See update at the conclusion of the post.
In a letter to Texas state legislators, Republican National Committeeman for Texas and General Counsel to the Republican National Committee, Bill Crocker, again warned of the sanctions Lone Star state Republicans are facing by holding a March 6 presidential primary.1 Under the rules of the Republican Party of Texas, there is a winner-take-all element to the allocation of delegates, thus potentially making Texas Republicans vulnerable to the penalties laid out in the Rules of the Republican Party (Here's a link to a summary memo of these specific rules.). But that isn't the point Mr. Crocker is making. He treats the Texas Republican rules regarding the allocation of delegates as strictly winner-take-all. That, however, is somewhat misleading and as a result Mr. Crocker overstates his case in the letter.
Here is that segment of the letter in question:
Now, Mr. Crocker is absolutely correct on a couple of counts. First, Sections 8 and 9 of the General Rules for All Conventions and Meetings from the Republican Party of Texas state essentially what Mr. Crocker has already stated: at-large delegates are allocated on a winner-take-all basis if one candidate wins more than 50% of the statewide vote in the Texas primary and congressional district delegates are allocated in a similar fashion on the district-level vote (win more than 50% of the district vote, receive all the delegates). He is also right that any Republican contest scheduled prior to April 1 must allocated delegates proportionally. What is misleading though, is that the rules are not explained fully. That proportionality requirement, as FHQ highlighted in our original write-up concerning the memo from the RNC (link above), is not quite so strenuous in its application as some have interpreted.
For starters, the only delegate allocation that the proportionality requirement applies to is the allocation of at-large delegates. The winner-take-all allocation of congressional district delegates is fine then. But let's take a closer look at how the Texas allocation rules square with the RNC rules. Is there a problem? More importantly, if there is a problem is it as dire as the picture Mr. Crocker is painting?
FHQ's reading of the situation is that Texas is largely compliant with the RNC's delegate selection rules for 2012. The only issue is that if a candidate receives 50% or more of the vote in the Texas presidential primary on March 6, the winner-take-all provision in the Texas plan will be triggered. Is there a problem? Yes, but will it crush the Republican Party of Texas in terms of penalties? Only if one candidate surpasses the 50% mark in the vote total.
How likely is that, though?
If Mitt Romney reels off a winning streak in the early states, sweeping Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (and perhaps Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota should those states hold non-compliant February contests), the field may have been winnowed down to the point that "Mitt is inevitable" reality becomes, well, inevitable. That might have the effect of making Texas and all the other March and later contests largely meaningless -- merely ratifying the decisions of the earlier states. The margins of victory for the inevitable nominee would rise and likely, as was the case for John McCain in 2008, above 50%. Could that happen? Sure, it is still early enough that that possibility is still on the table. But it isn't the only possibility and it may not even be the most likely possibility.
What's more likely, at least in FHQ's estimation, is that some other candidate or candidates emerge(s) as the alternative to Romney in those early state contests. In other words, the extent to which the race remains competitive once the presidential primary sequence reaches Texas and the other March 6 (Super Tuesday) states will determine the likelihood of one candidate receiving 50% of the vote statewide and all of the Lone Star state's at-large delegates. 2008 isn't the only guide, but in the most competitive Super Tuesday states three years ago -- the big delegate prizes on February 5 -- few featured candidates who crossed the 50% barrier. Texas will be a delegate treasure trove on March 6, and will thus attract a great deal of candidate and media attention. That doesn't guarantee that Texas will be competitive, but it lends itself to that conclusion. So, maybe there was a reason Texas voters weren't terribly excited about the idea of Governor Rick Perry running for president: they didn't want a favorite son to make Texas less competitive and possibly cost the state's Republican delegation half of its members.
At this juncture, FHQ would say that Texas is safe; not completely safe from sanctions, mind you, but safe relative to the doomsday scenario Mr. Crocker describes in his letter. Now, I want to be clear that I'm not trying to be hard on Mr. Crocker. Faced with a choice between completely safe with an April 1 primary or mostly safe where Texas is currently scheduled, you'd probably opt for the former if you are within the party elite. But as general counsel for the RNC, Mr. Crocker should be clear in laying out what potentially faces the state party.
Update: As Mystery Politico rightly points out in the comments section below, there is a minimum threshold that a state party can set whereby all the delegates from a state are allocated on a winner-take-all basis (see Section III.v in the memo linked above). As long as a state sets a minimum threshold no lower than 50%, the proportionality requirement is completely negated. If a state, then, sets a 50% threshold and a candidate receives 50% of the vote, that candidate could walk away with all of the delegates from the state.
...even in a contest prior to April 1. As I said in the comments, I'm as guilty as Bill Crocker in overstating the severity of the problem. There is no problem. Texas is fine with their plan as it currently stands. What's most troubling is that the general counsel for the RNC did not know this.
1 Mr. Crocker made a similar point in stressing the importance of a shift to April in testimony to the House Defense and Veterans' Affairs Committee concerning HB 111 this past April.