Showing posts with label winnowing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label winnowing. Show all posts

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. 



Wednesday, November 15, 2023

There is a central tension point in the New Hampshire presidential primary situation, but this still isn't it.

Updated (2:15pm, Wednesday, November 15):

Original post:
It is primary date announcement day in New Hampshire.

Later today, Secretary of State David Scanlan will follow his statutorily-defined role and officially schedule next year's presidential presidential primary in the Granite state. It will answer the question of when the contest will occur on the 2024 presidential primary calendar, but that action will do little to change what has been clear for some time: New Hampshire will have an early contest and it will conflict with Democratic National Committee (DNC) rules for this cycle. 

But again, that has been clear for a while now. Republicans control the levers of power in the state and balked at making any changes to business as usual in terms of how the primary date gets decided every four years. That left in place a law that requires Secretary Scanlan to schedule the primary at least seven days before any other similar election. And Scanlan has maintained for nearly a year now that he intended to follow state law. Unless he takes issue with something in the Iowa Republican Party plans for 2024, then the primary will most likely land on January 23. [In none of Scanlan's comments since Iowa's Republican Party scheduled the caucuses there has he indicated that there is anything problematic.]

None of what will happen today, much less much of what has happened (or not happened) in New Hampshire state government this year has much of anything to do with the DNC calendar changes for the 2024 cycle. Well, they have not had much to do with it for months anyway

That is not where the tension is. That is not where the tension has been. But that did not stop NPR from pointing the finger in the wrong direction in a story about the announcement today. No, instead Josh Rogers gives us New Hampshire is expected to set a primary date that will buck Biden's preference.

Just to reiterate: All of that -- New Hampshire Secretary of State Scanlan not going along with Biden and the DNC's calendar design for 2024 -- has been a known known for most of 2023. And that has not been where the tension has been in this first-in-the-nation ordeal. Instead, that tension lies where it has been: in an intra-party dispute on the Democratic side between the national party and the New Hampshire Democratic Party. 

Look, FHQ realizes that New Hampshire Democrats are not going to budge on this. They just aren't. But the decision makers in the state party have and have had the power to defuse this situation all along. All they had to do -- all they have to do -- is plan for a party-run process that complies with national party rules and not go along with a rogue primary and primary date. Yes, that far easier said than done. There are political pressures that those same decision makers face from the rank-and-file members of the state party. And that is all well and good.

However, that is where the tension is in all of this. It is not and has not been between the DNC and Scanlan or Biden and Scanlan. And stories that are inevitably going to pursue that angle in the wake of the secretary's decision today are barking up the wrong tree. They just are. Today's announcement is meaningful in that it will answer the question of when the primary will be. It is an early contest in the process and that is important. 

But disputes with the DNC? That is all about the New Hampshire Democratic Party opting into a contest that the secretary of state sets, not the secretary himself or the action he is on the verge of taking. And the NPR piece is another in a long line of them that fails to note that. 

This is a fact that will become more and more prominent in the context of the Democratic calendar standoff as it will now move into the consideration of penalties phase. And the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has already given strong indications about where that is headed

Over at FHQ Plus...

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

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.
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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. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Effectively Winnowed

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 still is not clear where on the primary calendar the Pennsylvania presidential primary will land for 2024. However, there could be a pot of technically unbound delegates coming out of the contest regardless of where it is scheduled. For a deeper dive on that possibility in the Keystone state and a look at the overall picture of unbound delegates in the Republican presidential nomination race: All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Last week, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made some attempt to lay down a marker in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. As he told Fox News:
"If you don’t make the debate stage, you should leave the field. I think it’s that simple. That’s the first winnowing process."
None of that is right or wrong. And it aligns with an argument Christie has been making all along about narrowing the field and taking on former President Trump head on. But it is worth pointing out that the invisible primary has been going on for some time now and the winnowing process has too. Several candidates who were looked on as potential candidates passed on running. These are the Ted Cruzes and Larry Hogans and Brian Kemps and Kristi Noems and Glenn Youngkins. [Although some are trying to keep the hopes of a 2024 Youngkin bid alive.] All surveyed the landscape in various unofficial ways since 2020 and opted out. All have already been winnowed from the field. 

So there is an argument that winnowing has already begun. And obviously it will continue regardless of whether that is before or after the upcoming first Republican primary debate, some time before the end of 2023 or during the primaries next year. But whether candidates who do not make the debate stage on August 23 and drop out is kind of immaterial. Not making the debate stage is a line of demarcation in this race whether Asa Hutchinson or Perry Johnson or Larry Elder call it a day or not. Arguably, not making the stage effectively winnows those candidates. 

That is to say that they would be effectively out of the race whether each continues on as a zombie candidate, unlikely to take any significant support or vote share away from the candidates still in the running.

