Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice...

Look, FHQ gets it: Florida has created a lifetime's worth of uncertainty for the presidential primary calendar (and the nomination process itself to some extent) over the last two cycles. But the reactions to the latest on the efforts by the Republican National Committee to tinker with the party's nomination process/rules ignore the current reality where Florida and 2016 intersect.

Perhaps, it is deserved. FHQ isn't here to defend Florida, but as of right now, the Sunshine state is not in a position to continue to be a "serial scofflaw", as Jason Linkins describes the state, much less have it assumed that Florida will once again throw a monkeywrench into the best laid plans of the parties and/or the infringe on the turf of the carve-out states, as Craig Robinson does.

The reality is that this super penalty is nothing new. The so-called Bennett rule -- named after former Ohio Republican chairman, Bob Bennett, who devised it -- has been codified in the RNC rules since Tampa. The only thing new based on the reporting that Peter Hamby at CNN did was to shed light on the mathematical problem that FHQ mentioned months ago. Basically, if a state has a small enough (pre-penalty) delegation, it could receive a lesser penalty than the 50% reduction that was on the books in 2012. Again, this was a very limited number of states. But there was some potential for the rules to be exploited; not keeping with the original intent of the rule (which was to provide some certainty to the front end of the calendar).

But that is the small states; not Florida.

The point is, political actors in Florida -- those in the state legislature, governor's mansion and the Republican Party of Florida -- saw those changes. After all, the infighting that produced those rules changes, including the Bennett rule, happened in their backyard; in Tampa. What was the reaction in Florida once the Bennett rule was added? Well, the state legislature very quickly moved to push the Florida primary back on the 2016 and future primary calendars during its 2013 session.

Unlike the 2008 and 2012 cycles, there is actually some certainty -- right now -- as to when the Florida presidential primary will be held. If the Republican Party of Florida tweaks its allocation rules, the primary will be on the first Tuesday in March. If the state party opts to continue with its tradition winner-take-all allocation, then it will be on the third Tuesday in March, the point on the calendar when it is apparently proposed that the proportionality requirement should expire. The 2016 Florida primary date hinges on the point on the calendar where the Florida delegation will not be penalized; the earliest unpenalized date. That, as FHQ noted, is dependent upon what combination of rules the Republican Party of Florida opts to utilize.

[And one other thing that FHQ would like to push back on is Robinson's description of the penalties that Florida faced in 2012. Yes, Florida broke both the timing and allocation rules. But the RNC only had one 50% penalty it could levy. The RNC rules did not provide for a double penalty scenario. That has been changed for 2016. There is the Bennett rule (9 delegate plus automatic delegates) penalty and a separate 50% penalty for states that do not comply with the provisions in the proportionality requirement. This rule was put in place in reaction to both Florida and Arizona in 2012. Both technically were double violators.]

There was ample motivation for Florida to have reacted this way; to provide certainty instead of uncertainty in this process for once. Some have argued that it was the rules change or more precisely the new, more draconian penalty. Others contend that Marco Rubio and his allies in the state advocated for the move with a potential Rubio run for the nomination in mind. This is likely not an either/or thing. Those two factors and a desire to play nice in 2016 because of them is as good an explanation as any for the move.

Could this change? Absolutely. The Florida legislature may change its mind in 2015 and reverse course, but such a change would have to make it through the governor to be enacted. No matter how the gubernatorial election goes in Florida in 2014, the sort of provocative primary movement that Florida made in 2008 and 2012 is not likely going to pass muster.

The Sunshine state is definitely part of the reason why the rules/penalties changes were made, but at this point -- in late 2013 -- it doesn't look like Florida is going to be the troublemaker it has recently been in the presidential nomination process.

No, at this point, FHQ would suggest looking at Michigan and Arizona.1 Both contests are currently positioned on the last Tuesday in February; a clear violation of the intended RNC rules. [It is unclear how either state will fare under the Democratic Party rules. The party has yet to officially begin its rules-making process, but past rules put both Arizona and Michigan on the wrong side of the penalty threshold.]

Again, maybe Florida deserves it simply for 2008 and 2012, but FHQ does not think Florida will be the one causing the trouble -- should any occur -- in 2016.

1 The recent change in North Carolina also means the Tar Heel state is vulnerable to the super penalty. However, FHQ has been told that will be taken care of. Recall that the provision anchoring the North Carolina primary to the South Carolina primary was added late to an omnibus elections bill. The addition was so last minute, that it was largely glossed over because of the importance placed on passing the whole elections bill. Those with reservations, then, didn't want to rock the boat and delay or derail the efforts to make changes (voter ID requirement, changes to early voting process) that the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly wanted to push through before the legislature adjourned for the year.

It should also be noted that there is a direct line of communication between the RNC and the North Carolina General Assembly. State Representative David Lewis (R-53rd) is the national committeeman from the state and additionally is the chairman of the North Carolina House Elections Committee. [The other wrinkle here is that the amendment to the elections bill that changed the North Carolina primary date was added in the state Senate at the last minute.] FHQ is told by folks in the know here in North Carolina and in the RNC that this will be changed at some point next year. We shall see.

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