Showing posts with label primary debates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label primary debates. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Why DeSantis Attacks Haley

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...
  • Some Missouri Republicans keep advancing a bogus rationale to justify the 2022 elimination of the presidential primary in the Show-Me state. And FHQ keeps getting irritated by it. Venting... All the details at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
On its surface, the latest fusillade from DeSantis-affiliated super PAC Never Back Down against Nikki Haley seems to fit into the now-conventional narrative of a fight for second place in the Republican presidential nomination race behind former President Donald Trump. 

It comes from a branch of the consolidation theory of the race. That, if only the race narrowed to Trump and an alternative, then that alternative, whomever he or she may be, could finally overtake Trump. Mathematically, that makes some sense. Some sense, but it has made less and less sense over time as Trump has expanded his lead in the polls nationally and on the state level. After all, if Trump is pulling in more than a half of support in surveys, much less votes during primary season next year, then it is going to take more than just a one-on-one with the former president for an alternative topple him. It is going to take something else. In other words, it continues to be consolidation theory but with a side of magical thinking. 

However, the DeSantis case is a bit different than it may be for other would-be second placers. And the explanation may be simpler for why the Florida governor and company are going after Haley (and putting off focusing on Trump for a hypothetical one-on-one). And it has everything to do with the trajectory of the DeSantis campaign. It is not so much that DeSantis has lost or is about to cede second place to Haley. Rather, it is about how he has lost second place (if he has lost it). As DeSantis' fortunes have declined, it is Trump who has gained the most. And one does not win back former supporters who have drifted over into the Trump column by attacking Trump. 

The campaign may not win them back by fighting Nikki Haley either. But overall, the move stands less a chance of success by directly taking on Trump now.1 

That said, this is another case of Trump benefiting from opposing campaigns putting off the inevitable. Short-term motivations outweigh long-term considerations.

From around the invisible primary...
  • Iowa focus: DeSantis has some company in the "all in in Iowa" category. The campaign of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has now also begun to redirect money and staff to the first-in-the-nation caucuses in the Hawkeye state. 
  • Debates: Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's campaign has indicated that he has qualified for the November 8 debate in Miami. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has met the donor threshold, but continues to fall short of the polling criteria. 
  • New Hampshire entrants: Both Donald Trump and Mike Pence filed in Concord on Monday to appear on ballot in the as yet unscheduled primary in the Granite state.
  • Quiet winnowing: If a candidate is winnowed from the field and no one is there to see it, has that candidate really been winnowed? FHQ does not know. What is known is that businessman Perry Johnson has suspended his presidential campaign. Yeah, that is winnowing.
  • Staff primary: Staffers in the Florida governor's office keep leaving their jobs and finding their way into roles with the DeSantis campaign
  • Blast from the past: Trump's expanded lead has made this a bit less of a thing, but calibrating Trump 2024 to Trump 2020 and/or Trump 2016 is still a thing if attempting to assess where his current campaign is now. Tending the grassroots in New Hampshire in 2023 appears to be ahead of where it was in 2015. But support is not nearly as consolidated behind him as it was in 2019.
  • Consolidation theory, South Carolina edition: The editorial board at the Charleston Post & Courier called on hometown candidate Tim Scott to withdraw and clear the way for Nikki Haley to challenge Trump in the state and nomination race.

1 Note also that DeSantis has upped the attacks on Trump lately. But the overall effort is not exclusively homed in on Trump.


Thursday, August 24, 2023

About that debate last night...

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...
  • It is kind of obvious why non-Trumps would go after legacy winner-take-all triggers in state-level delegate allocation rules. At least on some level. However, there is a longer term strategic consideration in that push that is not getting a lot of daylight in Trump rolls/crumbles binary that exists around the race for the Republican presidential nomination right now. How about a quick look at that? All the details at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
The first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 season was a bit like a multi-vehicle accident in a coastal community at the height of a hurricane. There is the bigger problem surrounding those involved in the crash -- flooding, flying debris, downed power lines, the hurricane basically -- but everyone ends up pointing fingers and assigning blame for the pile-up. In Milwaukee last night, the eight candidates participating may have entered with some sense of a need to attack the frontrunner, but quickly got bogged down in the heat of the moment, in the need to forcefully respond to any perceived slight or mention that would provide some opening to talk. ...or jab. 

Call it a threat proximity hypothesis. The threats were in the room last night. They were not Donald Trump (even if some of the candidates saw some need to try to bring the former president down a notch). And that is part of why the pre-debate narrative about the potential gamble Trump was making in skipping the debate rapidly morphed into how that gamble -- if it even was a gamble -- paid off. 

Trump won the debate last night. 

However, others acquitted themselves well. Vivek Ramaswamy got attention -- both good and bad -- and that will likely buoy his support in polling of the race in the near term. It was a Trumpian performance the Ohio entrepreneur turned in. Attacking and being attacked -- constantly -- kept Ramaswamy front of mind throughout the two hour debate. That gobbled up time that might have gone to another candidate. And Ramaswamy definitely gobbled up time. It is the sort of thing, especially for a largely unknown candidate on the national stage for the first time, that can fuel a surge during the discovery phase of a possible discovery-scrutiny-decline sequence. 