And the last two competitive, big-field presidential nomination races speak to that. Neither the 2016 Republican race nor the 2020 Democratic race was overly populated with candidates who did not make the debate stage at one point and subsequently made an appearance later on. Chris Christie dipped to the secondary debate at one point only to return to the main stage after a one debate absence. Jim Gilmore managed to squeeze into one and only one secondary debate. And Rand Paul decided to skip a secondary debate in his one relegation before briefly coming back to the main debate stage and then dropping out. The same was largely true on the Democratic side in 2020. Once candidates were off the debate stage, they were mostly out for good. A few came back, but only for one debate. 

In other words, whether the 2024 Republicans do or do not suspend their campaigns after not making the first debate really does not matter. Those candidates are on borrowed time anyway. They will have been effectively winnowed.

...if they have not been already. 

The DeSantis campaign seems to be all in on the Iowa caucuses. FHQ briefly noted the shake up at the top last week, but under the campaign manager, the campaign brought in David Polyansky from Never Back Down to be a strategist more closely in the Florida governor's orbit. Polyansky brings with him some Iowa knowhow that may serve the campaign well. In addition, DeSantis nabbed the endorsement of influential Iowa radio host, Steve Deace and continues to court Bob Vander Plaats. And that does not count the presence Never Back Down, the super PAC affiliated with DeSantis, has on the county level across all 99 counties in the Hawkeye state. Yes, there are the optics of the various candidates' appearances at the Iowa State Fair, but underneath all of that, Team DeSantis is signaling just how important the lead-off caucuses will be to any long haul operation. 

This letter that the Trump campaign legal team distributed to all of the state Republican parties is an interesting maneuver. It may or may not have any legal basis -- this notion of a state party working with super PACs associated with any of the Republican candidates -- but the letter may have the effect of freezing the state parties, forcing decision makers within those entities to think twice about their actions. 

The whole episode speaks to the often precarious position state parties are in. And that is mainly in a financial sense. Allow FHQ a quick diversion. At the July meeting of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, the use of ranked choice voting in primaries (and especially state party-run primaries) was on the agenda. Some of those state parties have taken money from Fair Vote, an advocate of ranked choice voting, to help implement the practice in a number of states. Again, those with state party-run contests. Some RBC members frowned on the exchange. Others called for clearer disclosure. But it was clear from those members on the committee closely involved in state parties that money like that can be vital to the those state organizations. 

And that is kind of the crux of all of this back on the Republican side. State Republican parties are probably all too happy to take any money from any super PAC willing to give it if it means helping to build out the party, not just the party coffers but the party itself. But Team Trump has interjected in that, basically saying, "We see you." And it is not as if Trump is not a moneymaker for the state parties on his own

That is the interaction here. Toss the legal questions to the side. This is about a not-so-quiet but indirect threat to the state parties: Trump can help your state party raise funds, but only if you knock it off with those other super PACs. That is a tough spot for state parties to be in, and likely has some impact on how just how streamlined decision making is within them. 

From around the invisible primary...


Saturday, July 15, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] Yes, Iowa still matters

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


Iowa Republicans have set a caucus date for 2024. That got some folks thinking about the caucuses place in the presidential nomination process:

“What if Iowa doesn't matter?”

That was a question Chris Cillizza recently posed. And FHQ gets the point. Cillizza is suggesting that either Trump will win the lead-off caucuses next January or will lose and do what he did in 2016, cry foul at the process before moving on to a more hospitable format -- a primary -- back east in the Granite state. 

And that point is well taken. It is a narrower variation on the 2024 is a repeat of 2016 line that has become standard in the discourse of the Republican presidential nomination race this time around. However, that does not mean that it is off base. It may be!

But where FHQ parts ways with Cillizza is on a broader distinction perhaps.

Of course Iowa matters. 

Of course Iowa will matter. Win or lose, things may play out with Trump in the lead role just as Cillizza suggests, but it does not mean that the caucuses will not matter. They will matter in the way that they always do. The caucuses will winnow the field.

But how will Iowa (and New Hampshire) winnow the field? That may be the more operative question heading into primary season next year. Do the early contests literally winnow the field, forcing candidates from the race or do they effectively winnow the field, significantly diminishing the chances of candidates outside the top tier (however that is defined at the time) to near-zero levels?

We may never get a good answer because often, at least in recent cycles, it has been a little bit of both. Viable, office-seeking candidates, like Kamala Harris or Cory Booker on the Democratic side in 2020, who do not want to be winnowed by Iowa or New Hampshire -- those who see the writing on the wall during the invisible primary -- will drop out before the calendar even flips over to the presidential election year. Others, call them the all the eggs in the Iowa or New Hampshire basket candidates, such as Chris Christie in 2016, are among those left to "force" out at that point. 

Often, however, candidates do not neatly fit into one or the other of those categories. While Harris and Booker bowed out in 2020, other viable candidates soldiered on through Iowa, New Hampshire and into or through the other early window states in the Democratic order leading up to Super Tuesday. And that is a story as much about field size as it is about money available to keep those campaigns afloat. 

Yet, it is also a story of zombie candidates, effectively winnowed but still in the race and gobbling up not only vote shares in subsequent primaries and caucuses but potentially (depending on the rules) delegate shares. And that is where these early contests matter. They shape or do not shape the field left to fight over votes and delegates on down the line. No, some to a lot of those candidates-turned-zombies after Iowa or New Hampshire may not even qualify for delegates, but their presence affects how and how many delegates the candidates who do qualify end up being allocated. 

