The GOP Primary and Caucuses Shuffle

One big procedural reform discussed in the RNC party assessment document yesterday is to shift the party convention back from August to July or June, and compress the primaries and caucuses further to make that work. In order to do that, they suggest that the party “should strongly consider a regional primary system or some other form of a major reorganization.”

We should divide this into two parts. The date of the convention is fully within the control of the RNC, and if they want to move it, they can.

As Josh Putnam has been tweeting today, however, the dates of the primaries and caucuses are…a lot harder to control. The RNC would need the cooperation of state governments, and in most cases the Democratic Party, to do any sort of “major” changes — indeed, even getting the states currently holding primaries in the first week of June to switch is awful hard to do.

Moreover, it’s a bad idea! Whatever the weaknesses of the Republican Party these days, it’s pretty hard to see how the flow of primaries and caucuses has worked against them.  Perhaps Ames and the pre-primary period — it’s possible to make a case that Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Bob Dole would have been replaced by better candidates if getting to Iowa was easier. But from Iowa on, it’s hard to see where they’ve gone badly wrong, especially in this latest cycle. What’s more, whatever one thinks of the GOP losing candidates over the last couple decades, at least the process allowed them to reach a decision with a minimum of fuss. There’s no guarantee that a new schedule would work nearly as well.

Fortunately, we can treat that whole section as (perhaps misguided) hand-waving. There’s no reform commission, there’s no proposed schedule, there’s no buy-in to any of the longstanding reform schedules that people have been pushing forever. So it’s probably not going to happen.

As for the convention…the report claims that the convention needs to be 60-90 days after the last primary. That’s silly. Most of the pre-convention planning doesn’t really depend on the nominee; the rest doesn’t take that long. The 1980 Republican convention began on July 14, with the final primaries on June 3; the 1992 Democratic convention began on July 13, with the last primary on June 9. Granted, in both cases the convention was locked up earlier, but that virtually always happens, giving the nominee plenty of time. A full month still gives them basically all of July for the convention.

On the other hand, there’s absolutely no reason to think that it matters at all whether the convention is in June, July, August, or early September. The convention’s purpose these days is to signal to party voters who haven’t tuned in yet, or who supported another candidate in the nomination contest, that the party nominee has the full and enthusiastic support of everyone who matters in the party; it doesn’t really matter a lot when that happens, as far as I can tell. And to the extent that conventions (if they’re run well) produce an additional brief polling surge, it’s hard to argue that there’s any advantage for that to happen any time other than the week of the election.

[Originally posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.