The Perils of a Speedy 2016 GOP Primary

By moving the contests up in the calendar, the party could hurt its most promising candidates.

Ninety-six-year-old World War II veteran Eugene Morgan (L) of West Memphis, Arkansas, listens to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (D-MN) (2nd R) as Rep. John Carter (R-TX) (R) looks on during Morgans visit to the World War II Memorial October 2, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
Jan. 23, 2014, 4 p.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee is hold­ing its an­nu­al winter meet­ing this week, where it’s mov­ing for­ward with long-dis­cussed plans to com­press the 2016 pres­id­en­tial primary cal­en­dar, crack down on an un­ruly de­bate sched­ule, and pro­tect the first-in-the-na­tion status of the four tra­di­tion­al early states. Party lead­ers viewed last elec­tion’s nev­er-end­ing nom­in­at­ing pro­cess as akin to a dys­func­tion­al real­ity TV show, where the spot­light shone bright­est on the party’s least-cred­ible can­did­ates and em­powered their polit­ic­al crit­ics.

But sev­er­al GOP strategists fear that the party is more fo­cused on root­ing out any­thing that might have con­trib­uted to its 2012 de­feat than on cul­tiv­at­ing its field of 2016 pro­spects. The new crop of hope­fuls is filled with re­form-minded gov­ernors and tea-party lead­ers — but many of the most prom­ising con­tenders aren’t yet house­hold names.

“Any­time you talk about lim­it­ing ac­cess and [de­bate] op­por­tun­it­ies, it helps the front-run­ner. It really makes me nervous,” said former Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Party Polit­ic­al Dir­ect­or Craig Robin­son, who is now ed­it­or in chief of the Iowa Re­pub­lic­an web­site. “There’s not much time to com­pete once you fig­ure out who’s real or not. You don’t want to space it out so if you don’t win Iowa or New Hamp­shire, you don’t have a chance.”

In 2012, the es­tab­lish­ment-favored, biggest-budget can­did­ate was Mitt Rom­ney, whom party of­fi­cials viewed as the most elect­able in a weak field. The lengthy nom­in­a­tion pro­cess al­lowed un­der­fun­ded long shots to stall Rom­ney’s path to the nom­in­a­tion and forced him to tack to the right in the gen­er­al elec­tion, hurt­ing his elect­ab­il­ity.

But in 2016, the op­pos­ite could be true. With New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie look­ing less for­mid­able in the wake of Bridgeg­ate, there might not even be an es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite this time around. The best-fun­ded can­did­ates with the most loy­al fol­low­ings could turn out to be grass­roots fa­vor­ites such as Sens. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who boast strong name iden­ti­fic­a­tion, close ties to the base, and deep small-donor fun­drais­ing net­works — but whose out­spoken con­ser­vat­ism could hurt them in a gen­er­al elec­tion. The party’s more-elect­able can­did­ates could wind up be­ing those like Wis­con­sin’s Scott Walk­er, a con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor in a blue state who, at the mo­ment, isn’t very well-known na­tion­ally.

“I think that there is a tend­ency to al­ways look at the last loss and make changes based on that. There is a tend­ency to not look at all pres­id­en­tial races over re­cent his­tory but to look at the last one that burned you,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., who served as Karl Rove’s deputy in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Some­times that brings a good res­ult, some­times it doesn’t.”

Party lead­ers view the cal­en­dar re­forms as long over­due and aimed at pro­tect­ing the prerog­at­ives of the tra­di­tion­al early states without al­low­ing the nom­in­a­tion pro­cess to drag on in­def­in­itely. The party is ex­pec­ted to sched­ule its na­tion­al con­ven­tion as early as late June, which would mean states would need to sub­mit their del­eg­ate slates 35 days earli­er — by May. That would sig­ni­fic­antly shorten the nom­in­at­ing pro­cess, from the nearly six months of primar­ies and caucuses in 2012 to a three-month sprint in 2016.

The RNC would block off Feb­ru­ary for New Hamp­shire, Iowa, South Car­o­lina, and Nevada, the four tra­di­tion­al early states. That would likely make March a long-dis­tance scramble fo­cused on big-mar­ket states such as Flor­ida and Texas — a sched­ule that would fa­vor the best fun­ded and most or­gan­ized of the re­main­ing can­did­ates. The new rules would harshly pen­al­ize states that vi­ol­ated them, strip­ping of­fend­ers of all but nine or two-thirds of their del­eg­ates — whichever was more pun­it­ive. States could not have win­ner-take-all con­tests if they held them be­fore March 15.

“Get­ting a bet­ter cal­en­dar gets more people and more states in­volved,” said RNC Com­mu­nic­a­tions Dir­ect­or Sean Spicer. “This sys­tem as pro­posed will get more of our grass­roots sup­port­ers and act­iv­ists en­gaged in the pro­cess.” He ad­ded that many states that held late primar­ies were ir­rel­ev­ant to the pro­cess un­der the old cal­en­dar but would be more em­powered un­der a com­pressed primary sched­ule.

The com­mit­tee’s oth­er pri­or­ity at the meet­ings is to fig­ure out how to lim­it the num­ber of de­bates and more tightly reg­u­late how mod­er­at­ors are chosen. They’re hop­ing to in­volve con­ser­vat­ive me­dia out­lets and talk-show ra­dio hosts in the pro­cess, and to pre­vent out­spoken lib­er­als like MS­N­BC’s Chris Mat­thews from mod­er­at­ing. Spicer said the goal was to have enough de­bates for every­one to have a shot at get­ting his or her mes­sage out — es­tim­at­ing that eight to 14 would be an ideal range, down from the 20 held in the 2012 cycle.

“Mitt Rom­ney de­bated Her­man Cain more of­ten than he de­bated Barack Obama. The na­tion­al elect­or­ate is more in­ter­ested in the de­bates between those who ac­tu­ally might be pres­id­ent than in the Amer­ic­an Idol-esque de­bate-a-thon we en­dured in ‘12,” said one­time New Hamp­shire At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Tom Rath, a former Re­pub­lic­an Party na­tion­al com­mit­tee­man.

But while most Re­pub­lic­ans agree that the pro­cess got out of con­trol in 2012, some worry that the party could take things too far in the oth­er dir­ec­tion — lim­it­ing the amount of free me­dia ex­pos­ure the na­tion­ally tele­vised de­bates can provide to com­pel­ling up-and-com­ing can­did­ates.

“It’s the law of un­in­ten­ded con­sequences. You don’t want to show­case Michele Bach­mann, Newt Gin­grich, and Her­man Cain,” said one seni­or GOP op­er­at­ive. “You should want to show­case Scott Walk­er, Bobby Jin­dal, and Marco Ru­bio.”

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×