To their credit, Republicans tried to bring some order out of chaos this year, devising a thoughtful plan that limited the length of the nominating season by delaying its start until Feb. 6. The GOP leadership also provided incentives, such as additional delegates at the August nominating convention, for states to pick later primary dates. As a result there are currently more primaries scheduled in April, May and June 2012 than any year since 1992.
Most states saw the wisdom in the new arrangement. It was fair to all candidates, giving the lesser-known ones time to raise money and gain recognition. The party’s voters had a rational, nicely paced schedule, so they could reconsider their choices as time went by and new information emerged. The goal is to pick a winner and a good potential president, after all. But then came Florida, willing to accept the penalties for breaking the rules—including halving its convention delegation—in order to get an early crack at settling the nomination.
Will the Republican National Committee enforce its own punitive rules once a nominee is selected? It’s doubtful, given the decisive role that Florida might play in the general election. The Sunshine State is also hosting the GOP convention, another complication…
A statute or constitutional amendment establishing a system of March-to-June regional primaries—with rotating order so that every state gets to be part of the first group every fourth election—would help. Even better, why not have the order of the regionals determined by lottery on New Year’s Day of the election year, so that candidates wouldn’t know until then where to begin their ground efforts? That would shorten the campaign season.