Here’s the RNC “Growth and Opportunity Project” recommendations for the 2016 presidential primaries:
1. The Republican Convention should be held earlier in the summer. It should be moved to late June or sometime in July, allowing our nominee more time to begin the general election phase. (Note: The 2016 Olympics will be held August 5-21.)
2. Because the nominee will still need an estimated 60-90 days to prepare for the Convention,changes will need to be made to the primary calendar. If the Convention were to be held in July, the last primary would need to be held no later than May 15. If the Convention were to be held in late June, the final primary would need to be held no later than April 30.Moving primaries up will require states and state parties to cooperate.
3. We take no position on whether a contest should be winner take all or proportionate.The fact is, both methods can delay or speed up the likelihood of a nominee being chosen. It all depends on who is winning and by what margins in each primary or caucus election.
4. To facilitate moving up primary elections to accommodate an earlier convention, the Party should strongly consider a regional primary system or some other form of a major reorganization instead of the current system. The current system is a long, winding, often random road that makes little sense. It stretches the primaries out too long, forces our candidates to run out of money, and because some states vote so late, voters in those states never seem to count. Such a change would allow for a broader group of Republicans to play a role in selecting our nominee.
5. Recognizing the traditions of several states that have early nominating contests, the newly organized primaries would begin only after the “carve-out” states have held their individual elections. It remains important to have an “on ramp” of small states that hold unique primary days before the primary season turns into a multi-state process with many states voting on one day. The idea of a little-known candidate having a fair chance remains important.
6. We also recommend broadening the base of the Party and inviting as many voters as possible into the Republican Party by discouraging conventions and caucuses for the purpose of allocating delegates to the national convention. Our party needs to grow its membership,and primaries seem to be a more effective way to do so. The greater the number of people who vote in a Republican primary, the more likely they will turn out and vote again for the Republican candidate in the fall election.
A big question: Which states will qualify as “carve out” under a future plan? The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, almost certainly. Will South Carolina remain as “first in the South”? Will the Nevada caucus remain in the early mix? Will Florida be able to retain its status as the first large state?
Note that primary dates are selected by the states — although the national committee can punish the states that they deem have scheduled it too early by taking away some or most of their delegates. Probably the most high-profile example of this came in the Democratic presidential primary in 2008, with the big states of Michigan and Florida:
The Democratic National Committee determined that the date of the Michigan Democratic Primary violated the party rules and ultimately decided to sanction the state, stripping all 156 delegates and refusing to seat them at the convention. Despite this, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the primary could go ahead as scheduled. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee later met on May 31, 2008, and agreed to seat all of Michigan’s delegates with each delegate having only receive half a vote. As a result of this compromise, Michigan had 78 votes at the convention. On August 24, the delegates had full voting rights restored.
Every state wants to go early, of course, and the front-loading too many primaries too early makes it nearly impossible for any underdog to catch fire.
As Priebus told me back in January, the RNC ultimately controls the nomination process – and through this, they can influence both the candidates and the states: “There is one major reason that a presidential candidate needs the Republican party: To get on the ballot in November, a presidential candidate must get a majority of delegates at a national convention to vote for him or her. If the presidential candidate can’t make that happen, he or she is not on the ballot.”
Also note the strong endorsement of eliminating caucuses (hurrah) and the implied endorsement of open primaries. Many conservatives are convinced that their preferred candidates lose GOP primaries because non-Republicans vote in the primaries; they contend that if you want to select a party’s presidential nominee, you ought to register with that party. Alternately, some fear mischief-making “Operation Chaos” style efforts by Democrats.
This may be less of an issue in 2016, if there is a competitive Democratic presidential primary going on during the GOP presidential primary.