So, no, Iowa may not matter in identifying the eventual Republican nominee in 2024 (not Cillizza's point) and it may not matter where Trump (and/or the winner) is concerned. But it and any other early contests, not to mention the invisible primary, will shape the field that moves forward and how. It will affect the way subsequent rounds of the delegate game are played. That is important. That matters.


Friday, June 23, 2023

The difference in how the national parties approve delegate selection plans

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...
  • Unless Georgia Democrats are planning a party-run primary, then the presidential primary in the Peach state is not in limbo. It is set for March 12. That reality was missed on folks who misinterpreted the Georgia-related comments at the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting last week. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
It has been unusual since news broke over the weekend that the South Carolina Republican Party had set the date of the presidential primary for 2024 that stories keep adding something to the effect of "the primary will be on that date if the [delegate selection] plan gets approved by the RNC." First, the decision by Palmetto state Republicans is rules-compliant, so there is not really any mystery here. The primary will be on February 24 unless the state party changes its mind, something that seems unlikely. 

Second, there is, I suppose, a process of review on the Republican side, but Rule 16(f) filings come in so late -- the deadline is October 1 for state parties to submit plans -- that a review and approval process like what the Democratic Party does publicly over the course of months every four years is just not possible after the deadline. That is not a judgment of the Republican process. Rather, it is a description. Republican state parties submit plans and they are either compliant or they are not. 

Clearly, state parties can consult with the national party ahead on time on these matters. After all, it recently came out that the Michigan Republican Party had been in consultation with the RNC on its 2024 plans. But the state parties do not have to do that. Virgin Islands Republicans did not strategically select a Thursday for their caucuses in 2016, for example. No, they missed the deadline for plan submission in 2015 and were forced to use the same rules that governed their process from the previous cycle. That included the date, March 10. Obviously, there was no consultation there. The 2012 rules were just made to carry over to 2016 under the RNC rules. 

None of this means much in the grand scheme of things. It is just that the repeated mentions of "if approved" coming out with the South Carolina news is, well, new in the context of Republican state parties creating plans. It simply has not been a regular part of reporting on these things in the past. 

Sure, Nevada Republicans could theoretically hold a primary and a caucus next year. But there are questions about whether that would conflict with RNC rules. The answering of those questions seems moot anyway. There will only be a Republican primary in Nevada next year if more than one candidate files to be on the state-run primary ballot. And if Republicans in the Silver state allocate delegates through a caucus process, then candidates will be drawn to that and not the primary anyway. If Nevada Republicans want a caucus, then they will have caucuses and caucuses alone. 

Folks in Florida should just go ahead and move the primary in the Sunshine state up to November or December sometime. If Florida Senator Rick Scott jumps into the race, then there is going to need to be some mechanism to winnow the field of candidates from the Sunshine state alone to see who among them can run in the remaining primaries. 

FHQ is kidding, of course, but four is a lot of Floridians potentially running for 2024. Yes, Scott has again denied that he is seeking the presidential nomination. But even if the consideration is real and a run ultimately is not, it all speaks to a certain level of continued tension in the informal Republican nomination process. It is not a breakdown, per se, but folks continue to enter the race (or consider entering it). And that is despite signals that the path would be narrow at best. Trump is formidable, but not that formidable and DeSantis is well-positioned. Together, the two capture around three-quarters of support out there in public opinion surveys. 

Still, there is enough uncertainty -- around Trump's legal issues and DeSantis's supposed stumbles in the early days of the campaign -- to fuel consideration of a run if not an official bid from others. And a big part of that is that there has not been a rush of elite level support for either main candidate. Elected officials and big donors not massing behind either Trump or DeSantis is one way to look at that. Another is that those same folks are quietly in search of alternatives behind the scenes, urging prospective candidates to run. This seems to have been the case with Chris Sununu. He was going to run. Until he was not. And part of the story that made it look like Sununu was going to join the field was that he was receiving positive feedback on the possibility of a bid. However, the New Hampshire governor overrode those signals and remained on the sidelines. 

It could be that Rick Scott sees a path. But it could also be that he is also hearing from folks who are encouraging a run. Normally, a party might collectively try to tamp down on that. The signals, for example, may discourage bids when two main candidates are seemingly sucking up most of the oxygen in a race. But the 2024 Republican invisible primary is not normal. There is a certain cacophony to it all that makes reading the signals tougher for prospective candidates. 

Or it makes it easy to choose the signals that those prospective candidates want to hear

From around the invisible primary...
  • Will Hurd just launched his presidential bid. The former Texas congressman may not be the longest of long shots currently in the race, but his odds of making the debate stage, much less succeeding beyond that, are slim. So it was maybe a surprise that right out of the gate on day one Hurd essentially sealed his fate on participating in any upcoming debate. He has refused to the sign the RNC pledge to support the eventual nominee. 
  • The Tampa Bay Times has a retrospective look at the first month of the DeSantis campaign.
  • Who does not love a good diner campaign story? Steven Porter at The Boston Globe sizes up the vocal Trump critics in New Hampshire from the Red Arrow Diner. 

