Republican Party Cleans Up That Way-Too-Interesting Primary System

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 24 2014 12:52 PM

Republican Party Cleans Up That Way-Too-Interesting Primary System

150808803-supporter-of-the-us-republican-presidential-contender
Sorry, Paulites.

Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/GettyImages

The main news out of this week's Republican National Committee meeting, the news that will actually ripple for years, concerns the new, shrunken primary calendar. Remember how the 2012 primary lasted for months and gave Rick Santorum a bunch of chances to challenge Mitt Romney? Remember how the Ron Paul forces took over state conventions months after anyone else was covering them, and seized four state delegations? All finished, finis.

The new rules, as just approved, allow only four states to lead the first month of balloting: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. (The rules put these contests in February, but in previous years an arms race has ended up putting the contests at the front of January.) Florida will not jump into the first month.

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What's left? Any election (presidential preference caucus, primary) between March 1 and March 14 will operate under proportional representation. Any contest after March 14 can go proportional, or assign delegates on a winner-takes-all basis. Any state that defies these rules (or the timing rules) will lose one-third of all delegates, or nine elected delegates plus the normal three RNC member-delegates—whatever's larger. (Delaware, for example, would lose 12 of its 16 assigned delegates.)

Oh, and that whole end run the Ron Paul people pulled in 2012? Winning conventions and reversing the "results" of the primary preference caucuses? No longer possible. If a caucus state holds a preference poll—the event that allows any registered voter to show up in a high school gym and cast a vote—then that result will be binding on the eventual delegate math. Only if a caucus state holds no preference poll—if it, say, holds some convention to pick delegates—will such a convention be binding.

Finally, the Republican National Convention will take place "in June or early July." The goal of this change, and of all changes, is to maximize the time that the Republican candidate (TBD) will be his party's nominee, to effectively compete against the Democratic candidate (Hillary Clinton, let's just be honest).

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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