Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Rules Don't Really Start to Take Shape Until the Candidates or Their Surrogates Get Involved

Back in the late spring of 2012, FHQ had the opportunity to sit down with folks on the Rules Committees of both parties. The bipartisan group at one point was talking about penalties nested in each party's delegate selection rules, and I took the opportunity to gauge the Democratic contingent's thoughts on the (new in) 2008 penalty that stripped candidates of delegates for campaigning in rogue states. I was curious to see if they thought that rule -- Rule 20.C.1.b -- would carry over to 2016.

The response I received was that that rule -- designed to remove the incentive states had to move up on the primary calendar (no candidate attention leads to less or no media attention) -- was a function of an agreement between the prospective candidates (and their surrogates) and the early states. The penalty worked, in part, because the candidates were on board with the rule. And the campaigns obeyed it. Florida and Michigan may have defied the Democratic National Committee rule regarding the timing of their contests, but the candidates stayed away from both.1

Furthermore, DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee members there added that the extension of that rule -- the candidate-specific penalty -- to 2016 was dependent on the involvement of the candidates, campaigns and their surrogates, nascent though they may be even at this point in the cycle. Again, the Democratic rules don't really start to take shape until the candidates or their surrogates get involved. That is why Harold Ickes return to the RBC was actually a significant signal -- albeit one that tends towards being inside baseball. There was not a whole lot of turnover on the committee, but Ickes was a major "new" face on the panel with Clinton connections as Jonathan Martin details in his New York Times piece.2

We don't yet know what the 2016 Democratic delegate selection rules will look like, but there is a baseline for comparison in the 2012 version. Actions by the Republican National Committee may also affect what the Rules and Bylaws Committee devises on the Democratic side. And now we know that when the committee convenes again in November in New Orleans and next year when the real rules work begins, there will be someone with Clinton connections on the panel that will ultimately decide what shape those rules will take. That's noteworthy.

1 Barack Obama along with John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson all went through the extra step of taking their names off of the ballot in the Michigan primary. Clinton appeared, joined by Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel ( well as a line for Uncommitted).

2 Here is a rough comparison between the membership of the Rules and Bylaws Committee as just installed and the one that was in place in 2009:

There are 13 new members on the RBC now as compared to early 2009, though changes to the membership did happen in the interim. Even if that 13 is the baseline, the turnover on the committee now versus then is less than 50%. Hat tip to Frank Leone for posting the 2013 list here and sharing with FHQ the 2009 membership roll.

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