On this date... 2003, and with nary a scream, Vermont Governor Howard Dean officially launched his bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. 2019, former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak joined an already huge field of Democrats seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. 2020, Kentucky and New York held pandemic delayed presidential primaries.


Friday, June 9, 2023

Legislative Inaction Struck a Blow Against a Primary Move in Connecticut, but the effort may not be dead

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 effort to move the Connecticut presidential primary to early April may have failed earlier this week, but bills to move a couple of other states' primaries advanced on Thursday. 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 Associate Press account of how it came to pass that a Connecticut presidential primary bill was left to die in the state Senate Wednesday night before the legislature adjourned left a lot to be desired: 
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said in a statement that “unfortunately the bill had some opposition in the chamber and we didn’t have time to debate the bill and pass it.” 
Legislative records show the House of Representatives voted unanimously for the bill at 11:07 p.m., sending it to the Senate. Both the House and Senate adjourned at the midnight deadline.
First of all, the House passed HB 6908, the bill that would have shifted the presidential primary in the Nutmeg state up to April 2, at 11:07pm on Friday, June 2. That the state Senate was made to consider the bill at the last minute was not due to the lower chamber. It was all on the state Senate. And that body did not take up the presidential primary measure because a filibuster on an unrelated bill ate up much of the day on Wednesday before the legislature was constitutionally mandated to adjourn at midnight. 

Second, it is not at all clear whether the primary move was what helped keep the legislation on the back burner in the Senate. The primary date change was not the only provision in the bill. And it certainly was not controversial. Both parties in the state backed the change. What was problematic in the bill was a tweak to how minor parties file for ballot access. That got pushback in committee and drew an amendment before passing the House. That change may have driven some of the opposition on the Senate side.

That likely closes the door on the prospect of a presidential primary move in Connecticut in time for 2024. But the leaders of both major parties in the state stuck their foot in the door to leave open the possibility:
"Moving the Presidential Primary Election from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday would have allowed Connecticut to join several other New England states, including New York, bringing more candidates, visibility and business to our state, and giving Connecticut voters a greater voice in their party’s Presidential nominee," the statement read. 
Both leaders added that they would continue discussions with lawmakers and the governor's office to "find a way to pass this legislation.”
Maybe a special session? Connecticut would not be the only state where legislative inaction  this year killed a primary (move) only to trigger calls for a special session

But here is the thing. When Connecticut moved to April from February for the 2012 cycle, the legislature in the Nutmeg state did not do what others joining the northeast/mid-Atlantic subregional primary that has been around in some form since that time. While others moved their primaries to the fourth Tuesday in April, Connecticut landed on the last Tuesday in April. Typically, that will not matter in most cycles. But most cycles are not like 2024, when April will have five Tuesdays. That difference already had the Connecticut presidential primary on a different date from the rest for next year. 

All the state legislative inaction does now is keep the primary there, alone as it would have been whether the other states moved or not. And it could all work out in the end. If the competitive phase of the Republican race stretches beyond April 2 when Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and maybe Pennsylvania hold their primaries, then Connecticut would be poised to gain a lot of attention from the candidates as the next contest in the sequence with a nice four week long lead in. That is not a bad place to be. Think Pennsylvania, 2008. Sure, it is a gamble that things will last that long -- a lot of delegates will have been allocated by that point -- but it would be better under that scenario than in one where Connecticut shares the limelight with up to five other states. 

FHQ commented on Pat Robertson's impact on the way in which some candidates have subsequently approached the delegate game in the Republican presidential nomination process. Chris Baylor pursued a similar line, adding to that picture in a fantastic deep dive on Robertson's grassroots political efforts in 1988 and beyond. It is a good one. 

Jonathan Bernstein looks at why candidates are still getting into the Republican presidential nomination race despite the fact that Trump and DeSantis are collectively pulling in around three-quarters of the polling support at the moment. Not to channel James Carville too much, but it is the uncertainty, stupid. Trump has some baggage and DeSantis has not closed the door. But Bernstein's note on winnowing bears repeating: the field may be growing now, but the process will exhaust the field in due time as winnowing kicks into full force.

In the endorsement primary, President Biden got the nod from the Laborers' International Union of North America, a construction workers union.

On this date... 1987, Delaware Senator Joe Biden entered the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. 1992, President George H.W. Bush won the North Dakota Republican primary. The beauty contest Democratic presidential primary was won by Ross Perot, a victory that was disputed by Lyndon LaRouche. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, won had won the March caucuses on which delegate allocation was based, came in a distant fifth in the primary, all on write-in votes. 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden won the pandemic-delayed primaries in Georgia and West Virginia.


