Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts on Where the 2016 Presidential Primary Rules Stand, Part Three

Future Changes to the Rules

Having set the baseline of 2016 delegate selection rules for both parties and having examined the pressing divides between those -- Democratic and Republican -- baselines, FHQ will now turn its sights in part three of this series on the possibility of change and what shape those changes may take.

[NOTE: Some of what follows relies on the reader being familiar with the discussions in the first two parts to this series of posts.]

The question of change to the national party rules guiding the 2016 delegate selection process in two competitive presidential nomination races is first dependent on a couple of things. The first is rules-based: Do each of the parties have the ability to alter their respective rules? The second is one of timing: When can rules changes be made?

As we have already described in some detail the rules that came out of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, FHQ will start there. Obviously, no major changes came out of the RNC winter meetings in Charlotte in January. But FHQ does not know that there was any widespread expectation of altering the rules at that meeting anyway. Rule 12 of the 2012 Rules of the Republican Party -- the rules that will govern the 2016 process -- give the RNC the latitude to make amendments to the rules between conventions; something that did not happen before the 2012 cycle. Again, as FHQ highlighted in the previous post, the bar is pretty high for changing the rules (a majority vote on the Rules Committee and a three-quarters vote among the full RNC membership). Whether the rules change or not, we can say that it takes the full RNC to make any changes which means that said changes will only occur at the regular meetings of the RNC. The group meets at least three times a year in accordance with Rule 8 and we furthermore know that the deadline for making changes is September 30, 2014. We can surmise for that that there are approximately four or five more RNC meetings before that time.

The DNC set up is similar, though there is less guidance in the party's bylaws about what constitutes a winning coalition on any amendment before either the Rules and Bylaws Committee or the full Democratic National Committee. [One would assume a simple majority is sufficient.] The DNC does meet at least two times a year according to Article II, Section 7 of the party bylaws.

Opportunities for change aside, the groundwork was laid in Charlotte to potentially make changes to the Republican rules at the spring meetings this week in Los Angeles. What that entails is a more difficult question to answer. Here also there are two matters to consider.

First, the Growth and Opportunity Project report has been released in the time since the RNC winter meeting. Now, as FHQ mentioned in reaction to the report, the provisions on the presidential nomination process contained deep in the document amounted to some rather sweeping changes to the delegate selection process. These are long-term and potentially controversial/divisive changes. And while there may be some discussion of the G.O.P. report during a lengthy Rules Committee meeting on the agenda for this afternoon, the debate and actual changes -- should any emerge from this gathering -- are likely to center on other matters.1

What other matters? Well...

The second consideration, and one that was deeply embedded in the groundwork laid for the LA meeting in January in Charlotte was about the rules handed down from the Tampa convention. FHQ does not think it will come as any surprise to those who either closely followed the 2012 Republican presidential primary process or the convention in Tampa (or both) that there were factions within the party did not like how the process had been conducted in the primaries (and caucuses) or how the future rules were crafted at the convention itself. The Paul faction -- part of which has gained some institutional footing within the RNC -- remains rather agitated over both.

But that faction remains just that: a faction. And it is not a majority faction within the Rules Committee or the RNC as a whole. Yet, the discontent over the rules that emerged from Tampa was something that stretched beyond just the Paul-aligned faction of delegates (and now RNC members). What that group seeks is a sort of retrogression to the rules package that was agreed to by the Rules Committee in meetings the week prior to the Tampa convention but ultimately altered by folks aligned with the Romney campaign. The face of those changes -- changes that were perceived as having centralized power over the nomination rules in the establishment wing of the party2 -- was Romney lawyer and DC national committeeman, Ben Ginsberg. And the ongoing effort to revert the rules to what they were prior to Tampa, as best voiced by Virginia national committeeman Morton Blackwell, has been called an effort to "de-Ginsberg" the rules.

Factoring in both of the above considerations creates a push and pull effect on the rules in their current form. The Growth and Opportunity Project report pushes for broader changes to the rules, well beyond where they stand now, while the de-Ginsberging effort would pull the rules back to basically what they were during the 2012 cycle. Now, FHQ should note that the latter is more of a micro-, inside baseball sort of battle (The fight is not necessarily small nor does it lack controversy or philosophical scope.3) while the former is more macro; a sweeping and potentially new philosophical approach to the nomination process that would entail and almost fundamental rewriting of the rules.

