Here we go: GOP mulls new primary system in 2020

Jazz hit this story earlier but I want to add a few thoughts. Remember the big push after 2012 to compress the primary schedule and reduce the number of debates, on the theory that that would help a well-financed establishment candidate win by denying an outsider insurgent like Ron Paul the time and opportunity needed to gain traction?

How’d that work out this year?

Only one thing is certain. Whatever they end up doing, it’ll backfire spectacularly.

In one possibility that members of the Republican National Committee have floated, the early voting states, also known as “carve-out states,” would retain their special status. But to bring more states into the process earlier, each would be paired with a nearby state that would vote on the same day. So Iowa would still hold the first contest in 2020, but on the same day as Minnesota. New Hampshire would vote next, but on the same day as Massachusetts. And the same-day pairings would change: In 2024, Iowa would be twinned with South Dakota, and New Hampshire with Maine…

Other changes under consideration include ones that would abolish the early state system as it now exists and replace it with a rotating set of states that would vote together based on a host of shared factors like population size and geography…

One of the most fraught discussions taking place inside the party is whether to restrict voting in presidential primaries and caucuses to registered Republicans. The impetus is the impending nomination of Mr. Trump, a former Democrat who holds some views that are far out of line with mainstream party orthodoxy…

“I think that’s probably the biggest discussion of all,” said Ron Kaufman, the Republican national committeeman from Massachusetts and a longtime party leader.

If any of the first four end up being culled it’ll probably be Nevada, which, being Nevada, is a shady mess. I don’t understand the logic, though, of pairing the other early states with sister states. I understand it in broad terms — the idea is to reduce any single state’s capacity to pick the nominee with a hugely influential early win (although that hasn’t happened for Iowa in a lo-o-ong time) — but if the point is to diversify, why not diversify geographically? Let Iowa, the midwestern bastion, and New Hampshire, the northeastern one, vote on the same day. Schedule a western Mormon red-state stronghold like Utah alongside the southern evangelical red-state stronghold of South Carolina. For added fun, move Ohio up to the same date that Florida votes, a swing-state twofer. (Er, actually, they voted on the same date this year, didn’t they? Still, move ’em up!) Any candidate who jumps out to a formidable early lead with a set-up like that will have earned it by demonstrating broad appeal to a lot of different Republican demographics. What’s to be gained by slating, say, Massachusetts on the same day as New Hampshire, allowing a candidate with niche appeal to northeastern GOPers to double his fun by winning two culturally similar states instead of one?

As for the eternal “open or closed primaries?” question, all anti-Trumpers are closed-primary fans after this year’s nightmare. But being anti-Trump isn’t an excuse to be anti-fact, and the facts (as best as anyone can tell right now) are that Trump didn’t win because of open primaries. Politico looked at that last week and discovered that the “new voters” Trump has brought into the party have … actually been in the party all along. They weren’t independents and Democrats crossing over in open primaries to vote for the “radical moderate,” they were longtime registered Republicans who’d typically skipped voting in the primaries but turned out this year for Trump. Data collected by Marco Rubio’s campaign and shared with Yahoo News supported that conclusion. If you could go back in time and close all of the primaries this year, you might very well have had the same outcome in terms of Trump being nominated. It’s a comforting and convenient fiction, I think, to go on believing that the Republican Party remains composed mostly of rock-ribbed conservatives and that Trump sailed through thanks only to a, er, “foreign” invasion. It may be the case that the Republican base, the sort of people who typically vote in primaries every four years, is largely conservative (or it may not, given his dominance in the south) but the entirety of the Republican Party obviously is not. Once the rest of the party, the people who usually tune out until the general election, finally had a candidate in Trump who spoke to their concerns more effectively than doctrinaire conservatives like Ted Cruz did, they showed up. Opening or closing the primaries isn’t going to solve that problem for conservative true believers, although closed primaries obviously make it easier for them.

If you’re wondering which way the party should tilt on this, though, here’s an ominous warning from Sean Trende that’s stayed with me since I first saw it a few weeks ago. Anti-Trump conservatives who think things can’t get worse forgot the first rule of pessimism: It can always get worse.

If there’s cause for concern, whether from a National Front-type Republican Party or a Syriza-style Democratic one (and to be clear, given the nature of our political system, both parties will likely remain more moderate than their European counterparts), it probably comes in 2020. Given the length of the business cycle, the probability of a recession during the next four years is extremely high, and many people have not recovered from the last one. The results of that could be catastrophic, depending on the severity of the downturn, and could convince more voters to try something radically different. A Supreme Court with a swing vote justice who is no longer a culturally cosmopolitan Republican who is reluctant, but willing, to utilize his power to push social change could continue the alienation of traditionalists from mainstream dialogue.

Odds are very good that the electorate will be more, not less, radicalized in four years than it is now, on both sides. If you’re looking to blunt that radicalization in the primaries, what’s your best bet? Letting independents in as a moderating influence on an increasingly nationalist Republican base? Or keeping the “radical center” out and letting a more dogmatically conservative Republican base have more influence over picking the nominee? It all depends on which way you think indies and GOPers are heading.

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