Monday, April 17, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- The Winnowing of the Republican Field

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

The Republican presidential nomination field winnowed a bit as the work week came to a close last Friday. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R), in a solid Friday news dump with most folks focused on Republicans gathered at the NRA in Indianapolis and/or with big donors in Nashville, revealed that he would not present himself as a candidate to become President of the United States

Only, Pompeo did "present" himself. As FHQ noted after the news broke, Pompeo "kicked the tires, did some of the things presidential candidates do, but ultimately passed." And he did. Pompeo released a book earlier this year. He made several trips to Iowa. He visited New Hampshire. South Carolina, too. He even dropped in on Nevada. He bought digital ads targeted at Iowa and South Carolina. He also started a political action committee with the express purpose of helping to elect Republicans. All of this -- each and every activity -- is consistent with the actions of those who seek a presidential nomination. 

Pompeo ran for 2024, but he will not be running in 2024. He did all of that, but it never attracted donors or other support, at least not to the extent the other candidates, announced and supposedly in waiting, have at this point. And that is how winnowing works in the invisible primary. It is not about votes and delegates. It is about building the infrastructure to set one up to actually go and win votes and delegates. Pompeo reached the conclusion that his infrastructure building was not going to be enough. And that winnowed the Republican field for 2024.

[Matt Glassman also had a good thread on this subject on Saturday.]

The New York Times lede to this story about Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) pumping the brakes on a possible presidential bid was something: 
Virginia’s governor is putting the presidential hoopla on ice.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican whose surprising election in a blue-trending state set off instant talk of a presidential run, has tapped the brakes on 2024, telling advisers and donors that his sole focus is on Virginia’s legislative elections in the fall.

Mr. Youngkin hopes to flip the state legislature to a Republican majority. That could earn him a closer look from rank-and-file Republicans across the country, who so far have been indifferent to the presidential chatter surrounding him in the news media, and among heavyweight donors he would need to keep pace alongside more prominent candidates. He has yet to crack 1 percent in polls about the potential Republican field.
[emphasis FHQ's]

As noted there, Youngkin's move is a nod to reality. But waiting until after November? Yeah, that dog won't hunt. Maybe in 1984. Not in 2024. Probably not in 2004. But there simply is no substitute for getting into a race and taking your lumps: making and recovering from early missteps, honing the fundraising and campaign operations, etc. Candidates can no longer wait until the fall of the year before a presidential election to officially launch a presidential campaign. Well, they can, but it leaves such a steep hill to climb, a nearly insurmountable learning curve to overcome right before voters start voting in presidential primaries, as to be nearly impossible. 

And in fairness to Youngkin. He would not necessarily be starting from scratch in every facet of a campaign. He has been on the donor circuit across the country so far this year. But like Pompeo above, he has not gotten the positive feedback he maybe otherwise would have wanted. And donors have not exactly gotten the best impression of Youngkin either.

But waiting is not the answer. Youngkin, like all of the other candidates not named Trump or DeSantis, is hoping that things fall in his lap. That the indictments get Trump. That DeSantis implodes. That the two candidates currently atop the polls of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race so drag each other through the mud that voters start to flock to another viable alternative on down the line. Maybe that opens up a path. And maybe it does, but it takes a lot of steps to get there, steps that have yet to really materialize six months ahead of November. 

Some of the early FEC reports are in from the first quarter. The tap still seems to be running in the money primary. The indictments have not hurt Trump yet and Nikki Haley apparently had some creative accounting to get to her $11 million total.

Over at FHQ Plus...
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On this date... 1980, Idaho Democrats conducted caucuses and Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL) withdrew from the race for the Republican presidential nomination. 2020, the vote-by-mail Wyoming Democratic caucuses came to a close with Joe Biden on top. 


Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Chaos Theory of Republican Presidential Nominations Under an Iron-Fisted RNC

Steven Rosenfeld had an interesting delegate selection rules/process piece up at Salon/AlterNet last week. He reached out to FHQ to discuss those rules and their implications for the RNC and Donald Trump, but unfortunately we never were able to connect. While I wish that hadn't been the case, I do think that both Richard Berg-Andersson and Tony Roza from the Green Papers, nonetheless, pretty closely captured a number of items I would have raised.

Still, FHQ has some comments in reaction to Rosenfeld's piece.

First, the rigging frame -- that the RNC will engineer the state-level delegate selection rules in such a way as to prevent a Donald Trump nomination -- is not consistent with what we know about how the presidential nomination process operates. The Republican National Convention adopted the 2016 national delegate selection rules at the 2012 convention in Tampa. It tweaked them slightly in the time between the convention and August 2014; readopting a proportionality requirement affecting a smaller calendar window, revising the language empowering the national party to enforce the new binding requirement that came out of Tampa and adding a rule to limit the number of primary debates among others.

