Look, the optics of this are bad. Rightly or wrongly, the decision by the Michigan Republican Party to allocate its two at-large delegates winner-take-all will get lumped in with the "one winner, then another" Iowa caucuses, the "let's count this precinct, but not this one" Maine caucuses and the painfully slow Nevada vote tabulation. They are all matters that make the state parties look incompetent and/or as if the process is or was being "pushed" toward a specific outcome. At its best, this is just a series of bad coincidences, but at its worst it gives the perception that the process is rigged. And that's dangerous territory. It is that very type of thing that can very quickly push this from a competitive race to a divisive one, pitting factions of the party against each other. Again, can. When the argument is one candidate or another, that's one thing. But if the argument is one candidate or another and there's an element of unfairness, it has a way a elevating the tension within a political party at all levels.
And it isn't like this is a foreign concept. The Democratic nomination race in 2008 was rife with this vein of discussion. There was a reason the Democratic Change Commission reexamined the caucus rules in 2009-10 and attempted to develop a uniform "best practices" for how to conduct caucuses. It was because the Clinton campaign cried foul that the Obama campaign was exploiting -- well within the rules -- the rules structure in caucus states to win more delegates. That the Obama campaign could turnout enough supporters in ruby red Idaho, for instance, and run up the score -- both in votes and how those votes translated to and rounded up to delegates -- while Clinton focused on big delegate prizes like California which yielded little in the way of anything resembling a big delegate margin was eye-opening.
...but it was within the rules.
And to be clear, what happened in Iowa was within the rules. The Republican Party of Iowa just messed up in calling it for Mitt Romney. What happened in Nevada was within the rules. Sure, it took Nevada Republicans an eternity to count a relatively small number of votes, but as FHQ argued at the time, after Iowa, wouldn't you -- as a party -- rather be safe than sorry. What happened in Maine was within the rules. The party defined when caucuses should be held and that if you were late and outside of that window, the votes would not be counted in the non-binding straw poll. The Maine Republican Party stuck to that.
But this Michigan situation is different. Since the party and its delegation to the Tampa convention were penalized for holding the primary too early, the party had to revise its method of allocation to meet the reduced number of total delegates. That meant, as FHQ has explained, that each of the fourteen congressional districts were apportioned two delegates and that the remaining two delegates out of the 30 total delegates (after the penalty) were at-large. The regular rules -- unpenalized -- called for the congressional district delegates to be allocated winner-take-all based on the vote in each of the congressional districts. The plan the MIGOP adopted initially -- again, pre-penalty -- was to allocate at-large delegates proportionally to candidates who received over 15% of the statewide vote. But when the Michigan Republican Party State Committee met on February 4, they proposed, voted on and adopted a set of delegate allocation rules with language implying a winner-take-all allocation of those two at-large delegates.
Well, there you go. It is winner-take-all.
It is winner-take-all according to the language of the rule.1 But that is not apparently what the party was telling news organizations, informing the campaigns about in memorandum form or what the communications director told me. I can only relate to you what Mr. Frendewey told me when I called to clarify the allocation method for these two delegates. I approached the party with a simple question: Given that the RNC rules require and that the plan crafted by the Michigan Republican Party (and signed off on by the RNC) a proportional allocation of those at-large delegates, are those two delegates actually winner-take-all? Can they be proportional? Again, the February 4 rule is pretty clear. It more than implies the allocation method is winner-take-all. There is no mention of proportionality anywhere in the small list of five rules, but the response I got was that a proportional allocation of those two delegates was possible if the vote was close enough.
The vote on February 28 was close enough. For Mitt Romney to have gotten both delegates he would have had to have won over 75% of the statewide vote for the delegate allocation to round up to two delegates and have Santorum's allocation -- assuming his vote was over 25% -- round down to zero delegates. That was not how the statewide vote looked Tuesday night, though.
There is more than enough evidence to suggest that the party voted on and passed a winner-take-all plan for the at-large delegates but told enough outside parties that it was proportional -- or in my conversation with them, could be proportional -- that it appears at the very least misleading if not intentionally so. FHQ is not suggesting that there was any intent to mislead, but the Michigan Republican Party has some explaining to do beyond just saying it messed up in a memo.
Again, this is different than what has happened elsewhere, but at least in Iowa, Nevada and Maine, the parties laid out the rules and stuck to them. The Michigan Republican Party may have too, but they will have to find a way to reconcile the fact that the rule was written one way and several people told enough folks outside of the party that the actual allocation was different from that rule.
And all of this over one delegate.
1 The rule in question: "The statewide winner will receive two delegates (three, if you’re counting all the seated delegates)."
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