Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Candidates Don't Always Choose the Delegates

In fact, that scenario may be exception rather than rule in the Republican presidential nomination process.

FHQ says this in response to a section in an otherwise fantastic piece by Jonathan Bernstein on the brokered deadlocked convention chatter that has cropped up over the last week or so. Look, Jon and I are 100% on the same page on the overarching premise he presents: The winnowing mechanism in the party-adapted, post-reform era of presidential nominations is strong.1 It works. Candidates drop out or withdraw from a race when the writing is on the wall. That writing tends to come in the form of a combination of not winning contests/delegates and/or the financial backing of donors drying up.2

But while we tend to almost always agree on the theoretical end, we sometimes part ways on process. Such is my wont, rules nag that FHQ is. Here is what I take issue with:
This has all changed. Delegates don’t represent state parties at all anymore. Instead, they are chosen by the candidates, who have an incentive to recruit the most gung-ho loyalists they can. Or, sometimes, they’ll use the delegate slots as an inducement (or a reward) to persuade important party actors -- the people who hold sway over the nomination process -- to join them.
Candidates having control over who fills delegate slots is a Democratic Party practice. The DNC ushered in the post-reform era and more or less dragged the RNC into it in the process. To comply with the rules of the new nomination system, the states -- increasingly state governments as primaries proliferated -- passed laws to govern the new processes on the state level. Those laws affected not only Democrats but Republicans as well.

That dynamic has had something of a ripple effect throughout the post-reform era. Democrats have tended to be the ones reforming the process -- they were the party out of the White House for the early portion of the period -- and have been much more centralized in their response; mandating proportionality, requiring certain diversity quotas, etc. Part of the centralization on the Democratic side is that the candidates basically have the right to review their delegates. The national party gives them the ability to weed out a Bernie Sanders supporter in a Hillary Clinton allocated delegate slot for example.

By contrast, the Republican Party has tended to be much more decentralized in its approach to the delegate selection/allocation process. The mantra had, up until the last couple of cycles, been let the states figure it out. It, in that instance, means an array of things: caucuses or primary, proportional or winner-take-all allocation formulas, etc. But that principle also applied and still applies to delegate selection, or perhaps more particularly to candidates picking and choosing their delegates. In states where the law requires the filing of delegates or delegate slates, candidates have some control. Think loophole primary states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where delegates are listed on the ballot and directly elected. Ohio is another example. Remember, Rick Santorum did not have a full slate of delegates in a number of Ohio districts that the former Pennsylvania senator actually ended up winning in the primary.

The candidates have more control in those types of states than they and their campaigns have in others. In other states, the delegate selection process is completely different from the delegate allocation process. The latter awards slots to candidates based on the results of a primary or caucus.  But the identity of who fills those slots occurs in the (sometimes, especially in primary states) separate delegate selection process (usually through the election year caucus/convention system). This is how Ron Paul-aligned delegates made it to the convention in Mitt Romney slots in 2012.

And this happened in 2012 in more than just those non-binding caucuses that have been eliminated by the RNC for the 2016 cycle.3 Though it did not ultimately end well for Paul delegates, they were able to overrun the Massachusetts Republican delegate selection process and fill Romney delegate slots temporarily. It was only because Romney campaign surrogates in the Massachusetts Republican Party required an affidavit of those delegates pledging to support Romney -- an action those delegates refused -- that there were Romney delegates from Massachusetts at the national convention in Tampa.

That reality -- that candidates do not have full control over the delegate selection process -- presents something of a problem in this deadlocked convention scenario. Though it should be pointed out how that Massachusetts case ended. Romney sent delegates to the convention. But that was not because Romney and his campaign had chosen the delegates. Rather, it was a function of Romney having surrogates in positions of power within the Massachusetts Republican Party. It is different, but the outcome was the same.