A majority of the convention passed the 2016 rules, and the changes made in the time since had to garner majority support at the RNC Rules Committee stage before passing a three-quarters supermajority threshold before the full 168 member RNC in order to be implemented. And while there were voices in dissent at every checkpoint -- be it at the convention or any of the seasonal meetings the RNC holds -- the so-called establishment position won each time. And, in the case of the changes made outside of the convention, those changes achieved near consensus-level support from the members of the Republican National Committee.1

Those are not rigged results. In actuality, they are consensus-built national party delegate selection rules. The parties on both sides of the aisle often fight this last war; drafting rules consistent with those already in place, but that troubleshoot the problems that existed in the previous cycle(s).2 Again, that is not rigging. That is crafting rules in a context where different people from state parties all over the country have different views on what the rules should be; what the goals of the party and the nomination process should be. In other words, these rules are the product of politics. That process has yielded a pretty clear signal to this point: despite the diversity of opinion among members, the 168 members of the RNC have been pretty unified on the matter of the 2016 delegate selection rules. That is not to suggest that there is not dissent, but that, to the extent it exists, it has been minimal.

But Rosenfeld is not really talking about the RNC influencing the national rules of the nomination process. Instead, he is picking up on and advancing UT-Austin law professor Sanford Levison's wild theory that the Republican National Committee will massage state-level delegate allocation rules -- whether winner-take-all, proportional or some method in between the two extremes -- to derail Donald Trump's candidacy. This notion is ridiculous for a number of inter-related reasons.

First, state parties make the decisions on how delegates to the national convention will be allocated to particular candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. This does not mean that those state parties are not open to influence from the national party, but that task is and would be quite difficult. In other words, it is much easier said than done. The national parties themselves are somewhat decentralized as already described, but the state party executive and state central committees that vote on and thus choose the rules that will govern the state-level delegate allocation processes are another layer of decentralization altogether. If there is a diversity of views within the national party, then there are even more opinions involved when more people -- in the form of state party executive committees and state central committees -- are invited into the process. Additionally, there is variation on this from state to state. Some states are more aligned with the positions of the RNC than others.

But keep in mind also that state parties are like the national parties in one important respect. Since, they too are decentralized to some degree and are balancing a varying multitude of views, state parties often are plagued by the same politics with which national parties can be afflicted. Given a political environment, parties -- whether state or national -- often take the path of least resistance. Like the national parties, state parties tend to carry over the same delegate selection rules from the previous cycle. That can be a function of either majority agreement that those are the best rules or that disagreement within the state party over the rules means that the status quo position (the same rules from the last cycle) prevails. The one exception is when the national party requires a rules change (but FHQ will come back to that momentarily).

The presidential nomination process is all a huge instance of party coordination in a decentralized environment. That alone speaks volumes about how mismatched the Levinson hypothesis is with how this all actually works. But there is more to this presidential nomination coordination problem than decentralization. That hovers over the entire process, but does not provide an adequate picture of how off Levinson's view is.

One other factor that ought to be included is how the Republican National Committee approaches or has historically approached the regulation of state-level delegate selection rules in the modern era of presidential nominations. They have tended to be very hands-off; allowing states to devise rules that are tailor-made for that state. In that way, it is consistent with national party's general adherence to the notion of limited (federal) government. State and local interests/parties are better able to make those decisions than the national party.

Over time, however, the RNC has become slightly more hands-on in its dealings with state party-devised delegate selection rules. Those cases have tended to be in response to state-level abuses of the national party guidelines -- the national party delegate selection rules. Again, this fits in with the idea that the national parties are often fighting the last battle, the one from four years prior. It is all cyclical: national parties set rules, states react (either following or breaking the rules), national parties react to those abuses. And on and on the cycle goes.

In both parties, there have been problems during recent cycles in dealing with the handful of states that have chosen to hold either primaries or caucuses outside of the national party-designated window. Those states have gone too early. But in those cases, the national parties have tended to deal with those problems between cycles rather than within them. The one exception is that the DNC affords its Rules and Bylaws Committee the option of increasing the (50%) penalty on states that go too early. That is intended to create some additional leverage that can be used against states before the actual voting begins. But the RNC has no similar ability. It can only make rules changes between cycles.

And even if the national party did have that ability, getting state governments to respond is another matter. This is another way in which the process is decentralized. In the majority of states, the delegate selection/allocation process is filtered through a primary election. And in most of those states it is the state government -- not the state party -- that is making the decision on when the primary will be held.3 The state party has limited say in that process. The national party has limited say in that process. Yes, the state party has the final say in whether they opt into a primary or foot the bill for a caucus themselves. But those state parties have incentive to choose the cheaper option, the primary.

The fact that Florida, Michigan and Arizona broke the RNC rules on timing during the 2012 cycles should tell us something about exactly how much power and influence the national party over the states.

The final problematic factor in the Levinson hypothesis is something he basically points out. The incentives of wading into the patchwork of state-level rules are not clear.
There are risks for an anti-Trump GOP establishment with either approach. Pushing more states into the proportional representation camp lengthens the race to accumulating 1,236 delegates. But that “would presumably assure Trump of getting some significant number of delegates, assuming he hasn’t flamed out,” Levinson said. However, pushing more winner-take-all states “obviously is a greater roll of the dice.”
If a national party is coordinating this process, even if only loosely, it is likely not inclined to "push" states to have either winner-take-all or proportional rules. The field of candidates will winnow over time, but how it winnows and importantly when it winnows are unknown factors at this point. That those are unknowns now makes it increasingly difficult for a national party -- or a state party setting their own rules for that matter -- to effectively and exactly make rules across a series of states that will definitively advantage (or disadvantage) one candidate or one type of candidate. The parties at all levels are wary of unintended consequences and this is one area -- state-level rules making -- that can produce them quite quickly.

