Friday, August 16, 2013

RNC Rules Committee Shunts Reexamination of Presidential Nomination Rules to Subcommittee

After the unanimous vote this morning in Boston at the summer RNC meeting all anyone really wants to talk about is the presidential primary debate stance of the party. FHQ will have some things to say on that matter at some point (in addition to what I have already had to say via Twitter), but first thing's first.

Actions taken Thursday afternoon in the RNC Standing Committee on Rules are going to have some bearing on whatever the party decides to do with debates among a host of over rules matters affecting the 2016 delegate selection process on the Republican side. It was there, in the Westin Boston Waterfront, that the Rules Committee essentially hit the pause button on a continued piecemeal approach to tweaking the nomination rules and gave the greenlight to a subcommittee charged with developing a more sweeping proposal. That is likely -- if we are to see anything more on debates from the RNC -- to produce any rules affecting any and all presidential primary debates during the 2016 cycle. But that proposal is also likely to include a number of fixes to the existing rules.

For one thing, the may/shall issue in Rule 16(c)(2) -- bringing back the proportionality requirement for pre-April 1 primaries and caucuses -- is likely to be handled from within the subcommittee context. A fix to Rule 17 -- to help it better coexist, as intended, with Rule 16 -- will also likely emerge from those subcommittee deliberations at future meetings between now and next August when the 2016 rules will be finalized. Part of the inconsistency is the may/shall loophole. Like the Supreme Court's voiding of the current Section 4 formula in its Shelby case decision that effectively struck down the Section 5 preclearance rules regime, without "shall" in Rule 16(c)(2), the initial portion of Rule 17(a) is meaningless. There is no 50% penalty for states that violate a Rule 16(c)(2) provision that is a suggestion, not a mandate from the national party. The intent of the original combination of Rules 16 and 17 was to put in place a super penalty affecting states that held contests before the final Tuesday in February. But it was also supposed to leave in place the 50% penalty for states not abiding by the proportionality requirement before April 1. The combination of the two rules was suppose to leave an overlap for that last week in February where just the 50% penalty would apply (but only if states are not proportional in their allocation plans).

Of course that still leaves a small loophole in that last week of February where states could hold contests in that window and allocate delegates in a proportional manner to avoid any penalty. That could also be something the RNC Rules subcommittee could examine in the coming months. Indeed, Nevada Republican National Committeeman, Jim Smack, had an amendment that was deferred to the subcommittee yesterday dealing with an inconsistency between those two rules. [FHQ has not seen that amendment.]

But this is all a process and the RNC -- now through a subcommittee of the Rules Committee -- will deal with the primary rules in due time. Our best bet is to take the existing rules as our baseline and mix in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report as a broad guide to what may come out of these discussions.

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