RNC tries to simplify 2016 primary, may unleash untold chaos

Katie McHugh Associate Editor
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The next presidential election might be months away, but the Republican National Committee is acting to cut the party’s primary season in half in order to regain control over the chaotic lead-up to the convention.

If the five changes proposed by a subcommittee pass with a super majority during the RNC’s January meeting, the first four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — would be permitted to hold their contests in February of 2016, while the rest of the states would have to wait until Mar. 1, and would be barred from holding winner-take-all elections until Mar. 15. Chairman Reince Priebus once pushed for holding the convention between June 27 and July 18.

In their efforts to stop states — especially Florida — from front-loading the primaries, however, the RNC may create another bottleneck.

Under the new rules and after the tussling between state parties and the national committee, both Texas and Florida, two huge states with a total of one-fourth of the total delegates up for grabs, would run their primaries on the same day — Mar. 1. Winning in either state requires enormous war chests, widespread name recognition to attract media attention and the momentum that precedes every eventual frontrunner.

The RNC’s general council John Ryder told NPR in December that the mandated wait would still give low-budget, grassroots candidates time to increase their name recognition and let their campaigns take root — if they can.

“It gives a six-week period for a retail candidacy to take hold, if it’s going to take hold,” Ryder said, according to NPR.

Ryder also told NPR that the move shortens the primary without giving a candidate with “$200 million on day one” a chance to steamroll the competition outright. It will also shorten the amount of time candidates have to savage one another during the many debates held before the national convention and in the trenches of each state battle.

The national party tried to impose restrictions on states during the 2008 and 2012 elections, but Florida bucked the system twice, effectively handing the nomination to respective frontrunners Arizona Sen. John McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In 2008, even with half its usual delegates, Florida still commanded more electoral power than both of the first primary states combined.

In 2012, Florida scheduled its primary for Jan. 31 in direct violation of the RNC’s rule that no state shall schedule a winner-take-all contest before April 1. The RNC summarily stripped the Sunshine State of half its delegates once more, not that it diminished the state’s power — all 50 delegates went to Romney, restoring his momentum after former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich swept South Carolina. The Gingrich campaign threatened to challenge the win, demanding that the delegates be divided proportionally, but in the end, Romney took Florida and the nomination, ultimately losing to incumbent President Barack Obama.

Harsh new rules may rein in Florida, preventing a rush among early primary states to hold the first primary after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Should states break the rules, they will lose almost all power to influence the selection of the nominee. Larger states will be stripped of all but nine of their delegates, while smaller ones will find themselves with only one-third of their delegates left, to prevent them from following Florida’s lead.

Angered by the RNC’s punitive measure and looking to hold their spot as the fifth primary state in 2012, Florida bumped its primary to Mar. 1, the first Tuesday allowed under the new rules. This time, however, its award will be allocated proportionally, possibly drawing out what the RNC hopes will be a compressed primary season.

The new rule change is expected to be fully approved by the full committee on Thursday.

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