However, there are reasons why any surge in support for Ramaswamy may be limited. First, there is that whole Trump in Georgia thing at the Fulton County jail today. Remember that? More importantly, remember that whole thing about Trump scheduling his surrender in the elections interference case in the Peach state to clip the wings on any momentum candidates may take from the debate? That is still a thing. Few may have thought going into the Milwaukee showdown that Ramaswamy would be that candidate, but here we are. So the whiplash back to the Trump 24/7 news cycle may dampen any big Ramaswamy gain. 

Second, FHQ does not want to go down a lanes lane, but Trump and Ramaswamy occupy a similar space within this field of candidates and among the Republican primary electorate. Ramaswamy may tick up, but it likely will not be at Trump's expense. There may be some "Trump without the baggage" support that has drifted back over to the former president as DeSantis has declined in recent months and may be in play. But it could be just as, if not more, likely that a Ramaswamy push more firmly into the double digits comes from those who may be second guessing the staying power of the Florida governor. 

And speaking of DeSantis, his debate was not bad per se, but it was a lot like playing prevent defense without the requisite big lead. Clearly the strategy was to do no harm (or do no further harm) in the absence of a barrage of attacks. And he did not really do any harm. However, that is a strategy that is limited in its capacity to right the ship. With the two of them center stage, DeSantis and Ramaswamy may have been two ships passing in the Milwaukee night. 

FHQ does not want to go back in time too far, but some late summer family time kept me from commenting on the recent NYT op-ed from New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu on the state of the Republican race for president, pre-debate. My knee-jerk reaction reading it was that the call for also-rans -- those who do not make the first two debates -- to drop out of the race was overkill. In other words, the thought was that those candidates have already been effectively winnowed or will be. But rather than treat Sununu's comments as an excuse to link back to something already written here at FHQ, it may be better to elevate another concept. 

Sununu was basically creating -- or adding to the existing -- winnowing pressure on those also-ran candidates and those who squeezed onto the first debate stage. His is not the only voice or the only source of that pressure, but it is an example of that pressure that in a non-Trump cycle may manifest itself more quietly in the background as low polling numbers or poor fundraising or any number of other back channel communications that collectively serve as the writing on the wall, more or less. In 2024, with Trump seeking a third straight nomination, these signals -- the winnowing pressure -- is a bit more overt. Instead, this race gets op-eds like Sununu's or aggressive debate qualification criteria like the RNC has used thus far. And together they represent (officially or not) a more public pressure campaign on candidates to put up or shut up than one might otherwise witness in a non-Trump cycle. 

It is not that these things do not happen in a "normal" cycle. It is just that they do not tend to happen quite this early. 

Yes, I just talked about that CNN delegate story yesterday, but has anyone figured out this section of that story yet?

"The savvy of Trump’s delegate operation this time around is a stark change from 2016, when the then-first time presidential candidate often complained that the delegate system in the Republican primary was rigged against him. He pointed to the victories and resulting delegate hauls of Ted Cruz, ultimately Trump’s main rival in the 2016 primary. For instance, when Cruz won his home state of Texas in the primary the senator got all 34 delegates with that victory.Trump advisers have studied Cruz’s strategy, so this time around they can ensure the lion’s share of all delegates go to him."

That whole bit about Texas is mind-numbingly off base. Anyway, I break that down some over at FHQ Plus.

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

It is not a national primary, but...

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...
  • Haven't had a chance to read the piece on the proposal California Republicans have for delegate allocation in 2024 yet? Go check it out. There is a story there that is floating under the radar about how the changes could affect the sort of delegate bonus a primary winner will take from the Golden state. It will not be like 2020 for a lot of reasons. All the details at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Monmouth just released a new national survey on the Republican presidential nomination race and at first glance it appeared to be a reality check for the sort of consolidation theory that Senator Mitt Romney described in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
Despite Donald Trump’s apparent inevitability, a baker’s dozen Republicans are hoping to become the party’s 2024 nominee for president. That is possible for any of them if the field narrows to a two-person race before Mr. Trump has the nomination sewn up. For that to happen, Republican megadonors and influencers—large and small—are going to have to do something they didn’t do in 2016: get candidates they support to agree to withdraw if and when their paths to the nomination are effectively closed. That decision day should be no later than, say, Feb. 26, the Monday following the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. 
First of all, that resembles in some respects the reaction Democrats had in 2020 after Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses. Candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Kobluchar withdrew and aligned with an alternative, Joe Biden, after his victory in South Carolina and before Super Tuesday. That is basically what Romney is describing. 

Of course, win though Sanders did early in the 2020 calendar, he did not represent the sort of force that Donald Trump currently does at this juncture in the invisible primary ahead of 2024. And the Monmouth poll demonstrates the difference. 
When asked whom they would like to see as the Republican nominee for president in 2024, 46% of GOP-aligned and leaning voters name Trump and 20% name DeSantis without any prompting. In a primary ballot question that explicitly lists 14 announced candidates, Trump’s support increases to 54% while DeSantis’ vote share barely moves (22%) and no other candidate gets above 5%. In a head-to-head contest between just the two, Trump garners 55% support and DeSantis gets 35%. These results are similar to a Monmouth poll taken two months ago when DeSantis officially launched his campaign.
Sanders was successful enough, but the Vermont senator never consistently approached majority support in primary surveys or at the ballot box in 2020. Trump has consistently hovered around the 50 percent mark for a while now. And even if one theorizes that the former president's position in the extant polling is a sugar high, the consistency of his position over time augurs against that conclusion. 

