RNC's Reince Priebus, Morton Blackwell Face Off over Primary Season Rule Changes

In the 2012 campaign cycle, some Republican insiders grimaced as Mitt Romney absorbed blow after blow in the lengthy primary season, all while President Obama was busy organizing the campaign juggernaut that went on – at least from a campaign mechanics sense – to utterly trounce Romney.

The angst prompted an unusual Republican party rule change at the 2012 convention that critics complain to this day was a “power grab.” And as the Republican National Committee looks to adapt the 2016 campaign process to new challenges of the Internet-era presidential campaign, the lingering feelings of distrust are casting a pall on the party's deliberations.

Despite that, there is something approaching consensus among GOP state committee members that the 2012 Republican presidential primaries lasted too long and contained too many debates, which ultimately gave President Barack Obama a political and fundraising advantage. As a result of the lengthy, politically bloody primary campaign season, Romney could not access his general campaign spending funds until after the August 2012 convention.

To address that, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is championing a series of proposals to streamline the campaign season. Specifically, the changes would emphasize giving candidates more of an incentive to spend the Winter and Spring seasons campaigning in more states. The convention would take place in June or early July, earlier than it has in past cycles. In theory, that will allow more participation by GOP voters over a shorter period of time. As a result, the Republican nominee can compete in the general reelection longer.

Here are the details:

  • The carve-out states' contests (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) will remain in February.
  • Other states can start their contests on or after March 1.
  • Any contest between March 1st and March 14th will be proportional.
  • Any contest after March 14th can go proportional or winner-take-all.
  • The Republican National Convention will take place in June or early July.
  • The primary process will conclude at least 45 days before a June or early July convention because time for certification has been extended from 35 to 45 days before convention.
  • Penalties if states go outside of the new rules are clear early and are firm. States will lose 9 delegates plus 3 RNC member delegates or 1/3 of their delegates – whatever is larger.

Raffi Williams, a spokesman for Priebus, said the new primary structure was designed to let “every faction have a say.”

The reason "you see [Priebus] re-doing the primary system is that first two weeks of proportionality, so that people aren’t being taken by majoritarian rule only. Every faction has a say. That’s what what was really important to him and that allowed to build a lot of credibility with a lot of these smaller factions and groups within the party,” Williams told Breitbart News.

Not everyone is happy, though. Morton Blackwell, who is Virginia’s Republican National Committeeman, told Breitbart News on Tuesday that while he favors the shortening of the primary calendar to benefit the eventual GOP nominee, who will be able to access general campaign funds earlier, he worries the changes would prevent little-known but high quality conservative candidates from having the time and space to catch fire. “Conservatives need time to unite to settle on what is certain to be a number of conservative candidates. If you have four or five conservative candidates then we’re likely to not have a good chance to nominate a good conservative that conservatives should work for,” said Blackwell.

For that reason, Blackwell objects to the proposal from the RNC that certifies delegates 45 days before the national convention as opposed to the current 35 days, arguing that with an already proposed shortened primary season, a shorter certification period for delegates will push out more conservative and less well-funded candidates and build up other candidates the media wants to prop up.

Other committee members say there is a growing consensus to accept Priebus's proposal on the rules and move forward. Former Michigan Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis told Breitbart News on Wednesday the new rules will likely have the full support of the RNC members.

"I think there is a growing consensus to accept the RNC position and I believe it'll get the 2/3 vote. There are still some people who would like to see a larger more comprehensive rules change, but the reality is that everyone is trying to get a consensus, so we can move on to the next cycle," said Anuzis. He added, "There are those who would, particularly in the donor community, that would like to significantly shorten the primary process and most people in the grassroots want to keep it as long as possible to maximize people's involvement. Somewhere in between, what is a practical primary session that doesn't hurt the ultimate nominee is what the issue is all about."

Michigan, along with Florida, jumped ahead of other states in 2012 to have their state contests and lost delegates during the convention as a result. "Michigan wanted to be relevant. Obviously, we had our favorite son Mitt Romney. So I think that added to it as well," Anuzis added.


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