Friday, January 16, 2015

Has the RNC Set a Later Starting Date for the First Primaries and Caucuses?

Dan Balz and Philip Rucker had a really nice piece up yesterday on the soon-to-be-revealed RNC rules for 2016 Republican presidential debates. FHQ weighed in on this a year and a half ago and will look at the specifics when they are released later.

But there was one -- probably throw-away -- sentence toward the end of the article that was just plain wrong and bears some isolated consideration:
"The RNC has also set a later starting date for the first caucuses and primaries."
Now, the point was to say that the debate rules in combination with the calendar rules were intended to affect the nomination process and produce a nominee who could win in the general election. Point taken, but the RNC, when it finalized its rules last August, did not include any new provision in terms of the start of primary season.

The intention of the rules in 2016  (see Rule 16.c.1), as was the case in 2012, was to have the carve-out states go in February and every other state follow in March or later. Of course, mentioning the intention of a rule more than hints at the coordination game political parties play in the effort to nominate a presidential candidate. The national parties create the rules to govern the nomination process and the states decide how to fit into those guidelines with their portion of the process or whether ignore/flout those guidelines.

What the RNC did do was twofold:
1. First, the RNC made the carve-out states more mobile in 2016 than they were in 2012. The 2012 rules confined Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to February. The four could not earlier than the first Tuesday in February without also risking penalty from the national party. In 2016, that point is not fixed to a particular date on the calendar. Instead, the carve-out states can go as early as a month before the next earliest contest (without penalty). If North Carolina, for instance, holds a January 1 primary, then the four carve-outs could go as early as December 1, 2015.1 This provides additional protection to those four states and essentially ensures that they will not be penalized.

2. Speaking of penalties, to prevent the carve-outs from being forced into dates earlier than early February, the RNC also added a more severe penalty for non-carve-out states. The super penalty -- via the new Bennett rule (see rule 17.a) -- would reduce a state delegation to just 9 or 12 delegates, depending on the size of the delegation.2

So it is all ideally sequential.
1. Non-carve-out states, warded off by the super penalty, stay out of February.
2. The carve-outs then have February to themselves.
3. The start of primary season is in February and not right after New Year's.

But it is all ideally sequential. If states opt to break the timing rules or cannot find a path to compliance (North Carolina?), then it all breaks down. The RNC, then, has not set a later start to primary season. It has set rules that they hope will facilitate such a start, but it will be up to the states to decide if they want to play along with that.

1 No, this not likely.

2 States with delegations of 30 or more would be reduced to 12 delegates while those with 29 or fewer delegates would see them cut to just nine.

Recent Posts:
Post-2014 State Government Partisan Control and 2016 Presidential Primary Movement

If Primary Season Began Today: A Note on the 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar

RNC memo gives Iowa Straw Poll a green light

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