Thursday, May 23, 2013

Under Fire Again, Will Iowa Caucuses Remain First?

That's the question that Scott Conroy poses and explores in a deep dive over at Real Clear Politics:
The main criticisms of the caucuses have remained essentially the same over the last 37 years: the process is undemocratic (the majority of voters do not participate in it); it is inequitable for otherwise strong candidates who do not benefit from the parochial advantages inherent in Iowa’s electorate; and the rules and procedures surrounding the contest are arcane to just about anyone who’s not directly involved in the cottage industry that springs up every four years in a state where a would-be commander in chief who draws 20 people to the local Pizza Ranch is deemed to have staged a successful event. 
With a contested presidential campaign cycle looming for both parties in 2016, the preeminence of Iowa is facing a series of new challenges, however -- particularly on the Republican side. 
And while there may well be changes to some aspects of the process this time around, the caucuses appear all but certain to again kick off a presidential campaign..."
This is a fantastic read, but backloads the best reason for why Iowa will retain its first in the nation status in 2016: the national party delegate selection rules. It really is that simple.

Collectively, the rules now further entrench Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- the carve-out states -- at the beginning of the queue. Mind you, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has yet to take up the issue of the rules that will govern the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination process. However, the fact that the RBC did not commission a group -- as it usually does every four years -- to reexamine prior rules and recommend changes is telling. In other words, don't expect much of a change from the 2012 Democratic delegate selection rules. There may be some alterations, but those changes will not include any significant tweaking to rules that specifically define earlier positions for the four aforementioned states.1 The buffer each is given between its contest and the point at which the window opens for other non-exempt state contests (first Tuesday in March, presumably) may change, then, but little else.

Conroy mentions the changes to the Republican rules for 2016, but seemingly overstates the extent to which future changes between now and next summer may affect Iowa (or the other three carve-out states) in the next round of presidential nominations. As of now, the four carve-out states under the new RNC rules have a window of time a full month ahead of the next earliest delegate selection event to schedule their nominating contests. Since Missouri failed to move its presidential primary to a later date during the recently adjourned 2013 state legislative session, the Show Me state's February 2, 2016 primary is the next earliest contest. That gives the carve-out states -- including Iowa -- even more scheduling power than the 2012 rules. The previous iteration carved out February for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina without accounting for the potential for non-carve-out states to push into that window of time.

Now, Conroy does bring up the new binding mechanism that will now affect all states with no further loopholes for caucuses (like Iowa has exploited during the last two cycles) and the possibility of additional rules changes before the rules have to be finalized in the summer of 2014.2 That is an important point. The binding rule will add a new layer to the Iowa process, but even if Hawkeye state Republicans do not comply, the RNC has provided itself with some cover at the convention with the new Rule 16.A.1 to record delegate votes in a way that reflects the results at the statewide level (in Iowa's case, the precinct caucuses).

As for future changes, well, removing Iowa or any of the other carve-outs from their respective perches will be very difficult task. Look no further than the deliberations over the rules at the RNC spring meeting in April. Any change has to pass with a 50% vote in the Rules Committee and 75% vote among the full RNC membership to be instituted. That is a high bar. And when there is no near consensus behind an idea like stripping the carve-out states of their positions, it becomes even higher. Yes, the Growth and Opportunity Project report seemingly threatened caucuses, but that is something much easier recommended than actually placed in the rules and implemented.

That would very likely take some help (Read: similar action) from the DNC to work. And while the discussion around the 2012 Democratic delegate selection rules did include a round where some best practices for caucuses were discussed, requiring primaries as a means of allocating delegates was never discussed.

The current and future 2016 rules will very (VERY) likely continue to protect Iowa and the other three carve-out states, and that is why they aren't going anywhere.

...regardless of (the shrinking likelihood) of a threat from a rogue state(s). The other stuff is just fodder.

1 Here's is that specific passage from Rule 11.A:
Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 17 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 7 days before the first Tuesday in March.
2 Of course, it should be noted that the RNC did not newly codify that new binding rule at its spring meeting in Los Angeles. The RNC reaffirmed that rule then. It was originally passed at the national convention in Tampa. There was an amendment to change Rule 16.A.1, but it did not pass the Rules Committee.

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