Now, the RNC may attempt to influence state parties' delegate selection plans, but their rate of success there is likely to be mixed at best. It is not that the national parties are not powerful. They are. But they are also limited in how they can respond to states. As Tony Roza points out in Rosenfeld's article, the state parties submit plans to the RNC and the RNC green lights those plans or rejects them. [The same is true for Democrats, though the sequence of submission and approval/rejection is frontloaded.] While that potentially provides an opportunity for the RNC to massage state-level delegate allocation rules, the party does not tend to handle these matters that way. First, there is no evidence that the RNC does anything other than give a thumbs up to these plans. Faced with a Florida plan in 2011 that called for both a non-compliant primary date and non-compliant allocation formula (winner-take-all in the proportionality window), the RNC, nonetheless gave a thumbs up to the plan. And that was an instance where the party had national level rules (penalties) in its favor, backing it up. There was a violation. Additionally, when the RNC considered increasing the penalties on rogue states in the late summer of 2011, it opted not to.

Most of the state party rules are publicly available, and most of them follow closely the rules of four years ago. There are exceptions, but collectively the picture of the rules that are public sets a baseline now for us to look back on later in the year when the RNC has approved and thus finalized the state-level rules. We will know then whether the RNC has in fact massaged the rules. Chances are pretty good that the national party will leave well enough alone. If it pressed forward with such an intervention, word would get out and that would further stir up the hornet's nest of discontent that is already brewing, for the time being propping up (in the polls anyway) outsider candidacies like Trump's. The RNC does not want that kind of backlash, and besides does not operate with that kind of iron fist anyway. They might intervene on matters like who participates in primary debates (i.e.: no more kiddie table debates, an increasing threshold of support for participating in those debates or a decreasing number qualify over time American Idol-style, etc.), and while that is important, it speaks to how limited the RNC is in controlling the process. The national parties really only seek to facilitate or manage the presidential nomination process.

The second comment-worthy item in Rosenfeld's piece concerns the Haugland-driven, rules-based chaos theory of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process. If one works hard enough, it can be tied in with the delegate allocation discussion above, but in practice, it makes for a Frankenstein's monster of an article when bringing the two parts together. The article really seems little more than an attempt to shed some light on a couple of fringe hypotheses, Levinson's and Haugland's.

By FHQ's count this is at least the third vehicle for Haugland's Rule 40-based chaos theory; following Dave Catanese's and Reid Wilson's lead. The premise is basically this:
  1. There are now 15 candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.
  2. RNC rules require a candidate or candidates to hold a majority of delegates in at least eight state delegations at the national convention in Cleveland.
  3. RNC rules require states with contests during the first two weeks of March to proportionally allocate their delegates to candidates based on the results of their primaries and caucuses.
  4. There are likely to be between 20 and 25 states that hold contests in those two weeks (March 1-14).
  5. Together, all of the above in combination make it less likely that any candidate gets to the level of majority control of eight delegations.
  6. Brokered convention!
Yeah, maybe. But in reality, this hypothesis is the victim of overanalyzing the rules and underanalyzing some of the regular patterns of the presidential nomination process in the post-reform era. Stated differently, it puts the cart before the horse.

2016 could be different. It could also be that it falls into the regular winnowing pattern that tends to mark these processes. That is one element that is common to each of these pieces: They emphasize the chaos because it makes for a better story than "the field will winnow and there will be a ho-hum pep rally of a convention that gives way to the general election phase of the campaign". There are reasons to believe that the 2016 Republican field of presidential candidates will winnow in ways similar to most of the rest of them since 1972.

First, as Catanese mentions, states whose contests fall in the proportionality window have the option of putting in place thresholds (of the vote) that candidates have to meet in order to win delegates at the statewide and congressional district levels. Proportionality window states can set that threshold as high as 20%. On the surface, that minimum threshold is intended to limit the number of candidates who emerge with delegates bound to them from a given state. That is even true in the scenarios where no candidates reach the threshold (the top two candidates win the delegates) or only one candidate receives 20% or whatever the threshold is set to (in most cases, either that candidate gets all of the district/statewide delegates or that candidate shares those delegates with the district/state runner-up). Most of the SEC primary states fit this category.

That is going to have the likely effect of creating at least two classes of candidates: those with delegates and those that have none or very few. That latter category will face increasing pressure in a sequential process to put up or shut; to win contests and/or delegates or drop out. Yes, that is true even with super PACs. Donations to and spending from those groups is going to becoming increasingly results-driven as the process continues. That goes for the remainder of the invisible primary phase (increase your poll numbers or get out) as well as when the process moves from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina and onward (win delegates or get out). Neither super PACs nor voters are going to be drawn to candidates who have only demonstrated that they cannot move up the polls or win contests/delegates. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon typical of the sequential presidential nomination process.

