The rules committee that’s considering these changes does apparently contain some grassroots conservatives, but I … can’t shake the feeling that the new arrangement is designed to benefit establishment candidates more so than tea-party ones.
The good news: Fewer debates with later primaries is good for everyone’s sanity. The bad news: There’s no easier blog traffic than a lazy debate-night open thread. The big A’s loss is America’s gain, my friends.
Priebus and other top party figures have made no secret of their desire to scale back the number of debates, which offered little-known candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain a chance to shine but forced Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, to publicly stake out a number of conservative positions that came back to haunt him in the general election…
The first four early-voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — would continue to hold their contests in February.
To prevent other states from jumping the order and compelling the first four to move their dates even earlier as they did in 2012, any state that attempts to hold its nominating contest before March 1 would have their number of delegates to the convention slashed to just nine people or, in the case of smaller states, one-third of their delegation — whichever number is smaller…
Any state holding a primary or caucus during the first two weeks of March must award its delegates proportionally, rather than winner-take-all.
The measure is designed to prevent a candidate from catching fire in the early states and then riding a burst of momentum to winner-take-all victories in expensive, delegate-rich states such as Florida or Texas. The early March window would give underfunded, insurgent candidates a chance to prove their mettle.
A few reactions in no particular order. One: Moving the convention up seems all to the good for the reasons CNN specifies in the piece — namely, it’ll allow the nominee to start spending money on the general election months earlier than Romney was able to. (In an age where the parties’ war chests for presidential elections are essentially bottomless, there’s no fear of running out by starting the general election campaign too early.) It might also subtly discourage long primary campaigns, though. If there’s a frontrunner a la Romney and an underdog who’s hanging in there a la Santorum in, say, mid-March, how many fencesitters will tilt towards the former in the name of wrapping things up long before the convention so as to give the party time to heal and unify before the big pageant?
Two: Having fewer debates is, as noted, designed to reduce the risk of “electable” centrists being nudged into pandering to righty audiences by taking more conservative positions than they’d normally take. It’s also designed to limit the opportunities of less well-funded but debate-savvy grassroots contenders like Ted Cruz to take big chunks out of Chris Christie’s or Jeb Bush’s lead by dazzling the audience. But the trade-off for having fewer debates, I assume, is making sure that each debate counts more. That means grassroots righties will demand one or more debates moderated by other grassroots righties, be it conservative talk radio hosts, online activists, or leaders of tea-party groups. Seems to me the risk of a Christie or Bush being maneuvered into right-wing positions is greater at one or two debates like that than at six or eight moderated by CNN and NBC. If anything, the usual pressure on a moderator not to affect the outcome of a debate will be reversed in a case like that, with tea partiers wanting the moderator to call out Christie on gun control or Marco Rubio on immigration.
Three: Evidently the RNC is preparing harsh new rules to penalize a state if it defies the primary schedule and tries to move up its election. Florida typically does that, moving from March to February, which in turn forces Iowa and New Hampshire to move from February to January to retain their pride of place. Supposedly the RNC’s going to take away 90 percent of Florida’s delegates this time if they try that again. They also might dock delegates from any candidate who participates in a debate that’s not formally sanctioned by the RNC. Show of hands: Anyone think Reince Priebus and his team have the stones to declare Florida’s results effectively null and void just before a general election where that state might (again) decide the presidency? Anyone think they’re going to take away a third of, say, Ted Cruz’s delegates if he decides to participate in a debate sponsored by FreedomWorks? They’re paper tigers.
Four: The rules about early states awarding their delegates proportionally also look to me like a way to put the brakes on conservative upstarts more so than establishment faves. The centrists, as always, will likely be the best-funded candidates in the race; that means they can run a longer campaign, and the longer the campaign runs, the more chances they have for their money advantage to make the difference. The way for a tea-party insurgent to win would be to take Iowa, do surprisingly well in New Hampshire, and then rack up a boatload of delegates in the next few contests to create the impression of irresistible momentum. They can win a quick rout but a long slog would be tough. A winner-take-all system early on makes a quick rout easier. A proportional system makes it harder.
Bottom line: Come mid-2016, we’ll be desperately trying to talk ourselves into believing that Jeb Bush is the rock-ribbed conservative America’s been waiting for. Exit question: What if moving the convention up inspires the candidates to start campaigning even earlier than usual? Typically they don’t jump in and start traveling until a year before Iowa, but Rand Paul’s been hinting about running for a year already at least and Hillary will be eager to move quickly to clear the field of any lefty challengers. Could a blogger be so lucky as to have Campaign 2016 start a week or two after the midterms? Cross those fingers.