This push and pull does have an impact on the ways in and pace with which change is likely to occur at future RNC meetings. In the context of the meeting in LA this week, it means that the changes are likely to occur along the de-Ginsberg axis rather than on the Growth and Opportunity Project report axis. However, that movement (likelihood of change) is somewhat limited. Rule 12 allows amendments to rules 1-11 and 13-25, but none of the mostly convention-specific rules that are higher in number than 25. That means that the changes to Rule 40 would/could not be included in any amendments.4 But it also means that the delegate allocation and binding rules (and penalties) are on the table. Two things viewed negatively there are the Rule 16.A change that forces delegates to observe their binding during the nomination roll call or be forced to resign their position and the may/shall discrepancy (see part one)  in Rule 16.B.2 that seemingly eliminated the proportionality requirement established for the 2012 cycle.5

Those are not inconsequential changes, but they are the items that are likely to change (if any change is to occur) coming out of the ongoing RNC spring meeting.6

Thus far, FHQ has focused almost entirely on the Republican side of the equation. As has been mentioned previously, that is a function of the RNC actually having made some efforts in the area of 2016 rules. The Democrats have yet to begin their process and will not until later in the summer (2013) when the Rules and Bylaws Committee convenes. As such, the DNC is in a kind of "wait and see" mode. They are waiting to see what comes of the RNC process -- in the way of incremental or sweeping changes -- before making any definitive moves about the rules of their own 2016 process. FHQ mentioned in part two that there were no pressing issues -- no overt desire for any fundamental reform to the 2012 process -- that emerged from the RBC meeting following President Obama's inauguration. The expectation for future change to the Democratic Party delegate selection rules is almost entirely dependent upon what happens with the Republican process of reform. The DNC is currently in the position of reacting or adapting to any changes that come from the RNC.

While the Growth and Opportunity Project report recommends a series of rather big changes, many of them, as FHQ has pointed out, are not possible without Democratic Party buy-in. In other words, there cannot or will not be unilateral and significant change to the process without both parties on if not the same page, then at least in the same chapter. And even then it is difficult because of state party and state governmental interests in the process out of the national parties' control. Incremental change like those called for in Blackwell's de-Ginsberged rules and reaction/adaptation is more likely than G.O.P. report-type alterations to the rules.

1 FHQ would link to it, but it seems to have disappeared from the RNC website. When it was still up, the draft agenda showed a 1-5 or 6pm (Pacific) meeting of the Rules Committee.

2 See particularly the changes to Rule 40 (discussion in footnote here) but also the addition of Rule 12 (allows changes to be made outside of the convention) and Rule 16 (concerning delegate binding and allocation).

3 To say that the de-Ginsberging effort is not based on philosophical concerns is to suggest that a mobilized, grassroots part of the Republican Party is not seemingly against a more establishment part of the party. These are bottom-up versus top-down approaches, respectively.

4 The Rule 40 change in Tampa raised the bar for candidates to be placed into nomination at the convention from controlling five state delegations to eight delegations.

5 For a better idea of what is at stake in these de-Ginsberg proposals, here is a marked up/edited version of the current rules with de-Ginsberged substitutes. In addition to the Rule 16 changes, this motion also includes the removal of the Rule 17 loophole discussed in part two that would potentially invite some states to move into a last Tuesday in February primary or caucus (something that would conflict with Democratic Party rules regarding the calendar).

6 The other noteworthy discussion will be over Rule 12 itself. There is an open question as to how Rule 12 should be interpreted. At question is the amendment process. FHQ has discussed the thresholds for passing measures through the Rules Committee and then the full RNC, but there is some question as to whether amendments raised at one point could be amended at another. In particular, there is no guidance in the rules about whether an amendment that has passed the Rules Committee can be amended at the RNC stage of its consideration. See Matthew Hurtt's diary at RedState containing excerpts from an email correspondence from Morton Blackwell to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus for more.

Recent Posts:
Thoughts on Where the 2016 Presidential Primary Rules Stand, Part Two

Iowa/New Hampshire, Part ∞

Thoughts on the Growth and Opportunity Project Recommendations

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