Home/Daniel Larison/Making It Easier to Impose a Nominee on the GOP

Making It Easier to Impose a Nominee on the GOP

Four years ago, the main complaint about the Republican primary process was that it was over too quickly once the voting started, so the schedule and rules were altered to prevent that from happening again. The new complaint is that the process dragged on too long:

Looking to avoid another protracted nominating contest, the body also voted that any state can award delegates winner-take-all. Going into 2012, the rule was changed so that states with elections before April 1 had to proportionally award their delegates. The practical effect of this rules change was that it took much longer for Romney to secure the nomination.

This is what was supposed to happen. It wasn’t the result of an unforeseen glitch. McCain won a prohibitive lead in the delegate count by early February, and this was considered at the time to be a major failure of the primary process. The trend towards “front-loading” in the primaries was the source of this problem, so there was an attempt to discourage states from scheduling their contests so early in the year. National Journalreported on the RNC’s desire to drag out the process last year:

New party rules aimed at prolonging [bold mine-DL] what has become a Twitter-speed primary season urge the earliest four states to push back votes from January to February; states that award delegates proportionately to vote in March; and winner-take-all states to vote in April. Relegating the states with the biggest bounties to the back of the line would prevent a candidate from quickly racking up delegates and squeezing competitors out of the race, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did in 2008 by early February.

After the 2008 experience, the idea was to never again repeat a process that was wrapped up so quickly. It didn’t hurt that the 2008 nominee was one that many conservatives disliked. Now that the new system did what it was supposed to do by dragging the process out and giving more states a chance to cast somewhat meaningful votes, it is being changed back to a system that is even more likely to reward the wealthiest and best-known candidates. The practical effect of this change will be to make it that much more difficult for any insurgent candidacies to get off the ground, and it will reinforce the already strong tendency inside the GOP to crown the perceived heir apparent.

Curiously, Doug Mataconis thinks this is a welcome development:

Nonetheless, the changes are significant. If Romney does win, then these rules will probably be re-adopted in 2016 for the 2020 election. If he’s not, then these rule changes will go a long way toward imposing some sanity on a nomination process that is, in many ways, antiquated and rather ridiculous.

The modern primary process is barely forty years old. Does that qualify as “antiquated”? I doubt it. Is it more sane (i.e., healthy) for a primary process to anoint the politician “next in line” with minimal token opposition, or to force de facto front-runners to have to make an effort to earn their nominations? Neither is optimal, but the latter seems much more preferable. The 2012 Republican primaries may have been ridiculous in some respects, but that was because of most of the candidates that were running and not because of the rules governing the process. The purpose of these changes isn’t to impose “sanity” on the process. It is to make it easier to impose a nominee on the party whether most of its supporters want him or not.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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