Moreover, that Trump is around 50 percent in national polling is instructive for how one thinks about the delegate battle that lies ahead. FHQ has spoken on occasion about how DeSantis has been flirting with the qualifying threshold since he officially jumped in the race, but Trump is doing some flirting of his own. 

Look, this is one poll and it is a national poll of contest that will play out sequentially from state to state during the first half of 2024. But if Trump is flirting with 50 percent when the votes start coming in next January, then the conversation will quickly turn to the former president tripping winner-take-all triggers when the race actually turns more national in scope on Super Tuesday next March 5. The chatter in some Republican circles may now be about stopping Trump in one of the early states, but the former president may be looking to stop his opposition and with an emphatic exclamation point on Super Tuesday if he is triggering those winner-take-all thresholds. 

There is more news on DeSantis below, but it is not all bad. The Florida governor pulled in an additional six endorsements in New Hampshire, five state representatives and a county commissioner. And he has not done poorly in the endorsement primary. No, more often than not, they are not high profile endorsements. But as Newsweek reports, DeSantis has quietly put together a robust roster of lower profile backers, the sorts of folks who can help organize in caucuses in both the allocation and selection phases and who can also serve as national convention delegate candidates on down the line. 

Of course, Ted Cruz followed a similar path in 2016. 

From around the invisible primary...

On this date... 2000, Texas governor and presumptive Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush tapped former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate. On the same date and in answer to a reporter's question, Alan Keyes announced that he was no longer a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. 


Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Trump Campaign has been very disciplined on endorsements during the 2024 cycle

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...
  • Colorado Republicans have been on a bit of a ride in terms of how they have selected delegates to the national convention over the last several cycles. The state party has a proposal to take another evolutionary step for 2024, a proposal that would empower the candidates and their campaigns in the selection process. All the details at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Donald Trump got endorsements earlier this week from all six Republicans members of the Michigan delegation to the US House. It is another show of institutional force in a race the former president leads by a wide margin (as measured by surveys, fundraising or endorsements). But it served as another datapoint in an interesting split in the endorsement primary at the moment. As in Florida earlier this year, Trump dominated his next nearest competitor, Ron DeSantis, in the congressional endorsements from the Sunshine state. Team DeSantis countered with wave of state legislative endorsements from Florida Republicans. 

The tit-for-tat between the two has been the same in the Great Lakes state. DeSantis made the first move back in April when Never Back Down rolled out a raft of state legislative endorsements. And now Trump has responded by locking down the congressional delegation. Again, it is interesting. Trump has the upper hand, but DeSantis retains the ability to hold his own in ways that allow him to make the case to not just stay in the race but to show he has the potential to be in for the long haul.

Of course, just because a candidate can stay in for the long haul does not mean he or she will. The point is, despite all the negative chatter around DeSantis in recent days, he and his campaign remain well-positioned in the race for the Republican nomination. But the Trump campaign is markedly disciplined in this cycle on the endorsement front. Often when there is an event approaching, the former president's team will released another round of endorsements from the state in which the event is being held. Team Trump did that in Tennessee earlier this year in the lead up to a Republican gathering and again in Pennsylvania ahead of the Moms for Liberty event in Philadelphia recently. So while the recent chatter may be about the foibles of the DeSantis campaign, it is also a function of what the Trump campaign has done (and done well). 

FHQ is late to this one, but I thought Jonathan Bernstein's piece earlier this week at Bloomberg on the chaos that Republicans are inviting in their 2024 debates process was very good. 

From around the invisible primary...
  • In the money primary, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott is the latest 2024 Republican to post his fundraising haul from the second quarter. For the last three months concluding at the end of June, Scott pulled in $6 million, roughly on par with what Nikki Haley raised during that time. And Scott has a hefty super PAC warchest as well. 
  • There may be more on the way for the junior senator in the Palmetto state. Big money Republican donors are starting to kick the tires on Scott with DeSantis in a real or perceived holding pattern.
  • And one more on Scott: Both he and Chris Christie have hit the donor threshold to qualify for the first Republican primary debate next month. 
  • Much of the current negativity around the DeSantis campaign may be legitimate. It may also be overblown. Campaigns at this level are often on a knife's edge. But whether it is real or not, one of the things to eye (as a real operationalization of that) is how much emphasis Team DeSantis puts on Iowa. Yes, Trump and DeSantis have been "eyeing Super Tuesday states," but that is not anything that is new. However, if the DeSantis campaign and affiliated groups begin to put all or most of their eggs in the Iowa basket, then that could be a sign that the campaign's options (on a number of fronts) are waning. Wooing evangelicals in the Hawkeye state (before a gathering there) may or may not be evidence of that. But it is something to watch in the coming days.  

On this date... 2015, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker officially entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Recent posts:

Follow FHQ on TwitterInstagramFacebookMastodon and Post or subscribe by EmailOh, and find us on Threads:

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Is the RNC Using the Debate Criteria to Winnow the Field?

