Preventing Another Runaway Primary

For its 2016 nomination process, the RNC has adopted several new rules intended to avoid an extended primary that ground up Romney in 2012 (but which ultimately helped Obama in 2008 following his marathon run against Clinton). Over to Weigel:

The new rules, as just approved, allow only four states to lead the first month of balloting: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. (The rules put these contests in February, but in previous years an arms race has ended up putting the contests at the front of January.) Florida will not jump into the first month.

What’s left? Any election (presidential preference caucus, primary) between March 1 and March 14 will operate under proportional representation. Any contest after March 14 can go proportional, or assign delegates on a winner-takes-all basis. Any state that defies these rules (or the timing rules) will lose one-third of all delegates, or nine elected delegates plus the normal three RNC member-delegates—whatever’s larger.

Ambers’ takeaway:

The end result is that the party has conspired to nominate the most electable conservative candidate and quickly. Challengers must prove themselves much earlier. Deep pockets and good field organizations will become more important relative to free media generated by tactical maneuvers and conservative radio hosts.

But not everyone in the party agrees that a shorter process is a good idea:

“Anytime you talk about limiting access and [debate] opportunities, it helps the frontrunner. It really makes me nervous,” said former Iowa Republican Party Political Director Craig Robinson, who is now editor in chief of the state party’s website. “There’s not much time to compete once you figure out who’s real or not. You don’t want to space it out so if you don’t win Iowa or New Hampshire, you don’t have a chance.”

Larison doubts the shorter schedule will have its intended effect:

Now that they are going back to a more compressed schedule, that greatly improves the chances of whoever fills that front-runner role ahead of the voting. This makes it much more likely that what could potentially be the most wide-open, competitive Republican nomination contest on record will be turned into a rapid coronation of whoever happens to be in the lead at the start. That will probably mean that the party will once again choose another relative moderate distrusted by large numbers of conservatives, and who will suffer from the same lack of enthusiasm that afflicted McCain and Romney.

Jonathan Bernstein thinks a shorter primary season makes a fringe candidate more likely, not less:

By compressing the calendar, you increase the danger that a mediocre or worse candidate could get hot at just the right time and wrap up the nomination before the party has time to stop it.

Drum downplays those fears but concedes that he could be unpleasantly surprised come 2016. His advice to both parties:

Make your primaries as similar to a general election as possible. That would mean, for example, ditching the Iowa caucuses, since the kind of retail politics that win in Iowa are irrelevant to success in November. What you want is a candidate that can raise lots of money; appeal to lots of people; and has a good media presence. That’s what wins general elections these days, and a successful primary season is one that gives the advantage to those qualities.

Cillizza theorizes that Rand Paul could benefit from the new rules:

The compression of the calendar and the likelihood that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will have February all to themselves makes coming out of those four states with some momentum all important. No potential candidate — up to and including Jeb Bush — is better positioned, at least at the moment, to run strong in all four states.

FHQ considers how the states are likely to react:

The bottom line for now is that the national parties are doing exactly what one would expect them to do. While they are still susceptible to rogue states, the national parties have gotten more sophisticated in their responses to them. The traditionally-exploited loopholes have largely been closed.

Want rogue states in 2016? Look at the usual suspects FHQ has been mentioning for months. It won’t be Florida. It’ll be Arizona, Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina. And start looking to the end of the calendar too. We may see some creative rogue states in 2016.