required by the RNC.