Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele (right) and current Chairman Reince Priebus have ushered in a new RNC rule that may play a large role in the 2012 presidential election.
The devil, people say, is in the details, and there is no better example of that than a relatively small change in the rules of the Republican Party, which could end up having a big effect on the GOP’s presidential nominating process and even on the general election.
Unlike Democrats, Republicans don’t make rule changes between national conventions. Rules adopted at one national convention stay in place for four years, until the next national convention.
On Aug. 6, 2010, however, for the first time in history, a rule change passed the Republican National Committee by an unheard-of two-thirds majority and was enacted.
The rule, drawn up by the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee established at the 2008 GOP convention, was subject to an up-or-down vote without amendment at the party’s 2010 summer meeting.
Under the first part of the new Rule 15, which has received plenty of media attention, only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are allowed to select delegates to the 2012 convention in February, while other states can begin the process no earlier than the first Tuesday in March.
But the new rule also states that, aside from the four February states, all other states holding contests before April 1 (that is, the often crucial March states) must “provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis.” Proportionality is not defined in the rules.
Then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who was chairman of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee, praised the changes, saying they would “ensure that we emerge from the primaries with the strongest Republican nominee possible to defeat Barack Obama.”
Whether that is true will be tested next year.
Supporters of the change believe the new calendar, combined with the proportionality requirement for March contests, will make it more difficult for a candidate to deliver a quick, early knockout.
“We will have a 60-day nominating contest that will be long enough for the party to evaluate the candidates and consider their electability, but not so long that it will create a problem for the general election,” Tennessee Republican National Committeeman John Ryder, a member of the temporary committee, told me recently.
But unlike the Democratic National Committee, which in 2008 succeeded in making the primaries in Michigan and Florida irrelevant because those states violated the party’s calendar “window,” the RNC opted for a different strategy.