Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Second place got you a Greyhound ticket to Palookaville

Look, FHQ has followed Republican strategist, Mike Murphy, since before the time that there was an FHQ. And while he gave Sasha Issenberg a fantastic inside look at some of the thinking from within the super PAC that has aligned itself with Jeb Bush, the true nature of rules changes -- with respect to the delegate allocation process in the Republican Party -- really got lost in translation.

Murphy had this to say in response to Issenberg's question about when the consolidation/winnowing of candidates might begin in earnest in this 2016 cycle:
Well, that's what the primaries are for, but the calendar's changed a little bit. We only have 10 pure winner-take-all states now. The Republican Party, we used to be the Social Darwinists: second place got you a Greyhound ticket to Palookaville. Now we're proportional, mostly by congressional district. From Feb. 1 to March 15, we have a bunch of big states; Ohio, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina probably. [Looks at primary calendar/map on wall of office.] I think my map's out of date now, I'm not sure we got North Carolina moved. So you've got this 45-day blitz of a tremendous amount of number of delegates being chosen, mostly—not all, as Florida's winner-take-all—but mostly in a heavily proportional system.
First of all, there's no need to print up an outdated primary calendar and map and put it on the wall. You can always find one right here. FHQ's been updating that one since January 2012.

More importantly, let's dive down into this winner-take-all and proportional stuff. Yes, the Republican National Committee has a set of rules that require states with primaries and caucuses in the March 1-14 window to allocate their delegates proportionally. But that is not a new thing. The proportionality requirement was added for the 2012 cycle and covered the entire month of March.1 The RNC did tighten its definition of what constitutes proportionality for the 2016 cycle, but the amount of delegates available in the respective windows is still about the same.

Again, these are subtle changes. Applying the 2016 standard to 2012 would have meant a reallocation of just 28 delegates. That is a drop in the bucket.

As FHQ has pointed out, the real distinction is between a true winner-take-all allocation and every other method. And Murphy does that.

But he oversells it.

This idea that the Republican Party has transitioned from a winner-take-all system across the board -- something akin to the electoral college -- to the system in place for 2016 is just wrong. To restate, there was a proportionality requirement in 2012. It held the number of winner-take-all states to just six.

That number in 2008, pre-proportionality requirement?


There were just eleven states that were truly winner-take-all in 2008. That is just one more than than the ten in 2016. And in both cases, the truly winner-take-all states represented approximately 20% of the total delegates.

Those are not markers of significant change. That is perpetuating the myth of the winner-take-all Republican presidential nomination process. It was never like that. The RNC traditionally afforded states the latitude to set their own delegate allocation rules. Just as today, that meant a variety of types of contests; some winner-take-all, some proportional, some in between the two, and until this cycle, some caucus states sent unbound delegations to the national convention.

Has the RNC changed the rules for 2016? Yes, it has. However, those changes are much more subtle than a lot are either letting or otherwise do not realize. Not all the tickets were to Palookaville.

...though at the end of the process when a nominee was clear it may have seemed that way.

1 The 2012 proportionality window contained contests that accounted for roughly 35% of the total number of delegates available in the Republican presidential nomination process. That number in 2016 is around 40% but in two fewer weeks time.

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