Thursday, June 18, 2015

Never a Dull Moment in Nevada

FHQ is going to flag this typically great story from Jon Ralston on the not-so behind the scenes maneuvering ahead of leadership elections at the county level within the Nevada Republican Party. It is a nice extension to the story of the recently failed attempt in the Silver state to switch from a caucus/convention system to a primary.

Then as now, it is a story of 2016 possibilities with 2020 implications. Which is to say, this is a political battle with both short and long term incentives for state and national interests. There in the desert, Nevada has an early spot on the presidential primary calendar, but is also a battleground state in the fall. All that creates a matrix of cross-cutting incentives.

And throw in the candidates too.

In this one case, all of those interests are pulling in different directions (or parts of them are anyway). Consider that the Rand Paul campaign and those aligned with it in Nevada are attempting to advantage the Kentucky senator in the Silver state caucuses in 2016. This is not a mystery. It is inside baseball, but it is not really happening behind the scenes. And lest FHQ be accused of pointing fingers at the Paul campaign, note that this is not the first instance in political history in which self interest has played a role. It isn't even the first example in presidential nomination politics, believe it or not. The post-reform era began after all with the recommendations of the McGovern-Fraser Commission. The first nominee on the Democratic side after those reforms were instituted for the 1972 cycle was George McGovern; the same McGovern from the aforementioned commission. The Paul campaign is not doing anything that other candidates would not do.

However, they are doing it in Nevada. And the last thing that Nevada needs -- if it wants to protect that early calendar position in the future -- is more uncertainty, more chaos or more dissension in the Nevada Republican delegation. Think about this for a moment. The national parties are either indifferent to or like having Iowa and New Hampshire first because after having occupied the first two spots on the primary calendar for nearly half a century, the national parties know what they have in those states more or less.

They have a reasonable idea about how Iowa and New Hampshire will affect the process. That isn't the case in Nevada. Well, actually it is, but for all the wrong reasons. The only certainty in the Nevada (Republican) caucuses is uncertainty. After two cycles in the spotlight of the early calendar, Nevada is batting 1.000 in creating headaches for the Republican National Committee. And since the RNC-backed effort to switch to a presidential primary in the Silver state fell through and the Paul campaign is already working to help Paul out in the state, that intra-party rift and those headaches may return for round three in 2016. Again, if the only certainty is a headache, then it makes it likely that the headache symptoms will be dealt with in the future.

Of course, Democrats nationally and in Nevada do not mind seeing any of this. But it may only be Nevada Democrats that end up paying a price. One factor that bolsters the protected statuses of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina is that political actors of either partisan stripe are of one mind when it comes to first in the nation/South privilege: Keep it at all costs (even if it means agreeing with the other party). Nevada Democrats should enjoy the ride now. By maintaining the caucuses for 2016, it makes it less likely Nevada will be continue to be first in the West in 2020. Another flawed Republican caucus there makes it much more likely that the RNC dumps the Silver state. Not having an early Nevada Republican caucus undercuts Nevada Democrats' case for keeping theirs (not completely, mind you, but it would make Nevada unique among the carve-out states). The national parties want certainty and if Republicans tap another western states, national Democrats will want to cede any potential organizational advantage in that state.

It is all about certainty and the Nevada experiment has provided all the wrong kind.

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