Election rules designed to benefit conservatives have played an unheralded role in pushing the party rightward, while also costing them at the ballot box. The most notable: The party's practice, in several states, of holding conventions instead of primaries to choose nominees. Those conventions typically draw an unrepresentative cross-section of single-issue activists.
-- In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli's allies bypassed the primary process to blunt intraparty opposition, a move that's contributed to his problems unifying the party. Ironically, the outspoken conservative is belatedly trying to rally the base, something that would have been much easier had he engaged the broader GOP electorate in a primary campaign. The convention also nominated scandal-plagued pastor E.W. Jackson as their LG nominee, thanks to his red-meat convention speech. Assuming he loses, the party lost out on grooming a future GOP gubernatorial candidate for 2017.
-- Republicans are facing their next looming crisis in Iowa, for the state's very-winnable open seat Senate race. A crowded cast of candidates is vying for the GOP nomination, but party rules guarantee a convention if no one hits 35% of the vote. That possibility is growing, with party leaders doing nothing to avert the outcome. A convention would start the process over, raising the likelihood of a weak candidate emerging.
-- Republicans won't have trouble holding a Senate seat in Utah, but Sen. Mike Lee's political challenges back home also showcase the party's concerns over conventions. He benefited from the state's unique system, where Republicans hold a convention to winnow down candidates before a potential primary. Utah Republican leaders (led by former Gov. Leavitt) are already rallying to shift to an open primary nominating process.
The convention problem only impacts Republicans in a few states, but it's endemic of the party's problems nominating electable candidates. And the consequences of election rules benefiting grassroots activists will play a much greater role in the run-up to 2016.