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...
  • The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the upper chamber's version of a bill to move the presidential primary in the Ocean state. All that and more at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
As FHQ noted earlier in the week in this space, the RNC released the qualification criteria for its first presidential primary debate in August late last week. Of course, our's was not the only reaction out there. Walt Hickey at Business Insider astutely pointed out the likely small pool of polls the national party will be able to lean on by requiring qualifying polls to have at least "800 registered likely Republican voters" in the sample. And FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley noted that the DNC allowed qualification in the first 2019 debate by polling or donors whereas the RNC is requiring candidates hit both metrics to qualify in 2023

In total it sums to a high bar exerting some pressure on the low end of the field. The Burgums and Hutchinsons and Elders and Johnsons, in other words, will potentially have some to a great deal of difficulty making the stage. And that is a departure from the past two contests that have seen large fields, the 2020 Democrats and 2016 Republicans. Four years ago, the DNC had to have two consecutive nights of debates (with randomly chosen participants) to accommodate everyone who qualified. And four years before that, the RNC split the field into a main stage debate and kiddie table debate; a set up that had its own potential winnowing effects. 

But the criteria are not the only facet of this overall process exerting winnowing pressures on the candidates struggling to gain attention. There is pressure from the top end of the field in 2023 that was not present in either 2020 (Democrats) or 2016 (Republicans) or not present to the same extent. Here is what I mean.

Look at how the fields of candidates are positioned on this date in 2015 and 2019. How much support were the top candidates pulling in?

Jeb Bush -- 11.3 percent (please clap) 
Scott Walker -- 10.8 percent 
Marco Rubio -- 10.3 percent 
[Combined: 32.4 percent]

Joe Biden -- 33.5 percent 
Bernie Sanders -- 16.7 percent 
[Combined: 50.2 percent]

Quibble if one will about using the Real Clear Politics averages or the specific date chosen or how many candidates were included or whatever, but the two examples above are far different from what one sees now in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. 

Donald Trump -- 53.2 percent 
Ron DeSantis -- 22.3 percent 
[Combined: 75.5 percent]

There just is not a lot of oxygen there for other candidates. Some might have difficulty qualifying for the first debate regardless of the criteria. The first debate was going to apply winnowing pressure regardless. What the RNC criteria may decide is just how much. And this top end pressure is not new. Trump and DeSantis have routinely gobbled up about three-quarters of the support out there. As DeSantis has faded Trump gained. Stretching into last year, as Trump's fortunes waned, DeSantis rose. 

FHQ is not saying the debate rules do not matter. They do and they will likely help winnow the field to some degree. But that is not the only thing exerting some winnowing pressure on the other candidates. They are, however, one of the few things in the control of the national party.

Former Vice President Mike Pence has launched his bid for the Republican nomination with a splashy new video, but starts in a bad spot. And as Julia Azari and Seth Masket argue, Pence is stuck trying to resurrect the party of Reagan while simultaneously tethered to a Trump anchor. Candidates have seen some success trying to tread between past and present in years gone by, but it is not a path for Pence that is without resistance in the current context, they point out.

In the travel primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues to branch out and hit states that are not home to one of the first four contests. There is a trip to Oklahoma this weekend and another to keynote a big Tennessee Republican Party fundraiser next month. Both are Super Tuesday states.

Also, CNBC's semiannual survey of millionaires still shows DeSantis as the choice, but the gap between him and the former president has noticeably shrunk since the last survey was conducted in fall 2022.

On this date... 1988, President George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis both swept primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico. The wins by Dukakis pushed him over the number of delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination. 2008, New York Senator Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Senator Barack Obama a few days after the last round of primaries. 2016, Donald Trump ran off a string of victories in primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota to close out primary season on the Republican primary calendar. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won primaries in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders continued his success in caucus states, winning in North Dakota and besting Clinton in the Montana primary. 2020, President Donald Trump won an electronic vote of party leaders in Puerto Rico to take all of the island territory's delegates in the Republican presidential nomination race.


Monday, June 5, 2023

The Rules Help Frontrunners in Both Parties, not just Trump

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Elaine Kamarck had a really good piece up over at Brookings late last week. Breaking the nomination process timeline into three parts -- invisible primary, early contests and everything -- could perhaps use another layer, the opening of the winner-take-all window on March 15, but that is a small quibble. The hypothesis that someone will have to trip Trump up in one of the early states to take him down is a sound one as well. 

But FHQ breaks with Kamarck on an earlier section she penned...
"A few months ago, I helped create the now conventional wisdom which says that a large field of challengers will help Trump because the Republican winner-take-all or winner-take-most delegate selection rules are tailor made for a candidate who holds a solid base among primary voters and who can wrack up a series of plurality wins."
First of all, this is not exactly wrong. Winner-take-all rules certainly would not hurt a frontrunner with a built-in base of support like Trump seems to have. However, that is not the only layer of the rules that might help. There is another facet of the delegate selection process in both parties that could also help frontrunners in a similar position: the qualifying threshold. After all, candidates in both parties have to receive a minimum amount of support to gain any delegates in the first place. It is a standard 15 percent across all states, territories and jurisdictions in the Democratic process, and although it varies on the Republican side, the qualifying threshold can be no higher than 20 percent. In fact, more Republican state parties moved toward the 20 percent maximum qualifying threshold for the 2020 cycle. That remnant from the changes for the last cycle will potentially benefit the former president as well. 