But what if the winnowing only occurs to a certain point, leaving four or three or two candidates? Actually, it is likely that the field shrinks after the February contests and continues in March/April until it is down to two candidates.

But why?

It is tempting to say that that the above threshold is like the electoral process in a parliamentary system, the membership of which is dependent upon a system of proportional representation. Those systems have thresholds too. Duverger's law would tell us that that type of system would end up with multiple parties in the governing coalition even with a minimum threshold for gaining seats in the parliament. Why would the Republican presidential process with thresholds for delegates be any different? Why would it not produce a stable group of multiple (and not just two) candidates?

The answer lies in the fact that the presidential nomination processes for both major parties in the United States are actually 50(+) contests that are happening in a sequence, rather than just one vote in the parliamentary example. Each step in the sequence gives onlookers -- voters, donors, super PACs, the candidates and their campaigns -- an opportunity to revisit the tally, the score in the horse race. Those opportunities -- those chances to reflect on how the process is progressing -- means that there are constantly points where the collective process is separating the wheat from the chaff.

But some may ask, if you are a candidate who has a fair number of delegates, why would you drop out and give up any leverage at a convention that may not be a coronation for a presumptive nominee? Why would you free up delegates -- your own -- to have no choice but to gravitate toward that presumptive nominee? This is the heart of the Haugland argument: if there's chaos, don't give up your delegates/leverage. That is why his comments are often peppered with statements like his intention to educate delegates on their responsibilities.

But there are a couple of reasons why candidates might and, in fact, very often do give up that leverage and release their delegates. First, like Scott Walker, they reason that there is no utility to be gained by continuing the fight. There is nothing to be won and plenty to be lost. Now, not all of the candidates fit that category. In fact, one could easily foresee candidates like Donald Trump or, say, Ted Cruz completely ignoring that Walkerian rationale and fighting on if they have delegates.4 The rest of the field is likely more pragmatic; willing to play the Boehner role and drop out for the good of the party and its chances of winning the general election.5

And that brings us to the second reason Republican candidates may feel compelled to bow out in favor of another better positioned (in primary season) candidate: Hillary Clinton. Well, not Hillary Clinton, per se, but how the Democratic presidential nomination process is going by comparison. If the advantages Clinton has in polling, fundraising and in party endorsements collectively translate into votes throughout presidential primary season, then the Democratic process will reach its natural conclusion more quickly. That comparison is important. If Republican voters, super PACs, donors and/or the campaigns feel like that gives any advantage (real or imagined) to the Democratic candidate, then some herding toward a resolution -- a candidate -- is the likely result. There would at the very least be some pressure to hasten the ultimate resolution. That pressure is exerted formally and informally on the candidates; for them to drop out and release their delegates in order for the party to focus on the general election task at hand.

Chaos theory proponents will point toward 1976 and the contested nomination battle that cycle. Of course, that was a nomination race shaped by a much different set of conditions. It was the first Republican nomination race under the new-to-them, Democratic Party-triggered nomination system where winning primaries affected who attended the conventions and thus who won the nomination. In other words, the Republican Party was new to the process and had not adapted to it in the way that it has in the intervening 40 years. 1976 was also a year in which Republicans only ever had two options: status quo (Ford) or outsider (Reagan). A bigger field in 2016 means more instability, but it also means that there will be a winnowing process that, in combination with the delegate allocation rules, may give an advantage to one candidate that is difficult for any other candidate to overcome, if there is significant competition to become the alternative to that frontrunner. Any delay in that secondary jockeying is a win for a front-running candidate.

Out of chaos may come order, but the type of chaos that the adherents of this theory describe is not likely to produce any of the order they desire until after 2016. And when there are presidential elections only once every four years, that means putting it off until 2020. And actually, that may be the goal of this: to hope for chaos that will yield if not a candidate that is acceptable to the chaos theory proponents, then enough mayhem to force some changes to the rules of the game.

Hey, it worked for Democrats in 1968. Chaos gave way to a new system of nominating presidential candidates. FHQ is not sure how much order they got out of that, though. At best it had a delayed impact.

1 And to be clear, these members are not stooges installed by the national party to do their bidding. These are the state party chair and the Republican National Committeeman and National Committeewoman from each of the 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and the territories. Each of the three members that form the state delegation to the Republican National Committee are elected at the state level by the members of the state party. That leaves a diversity of different voices to form the core of the national party.

2 This is less manufacturing than it is carrying over the rules from previous cycles and augmenting them in ways to prevent the problems of the past. To build consensus, the path of least resistance is to take what already exists and tweak it. That often leads to the type of contradictions that North Dakota Republican National Committeeman, Curly Haugland, mentions later in Rosenfeld's piece.

3 Party-in-state-government is not necessarily the same as the state party. The goals of the individuals involved in each are institutionally different and even absent those differences, the groups can be completely different in make up.

4 Both are in a similar space and are unlikely to continue going on together against, for example, one alternative "establishment" candidate.

5 Some of the candidates in the 2016 field have already had experience dropping out in the past. See Huckabee and Santorum.