The RNC recognizes this as a problem. The party attempted to close that loophole among the many others that Ron Paul delegates and supporters railed against at the convention in 2012 and continue to rail against even now. The original change to Rule 15(b) -- now Rule 16(a)(2) -- gave candidates the ability to "pre-certify" or approve delegates in order for those delegates to be certified by the RNC for the convention. But that was one of the Ginsberg rules that did not make it out of Tampa.4 Instead, the national party -- the RNC -- now has all the power (a fact that is consistent with Bernstein's point about parties doing what they can to avoid the deadlocked convention scenario or any sticky situation for that matter). Delegates are now bound to candidates based on the earliest, statewide election, and if those delegates, regardless of what preference they hold, fail to reflect the binding in their convention vote, then the vote will be recorded as if they had voted the binding.

But there are some questions about how that works in the scenario where no candidate has a majority of the delegates heading into the convention. That is a matter that FHQ has promised some folks on Twitter that I would address. ...tomorrow.

The bottom line: In the Republican process, the candidates do not necessarily choose the delegates, at least not across the board as is the case on the Democratic side. There is variation across state on the issue of how much control the candidate and their campaigns have over the delegate selection process.

There is one other bit of nuance that FHQ would add to one of the footnotes in Bernstein's piece. I don't want to belabor this. It is a footnote, after all and I have gone on for some time already. Usually when I hit four footnotes of my own, that is a telltale sign that it has been a long post. Yet, let's look at Jon's point about the differences between the two parties on delegate allocation rules:
It’s unlikely Cruz and Paul could win that many delegates (especially that many each) because Republican rules don’t produce many delegates for losing candidates in most states. And because Republicans don't have the proportional representation rules that Democrats insist on, even a close contest between two leading candidates is unlikely to leave them with (almost) equal delegate hauls.
On not producing many delegates for losing candidates.
That depends. It is certainly true in the case of truly winner-take-all states like Florida. The number of winner-take-all states is pretty limited and confined to the area of the calendar after March 14 when it is less likely to matter (i.e.: post-winnowing). However, outside of that handful of truly winner-take-all states there is some variation in terms of how able losing candidates are to win delegates. It depends first on how many candidates are on the ballot and active/viable. But being awarded delegates also depends on the thresholds of the vote that state party bylaws or state laws require a candidate to win. The RNC allows states to set that as high as 20%, but does not require states to have any threshold. Some states do (Alabama and Mississippi), some states don't (Alaska and Hawaii). This tends only to be a minor point. FHQ retrospectively looked at some of these factors in the context of 2012 and the thresholds only really affected things at the margins.

On proportional representation rules.
Well, here's the thing: What the RNC has in place for 2016 in terms of the proportionality requirement (for all states with contests from March 1-14) is now a lot like the DNC proportionality mandate for all states. That is part of the RNC tightening its definition of proportionality. Basically, it requires either a proportional allocation of all delegates based on the statewide result or the proportional allocation of at-large delegates based on the statewide vote and the proportional allocation of congressional district delegates based on the result within the congressional district. The only real differences between parties are that...

1) The DNC requires a 15% threshold for anyone to receive delegates (Rule 13.B) while the RNC only suggests states maintain such thresholds.


2) The DNC does not treat each district the same with respect to how many delegates are apportioned it. While the RNC has three delegates per district, the DNC allows for those numbers to vary based on how loyally Democratic the district has been in past elections. For primaries and caucuses in that two week proportionality window in early March, then, those Republican delegate hauls between candidates may be closer than they otherwise would have been during past cycles.

1 By "party-adapted" FHQ means the post-reform period after the national parties (and the states and candidates for that matter) had been through a round or two in the new system and had learned the ropes. 1980 onward is a good way of thinking about this. Democrats had used the new system twice (1972, 1976) and the Republicans had been through it once (1976).

2 I know, I know: super PACS! FHQ is still not really convinced that super PACs are really going to change any of the established dynamics of the nomination process. It may mean more money floating around out there, but super PAC financial backers are going to be guided by the same sorts of constraints that campaign funders have always faced. That constraint can be summed up in one question: Do I keep giving to a candidate/campaign that is not going to win the nomination? This is kind of the same principle that guides the candidates as well as Bernstein points out.

3 That move offers some evidence that the RNC can behave in a centralized, top-down manner when it perceives a need to do so.

4 Washington, DC national committeeman, Ben Ginsberg, was the Romney campaigns man behind the rules changes in Tampa that tightened the RNC grip on nomination process. ...in a way that drew the ire of some within the party.

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