But it is not just Trump who is helped by such rules. Frontrunners of all stripes can reap the benefits of a qualifying threshold. Here is an example. Say Trump wins 40 percent of the vote in the Minnesota primary on Super Tuesday next year. Ron DeSantis comes in a distant second at 20 percent, enough to qualify for delegates under the proportional rules Minnesota Republicans used in 2020. Trump in that scenario falls below 50 percent, so the winner-take-all trigger is not activated. Yet, only he and DeSantis qualify for delegates. Only their collective vote counts in calculating how many delegates each is allocated. Trump would not receive 40 percent of the delegates. The former president would claim two-thirds of them. DeSantis would take the remaining third. While that is not all of the delegates going to Trump, it would be a fairly healthy net delegate advantage coming out of the state. And if replicated across other states on a Super Tuesday with a number of primaries and caucuses, the delegate count could get lopsided quickly.

And this is not just a Republican phenomenon. This very thing happened to Joe Biden on Super Tuesday in 2020. Yes, some of his competition dropped out after South Carolina (and before Super Tuesday) and endorsed the former vice president, but they were still on the ballot, gobbling up votes and hovering well below the qualifying threshold. Who was above it? Biden, Bernie Sanders and a revolving cast of characters who nudged above 15 percent barrier across the slew of Super Tuesday states. The result was that Biden built a large enough lead in the delegate count to pressure others to cease campaign operations thereafter. 

Look, this is not all just delegate selection rules. As Seth Masket pointed out last week, winnowing matters a great deal in all of this. But the fact remains that it is not just winner-take-all rules that help just Trump. The delegate selection rules in both parties help frontrunners. Kamarck is not wrong, but her hypothesis is a bit too narrowly crafted. 

The Republican National Committee late last week also released the qualifying criteria for the first presidential debate this August in Milwaukee. Some candidates are already complaining. Others are too:
“It seems that the RNC is going out of its way to purposely narrow the field at one of the earliest times in the party’s history,” said a Republican consultant working for one of the presidential candidates who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “And rather than finding a way for as many conservative voices to be heard by Republicans throughout the country, they are attempting to make this a two-man race.”
The RNC was going to catch some flak on this decision regardless, but this is much more about one candidate -- a dominant former president as frontrunner -- than it is about squelching the others struggling to gain support. How much lower than topping one percent in the polls was the national party supposed to go? The donor threshold is lower at 40,000 than it was for Democrats in their first debate four years ago. And Democrats managed to have 20 qualifiers across two debates on consecutive nights. The difference is not those on the low end. This is about the someone at the top end of polling crowding others out of a debate in which he may not even participate. 

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • In the endorsement primary, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam threw his support behind South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
  • Never Back Down, the super PAC aligned with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, started canvassing in New Hampshire, continuing to test the effectiveness of the practice outside of a traditional campaign.
  • Granite state Rep. James Spillane flipped his endorsement from Trump to DeSantis. [There has been some early churn in the endorsement primary between these two among state legislators. That may or may not be a story, but it signals that both sides are seemingly (and intensely) battling for the support of this subset of elected officials (especially in early states.]
  • And action (or inaction) over in Iowa may help explain why state legislators are so sought after: Republicans elected statewide are for the most part staying neutral for now. That is true in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. South Carolina is the exception. Trump has endorsements from the governor and senior senator.

On this date... 1972, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty withdrew from the Democratic presidential nomination race on the eve of the California primary. 1984, in a series of five contests to end primary season, Colorado Senator Gary Hart won the delegate vote in California and primaries in New Mexico and South Dakota. Former Vice President Walter Mondale claimed victories in New Jersey and West Virginia. 2012, both former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama swept primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Obama also took the caucuses in North Dakota. 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Puerto Rico. 2020, President Donald Trump won an online vote among Republican party leaders in Puerto Rico to take all of the delegates from the territory.


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Sunday Series: Biden, Incumbent Presidents and Setting the Rules of Renomination

This past week has been a week in which Iowa, New Hampshire and the 2024 presidential primary calendar have come back into clearer view. 

Iowa Republicans are reported to be simultaneously planning on January caucuses, but lamenting the uncertainty that Hawkeye state Democrats have thrust upon the overall scheduling process by insisting on a vote-by-mail presidential preference vote.

In New Hampshire, Democrats continue to 1) resist DNC calendar changes that would push the state out of the first primary position in 2024 and 2) refuse to consider alternatives to a "predicament ... of the president's own making."

And to compound matters, Biden surrogate and 2020 nomination kingmaker Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) recently "said the quiet part out loud," noting that the DNC calendar changes for 2024 were made with Biden "avoiding embarrassment" in Iowa and New Hampshire in mind.

Dems in disarray, right? What is the party doing?

Well, outside of the takes generator that is spitting out tales of Democratic own goals with respect to the national party and the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination process, there are a few big picture things going on that many are glossing over. Most of it is typical of incumbent parties defending the White House and some of it is new to 2024. 

Coalition maintenance
The macro view of what the Democrats have done and are doing for the 2024 cycle is twofold. First, the Biden administration and the Democratic National Committee under it are doing what big tent parties tend to do. Namely, the party is tending to constituencies in an effort to maintain the winning coalition from 2020. And some of that, through a zero-sum lens, is the messy business of picking winners and losers, choosing which policies and other actions to prioritize. 

So, there has been a push to continue to appeal to black and brown voters who are the bedrock of the party's coalition. Voting rights and criminal justice reform met resistance in Congress, but the Biden administration advanced the cause of representation on the nation's highest court by seeing the nomination of Ketanji Brown-Jackson through to her installation, thus fulfilling a campaign promise. Along the same lines, the president pushed for a change in the early calendar lineup of states for the first time since the 2008 cycle. And importantly, the administration once again attempted to elevate the voices of black and brown voters in the nomination process by supplanting Iowa and New Hampshire with South Carolina in the lead-off spot. 

