This will not be a cheery update because the news is not good. I shall do my best to summarize developments and not take you too far into the weeds.
At the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Mitt Romney broke all precedent and used his power as the coming nominee to change the rules, to centralize power in the hands of the establishment, and to make it very much harder for any power in the party to flow from the bottom up.
For one example, the rules previously had required that, to be placed in nomination for President, a candidate had to have the written support of a plurality of the delegates from at least five states.
In Tampa, the Romney campaign changed that requirement. Currently, a 2016 presidential candidate will have to have the support of a majority of the delegates from at least eight states.
The power grabs regarding the party rules in Tampa were so outrageous that the proposed new rules were almost rejected in a voice vote by the convention, and thousands of people left Tampa furious as a result.
The worst of the Romney rules changes at the Tampa convention was a new rule, now Rule 12, which authorized the Republican National Committee to further amend 24 of the 41 national rules between conventions. That opens the way to abuses limited only by the imagination of future power grabbers.
With RNC Chairman Reince Priebus pushing hard, the Republican National Committee has drastically shortened the period in which national convention delegates can be elected, selected, or bound.
The period is shortened at both ends. All but four states, New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada, must wait until March 1 to hold their primaries or conventions to elect national convention delegates. Those four states may begin selecting delegates in February.
That was fine with me. The same rule was in effect in 2012 but violated by a number of states which broke the rule and held earlier primaries. New penalties now in place should dissuade states from jumping ahead in 2016.
However, the changed rules now will also end the 2016 primary process far earlier than before, because states must certify their elected delegates by June 3, forty-five days before the 2016 national convention convenes in Cleveland.
In 2016’s truncated period of delegate selection, it will be almost impossible for a less well-known conservative candidate who does much better than expected in the early primaries to parlay that good showing into much better fundraising and much greater grassroots organization. There won’t be enough time for a conservative candidate to come from behind and elect a majority of the convention delegates.
The establishment candidate will almost certainly be Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. Bush would start with more money and more news media acclaim than any of the more numerous, more conservative candidates likely to be splitting the conservative vote.
There is no way, before the convention convenes, to change the current national rules regarding the timing and the methods of election of national convention delegates. The shortening of the delegate selection process is a done deal for the 2016 election cycle.
The shorter period will almost certainly provide sufficient time for the content-free, establishment Republicans to unite but perhaps too little time for conservatives to unite behind a single one of the more numerous conservative candidates.
In modern times there have almost never been multiple candidates with a chance to win the race by the time of the national convention.
It’s human nature for people to yearn to be on the winning side. For many Republicans interested in participating in the presidential nomination contest, that desire becomes all-consuming.
When one candidate seems to be winning, the compulsion to jump on that candidate’s bandwagon becomes all but irresistible.
By the time the Republican National Convention convened, there has not, since 1976, been any doubt as to who will be nominated.
National rules changes have had the intended effect of eliminating favorite-son candidates capable of controlling their states’ delegations, thus ending another factor which might insert some uncertainty regarding who will win the nomination. Remember, to be placed in nomination, a person now must have proof of the support of the majority of the delegates from eight different states.
Even in states which allocate their delegates by some type of proportionality, the plurality winner generally will get a much higher percentage of the delegates than the percentage of the primary vote that candidate received. Where a state primary has a winner-take-all system, the candidate with a plurality gets all the state’s delegate votes.
The current rules guarantee that, once again, the supporters of unsuccessful candidates will go home angry and insulted.
Some beneficial rules changes could be adopted after all the delegates are selected, just before the 2016 convention in Cleveland begins. These changes cannot pass without the support of some 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
One rules change can and must be made by the 2016 Convention Rules Committee and adopted by the convention before the actual nomination process is taken up by the convention.
In the run-up to the 2012 national convention in Tampa, the Romney campaign employed strong-arm tactics to prevent the possibility that any other candidate would have a plurality of delegates in any five states, which would have enabled that candidate’s name to be placed in nomination before the convention.
As a result, only Mitt Romney’s name was formally placed in nomination.
Then came the roll call of the states.
Each state delegation chairman, starting with Alabama, called out the number of delegate votes each candidate had won in that state.
Then an outrageous thing happened. The convention secretary, from the rostrum, called out the number of delegate votes which would be counted from that state. Only the number of delegate votes cast for Mitt Romney in each state was announced!
Hundreds of delegates who had been duly elected by their states, had traveled to the convention, and had been certified as delegates by the Convention Credentials Committee were thus deprived of their right to have their votes counted.
In many cases, delegates were bound by state law or state party rules to vote for candidates other than Romney. Too bad for them in Tampa.
Already upset by the Romney campaign’s many power grabs regarding the rules, supporters of other candidates and many fair-minded Romney delegates were thoroughly outraged when hundreds of duly elected and credentialed delegates were summarily disenfranchised.
How would it have hurt the Romney campaign to have the legitimate votes for other candidates announced and counted? Romney had the votes to win on the first ballot.
An honest tally of the delegate votes won by other candidates would not have hurt Romney at all.
Instead, the arrogant and ham-handed Romney campaign, determined to demonstrate who was boss, trampled on the rights of other candidates and their supporters and sent thousands of grassroots Republicans home angry at them.
This happened at the very time when the Romney campaign should have been striving for good will and party unity in the fall campaign against President Barack Obama.
As the Rules of the Republican Party are now written, this ugly scenario could be repeated at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The only way to make sure this doesn’t happen at the Cleveland convention is for the 2016 Convention Rules Committee to propose and for the national convention to adopt a change in the rules to provide that the votes of duly elected and credentialed delegates shall be announced, recorded, and counted during the balloting for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Any requirements for prior proof of support for a presidential candidate should affect only the determination of which candidates may be presented to the convention by formal nominating speeches.
Unless bound to vote for specific candidates by state law or by state party rules, duly elected and credentialed delegates should be able to exercise their rights to vote for the candidates of their choice.
It is obvious that conservatives should be making plans right now to unite as much as possible behind a single good candidate before the short primary season begins. Otherwise, Republicans shall almost certainly have another establishment presidential nominee in 2016.
The short duration of the 2016 presidential primary period, the large number of conservatives likely to run for president, and the much smaller number of establishment Republicans likely to be in the race combine to increase greatly the possibility that an establishment Republican will win the 2016 nomination.
Think back to the moment just before Ronald Reagan clinched the 1980 nomination. Define all his supporters then as Reaganites and all other Republicans as non-Reaganites.
No Reaganite presidential nominee since Reagan!
It’s time for the Republican Party to nominate another Reaganite.