The Nomination

01.23.14

With New Primary Rules, RNC Panel Will Aid the Establishment in 2016

Maybe they did learn something in 2012. A GOP panel laid out an easier path for favored candidates, with a fast primary schedule and strict penalties for states that don’t fall in line.

By a voice vote, the rules committee of the Republican National Committee adopted a package Thursday designed to speed up the presidential-nomination process so that the GOP could be better able to defeat, in the words of RNC general counsel John Ryder, “she who must not named.”

The panel adopted a three-pronged proposal to lead to a consolidated and streamlined nomination process in 2016. The RNC reinforced that only four states would be allowed to hold nominating contests before the beginning of March—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada—by adding stringent penalties for states that might jump the gun. In 2012, states that held primary contests earlier than allowed lost half their delegates; the new rule mandates that they will be left with at most 12 delegates at the 2016 convention, a change that could cause states like Florida to lose more than 100 votes.

The change also shortens the process considerably, leaving most primaries to be held in a tight window between March 1 and late May, depending on the timing of the 2016 Republican National Convention. The new rule mandates that no primary can be held later than 45 days before the convention, which is expected to be held sometime between June 27 and July 18.  However, the rule provides some flexibility for states that are unable to change the timing of convention if Republicans do not control “the government authority” that makes the decision.

The other change made would make it easier for states to hold winner-take-all primaries. In 2012, any primary held before April 1 had to allocate delegates proportionally; the new RNC rule makes that period only two weeks, with states allowed to hold winner-take-all primaries after March 15. This is more important than it may seem because it only allows a two-week window where delegate contests have to be proportional. This stands in stark contrast in the drawn-out 2012 primary, which started with the Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 3.

Blackwell complained that these changes would make it easier for an establishment candidate to steamroll through the process. He was right; that was the point.

These rules passed relatively easily despite vociferous complaints from Morton Blackwell, a deeply conservative RNC committee member from Virginia and a perpetual gadfly at these events. Blackwell complained that these changes would make it harder for a grassroots candidate to catch fire and easier for an establishment candidate to steamroll through the process. He was right; that was the point.

The new rules, combined with changes made in Tampa in 2012 that bind delegates at precinct caucuses (and prohibit the convention process that Ron Paul in particular took advantage of in 2012), will make it easier for well-funded, well-known candidates to roll to victory during the shortened campaign season. While the 2012 Republican primary felt like trench warfare as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum slugged it out delegate by delegate, 2016 will likely be more like a World War II-style blitzkrieg. It makes it far more likely that the winning candidate will be one who is able to ride momentum and storm through a series of winner-take-all primaries held in short order.

Assuming these rules are adopted, which will require a three-fourths vote of the RNC on Friday, the first nominating contest of the 2016 GOP primary is still more than two years away. But at least potential candidates will have a clear sense of the battlefield and the obstacles they face to claim the Republican nomination.