But beyond mere constituency concerns on that calendar decision, there were clear winners and losers. South Carolina won. Michigan won. Iowa and New Hampshire, on the other hand, both lost. Each lost, and in New Hampshire's case, Democrats there were resistant and have remained defiant. And while the national party decision was perhaps out of the ordinary, the reaction in the Granite state has not been. And while that reaction has added some drama (and the attention that comes along with it) to an incumbent presidential renomination process that is unlikely to offer much of it, it does once again point out just how difficult it is to alter institutions that have long since become normalized fixtures of the presidential election process. 

Again, if it was easy to change, then any number of component parts of the presidential nomination process -- including but not exclusively Iowa and New Hampshire -- would have been changed by now. Grumbling about Iowa, New Hampshire and their positions atop the presidential primary calendar is not new. It did not just start in 2020 when Iowa Democrats botched their caucuses. That grousing goes back years

However, the extent to which the subject has arisen between elections has ebbed and flowed, but it always comes up. In some years, like between 2004 and 2008, the party examined it closely. The result was that Nevada and South Carolina got added to the early window (and before the fallout from Florida and Michigan, Nevada's Democratic caucuses were to have been between Iowa and New Hampshire). In other cycles, such as between 2008 and 2012, Iowa and New Hampshire came up but the Rules and Bylaws Committee punted, saving the battle for another time.  

But to reiterate, it always comes up. And that pre-2012 example is instructive. That was the last cycle that a sitting Democratic president was seeking renomination. Theoretically, the stakes are lower in those times than they are or would be in a competitive nomination environment. It is then, or in the case of the 2024 cycle, now that a change in the early calendar would hypothetically be easiest. And it may, in fact, be easier than if this were a seriously contested cycle, but uprooting Iowa and New Hampshire is by no stretch of the imagination easy. If anything, Team Biden is bearing witness to just how not easy it is right now. 

So why take on the task of changing the calendar at all? 

Well, coalition maintenance is one answer. Creating a more representative early calendar lineup of states is and has been a long-time priority to some within the broader Democratic Party network. And just like changing the superdelegate rules for the 2020 cycle, it was not only a priority but there was sufficient support for the reform within the DNC. Yet, unlike the case of the superdelegate reform -- thorny as that was -- reforming the early calendar is not completely within the jurisdiction of the national party. Ultimately, credentialing and seating delegates from a state that has followed its state law and happens to be rogue relative to national party rules is within the DNC (or the convention's) purview, but bringing that to fruition and keeping Democrats from said rogue (and aggrieved) state out is a long process with a number of potential pressure points along the way that makes it politically difficult. 

It may be that Iowa and New Hampshire's time has simply come. But Iowa and, to a seemingly larger degree, New Hampshire will have something to say about that. 

Strategic considerations
Perhaps, then, the coalition maintenance hypothesis is not fully adequate to answer the "why take this task on now?" question. Maybe there are strategic concerns too. But even that explanation seems dubious. Before all of this, it was not exactly clear that Iowa and New Hampshire were going to make life, much less renomination, difficult for President Biden in 2024. No challengers of any great import were champing at the bit to throw their hats in the ring and attempt to dethrone a sitting Democratic president. Sure, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker were both doing some of the things that potential presidential aspirants do, but it is also difficult to tease out whether that was midterm campaign activity/surrogacy or something else (like laying the groundwork in case Biden did not run). It also is not clear that either governor shut the door on a run (and have subsequently joined Biden's reelection advisory board) because Team Biden made the calendar "harder" for challengers. The calendar change was merely another signal that the president intended to run and that in supporting the change, the DNC was behind him. All this despite the fact that the guessing game on whether Biden would run persisted well into 2023 after the initial DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee vote on the calendar. 

But take a step back for a moment. How common is it for sitting presidents and their parties to create favorable conditions for a renomination bid? The answer is that it is quite common. And it is probably better cast as reducing token resistance rather than some nefarious attempt to squelch democracy. 

In the past, all of this has mainly fallen into two categories: not holding primary debates and cancelling or downscaling contests (cancelling caucuses or shifting from primaries to caucuses). Both parties have done this. When was the last time an incumbent party sponsored a presidential primary debate? The RNC went so far as to eliminate the national party rule calling for a committee to sanction debates in 2020 only to bring it back for 2024. And yes, Republican state parties cancelled or downscaled a number of contests for the 2020 cycle, but those were not precedent-setting actions. Instead, it was par for the course. It is so commonplace that one almost has to skip incumbent years in gathering time-series data on presidential primaries (depending on the research question). In my own research on the movement of primaries and caucuses, it is next to useless to account for incumbent party years. State parties opting out of state-run primaries and primaries being cancelled because of only one candidate making the ballot make it nearly impossible. 

And how does the DNC look on both of those fronts for 2024? For starters, there are no plans for primary debates. But it is a funny thing on cancelled and downscaled contests. It is more difficult now than it has ever been to do either in a Democratic presidential nomination contest. Notice that Iowa Democrats are not talking about cancelling the caucuses like Republicans in the Hawkeye state did in 2020 to avoid any of the calendar messiness that has supposedly gripped the 2024 Democratic process. In fact, Iowa Democrats are going in the opposite direction. The party is planning on making the caucuses meaningless with respect to delegate allocation and adding a presidential preference vote(-by-mail) to allocate delegates. No states are planning on cancelling caucuses. There are none left now that Iowa and Nevada off the board. [Wyoming Democrats cannot decide if the party wants to call their process in 2024 a caucus or a party-run primary.] 


DNC encouragements added to Rule 2 for 2020 require state parties to provide for open and accessible contests. Parties have to demonstrate in their delegate selection plans that they are doing all they can to create the most open and accessible process possible. And state parties have heeded that guidance in practice in 2020 and in draft delegate selection plans for 2024. 

As a result of that rules change, the DNC and Team Biden did not have cancelling or downscaling contests as an option to potentially help streamline the process against token opposition. One avenue available as a streamlining opportunity, however, was the primary calendar order. And there, the options were limited. The status quo was an option. The path of least resistance in setting the rules was always to keep Iowa and New Hampshire as the lead-off contests (or shunt Iowa out of the early window because of 2020 and move New Hampshire up).

But does an incumbent president and/or the national party behind them want to leave to chance the start of a nomination process in two states where the president did not even win during the previous nomination cycle (even against token opposition in the coming cycle)? It certainly could all work out. But it could also be a situation like President Lyndon Johnson failing to meet expectations in New Hampshire in 1968 despite winning. And it is worth pointing out that Donald Trump still has not won the Iowa caucuses. He lost in 2016 and the caucuses were cancelled for 2020. Biden does not have the luxury, under DNC rules, of Iowa Democrats simply cancelling their caucuses next year. 

No, the alternative was to explore an alternative early calendar lineup, something the DNC Rules and Bylaws was already considering through a process that eliminated for 2024 guaranteed spots for traditional early states. It was a process open to any an all states that wanted to make a pitch. And the Biden administration took that opening -- the process of states applying for those early slots -- to swing for the fences.

They pushed a plan that placed South Carolina first, the first state the former vice president had won in 2020. But that was not exactly the driver behind the calendar decision. Shifting African American voices to an earlier position on the calendar was a priority but the options were limited in terms of states that the DNC could feasibly get into place. Look at the Georgia experience. Try as they might, Democrats nationally and in Georgia could not convince a Republican secretary of state to commit to the plan to add the Peach state to the mix. And the same would have been true for any other southern state with high levels of black and brown voters. Republican-controlled state governments stood in the way.

The exception?

South Carolina. Since the date-setting authority in the Palmetto state is in the hands of the state parties, the South Carolina primary could be moved into an even earlier position on the calendar with relative ease. 

This is not some grand conspiracy. The whole process has been one that, in part, has done what past incumbent presidents have done. However, due to rules changes on the Democrats side, the Biden team could not do exactly what past incumbents running for renomination have done. Instead, they took a calendar process already underway (and open) before the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee and used it to break a long standing precedent (Iowa and New Hampshire up front), fulfill a priority for many in (and out of) the party in the process (uprooting Iowa and New Hampshire) and potentially streamline a nomination race in which Biden was already the overwhelming favorite. 

...just like other incumbents in the post-reform era. 


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The National Parties and the Sanctioning of Presidential Primary Debates

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...
  • Efforts are under way during the final week of the 2023 General Assembly to resurrect the presidential primary in Missouri for 2024. All the details at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
It was not necessarily hidden yesterday, but the news that the Republican National Committee (RNC) was floating tentative debate criteria for the first presidential debate this coming August quickly got shunted to the side in the wake of civil trial decisions and upcoming New Hampshire town halls. But the basic outlines of a debate qualifications regime from the RNC offered a glimpse into the continually evolving role the national parties play and have played in sanctioning primary debates over the last several cycles. 

After all, it was not that long ago that debates had already started at this point in earlier cycles. Democrats debated during the first week in May in 2003. Republicans did the same in 2007 and also held a debate with a truncated group of candidates during the first week in May 2011. However, it was that cycle, the 2012 cycle, that served as the straw that broke the camel's back. In all, there were 20 Republican presidential primary debates that cycle, highlighted by two debates from New Hampshire on successive days in January 2012 before the primary in the Granite state. There were a lot of debates and both during and after the general election of 2012, the sense was that all of that exposure had not necessarily helped the party's cause. That sentiment was borne out in the party's Growth and Opportunity Project report -- the so-called Autopsy. It cited the need for national party oversight of the debates process; that state parties, competing with one another for candidate attention, were partnering with media outlets to schedule debates. In turn, that led to a proliferation of the forums.  

The result was that the RNC empaneled a standing committee devoted to the sanctioning of presidential primary debates for the 2016 cycle. And that committee cut down on the number of sanctioned debates, prohibited candidates from participating in any unsanctioned debates and further scrutinized media partners for those debates. But because so many candidates threw their hats in the ring in 2015, the standing committee that cycle also had to wrestle with the various formats to present all of those candidates. The size of the field demanded some qualifications but also balancing that against the need to at the very least appear inclusive to any and all candidates with demonstrated support in public opinion polls. The initial solution was to hold two debates, a main event for candidates with 3 percent or more support in polls and an undercard for those under that threshold. 

Fast forward to the 2020 cycle and it was the Democratic Party that was faced with similar issues. Like Republicans four years earlier, the Democratic National Committee (DNC)  had a wide open nomination race that attracted a slew of candidates. And like their Republican counterparts, the party was coming off a general election defeat in the previous and dealing with complaints about the debate process during the primaries that cycle. While the Democratic nomination race was open in 2016, there was a prohibitive favorite and the incentives to develop a structure similar to what the RNC had devised were not as apparent. However, seeking to avoid a repeat in 2020, the DNC adopted a debates qualifying strategy similar to but modified from the 2016 RNC process. 

The innovation the DNC added for the 2020 cycle was to tweak the qualifications. Not only did the party initially set a polling threshold that candidates had to hit (an average of at least one percent in DNC-approved surveys), but to further, or more clearly, demonstrate widespread support, candidates also had to have at least 65,000 individual donors across at least 20 states (minimum 200 donors from each). However, the supply of candidates, even at those thresholds, was still sufficiently large enough to force two debates. Yet, rather than an undercard and a main event series of debates on the same night, the DNC instead split the debates across two nights and randomly selected participants from the entire qualified pool. 

Just as was the case for Republicans in 2016, the Democratic Party in 2019-20 had to devise a system aimed at a moving target. In both cases, the parties felt compelled to set minimum qualifying standards for debates, but did not want to set them so high as to prevent candidates with some support (and some likelihood of catching on with the voting public in the future) from participating. For better or worse, everyone having a shot in the process is a notion that both parties have nurtured throughout the post-reform era. And that dovetails nicely with primary scheduling as well. Both parties like what the Growth and Opportunity Project report in 2013 called the "on-ramp" to the heart of primary season (basically a lead up to Super Tuesday). The idea of the little guy being able to compete in and do the sort of grassroots-building retail politics in small states that can potentially lead to primary wins (and maybe the nomination) is an ideal that is part of the fabric of the process in both parties. 

Moreover, it is also something that is layered into the proposed RNC debate qualification rules for 2024 that are now making the rounds. Initially, those levels would be set quite low, just one percent support in polls and 40,000 unique donors. Left unanswered at this stage is whether the RNC, like the DNC in 2019-20, will approve the polls that determine qualification or if a candidate's donor base has to be dispersed across a set minimum of states. It also goes without saying that those barriers to debate entry are lower than what the DNC utilized just four years ago. 

And there is a reason for that. The field is different. In many ways the 2024 Republican field is akin to the 2016 Democratic field in that there is a clear frontrunner -- a former president, no less -- who has had some impact on the number of prospective candidates willing to enter. Now, clearly the field looks poised to grow in the coming weeks, so there will likely be supply for a robust debate, but perhaps not enough to require a second debate (on the same or subsequent night). Very simply, Trump is gobbling up too large a share of support (at this point) for the number of qualifying candidates to create a need for a second debate, undercard or otherwise.

But that is the moving target with which the national parties have to contend. They not only have to balance the need to be inclusive to candidates with some measure of support, but they also weigh thresholds that to create a robust debate without opening up the floodgates. Yet, this is a role the national parties have taken on in recent cycles when it took on the responsibility of sanctioning presidential primary debates in the first place. But first thing first, the RNC has to formalize the debate qualifications for 2024.

DeSantis quick hits: 
  • In the endorsement primary, DeSantis picked up another congressional endorsement from Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), someone Never Back Down (the DeSantis-aligned super PAC) founder Ken Cuccinelli called "one of the 'first five' that got us great rules in the House..." Good was in fact one of the McCarthy holdouts in the January speaker election. And as an aside, that group has been fairly active in the endorsement primary. Of the 20 who, on one speaker vote or another, opposed McCarthy, 11 have endorsed in the presidential race. Eight of those are behind Trump with two more counted as DeSantis supporters. Nikki Haley rolled out a Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) endorsement on launch day. 
  • Never Back Down also won the support of former Trump adviser, Steve Cortes. Together, the staff primary and endorsement primary continue to offer evidence of an erosion of Trump support, but only to a point. As always, the former president in 2023 is behind the pace he set as an incumbent in 2019 but well ahead of where he was in 2015. 
  • In a signal of what may soon be coming in terms of a presidential run, the Florida governor also on Tuesday decoupled from Friends of DeSantis. It is a move that is likely a precursor to freeing up the money in the committee for use in a presidential bid. 

Viewed through one lens, it is curious that Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) would call on President Biden to break the DNC rules for 2024 and file to be on the New Hampshire primary ballot even if, as expected, the state goes rogue and holds a primary too early next year. If Khanna is behind the president, as he suggests he is, then why not call on New Hampshire Democrats to come up with an alternative to selecting delegates through a rogue primary? However, viewed through a 2028 lens, the reason may become more apparent. Khanna is not wrong that the Biden-driven calendar rules changes may hurt the president in New Hampshire in the general election, but the question is whether the damage has already been done or if it will take the president not being on the ballot (in a largely uncompetitive race) to fully push enough New Hampshire supporters away. FHQ is dubious. Clearly, Khanna is betting that New Hampshire will be there (early) in 2028, and that is no sure thing

On this date... 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis both handily won the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries. 2016, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won the West Virginia primary. Trump also won in Nebraska. [Democrats in the Cornhusker state had caucused earlier in the year. Delegates were allocated based on that contest despite there being a beauty contest primary in Nebraska.]