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A Proposal for 2016

The initial reviews of this year’s Republican nominating process have been mixed at best. Designed to prevent a rush to judgment, rules changes for 2012 have produced the longest-running GOP primary campaign since 1976. The contest has been too long and too divisive in the view of many political observers, giving party rules makers plenty to think about when they proceed at their convention this summer to either tweak or totally overhaul their nominating rules for 2016.

First out of the gate with a proposal is Zach Wilkes, a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. His credentials are much stronger than one might think. In every presidential election year for more than a century, students at Washington and Lee have held a mock convention, anticipating the presidential nominee of the “out party.” This year that was the Republicans and Mr. Wilkes was the political director of the entire event, immersing himself in GOP rules at both the state and national levels. 

From his experience, he has put forward a proposal for changes in the Republican rules for 2016 that are provocative, creative and straightforward. The title of his plan, the “Republican ‘Super Four’ Primary Reform Proposal,” is built around a whole different start to the nominating process. 

Rather than have the “carved out” early states voting across the opening month of the primary season, Mr. Wilkes would have New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Wisconsin (a replacement for Iowa) voting together on the first Tuesday in February. The rest of the country would begin holding their primaries or caucuses two weeks later, ostensibly making the third Tuesday in February the new Super Tuesday.

Any state trying to move up on the calendar before then would be stripped of all its delegates, not just 50% as is the present case. Also, under the ‘Super Four’ plan, winner-take-all primaries would be allowed at any point in the process, not just after the end of March as is the rule this year.  

Taken together, Mr. Wilkes’ suggestions would create a Republican playing field in 2016 that could result in an earlier end to their nominating contest than this year. But for certain, his plan would launch the next campaign with a bang.

Rather than the usual Iowa - New Hampshire “two step,” every region of the country would be represented on opening day. It would offer a dramatic change from the current system and would give candidates who might be weak in the agrarian Midwest or upper New England a fighting chance.

To be sure, Mr. Wilkes’ proposal is open to debate. But from this vantage point, it has considerable merit, and would be worth a look from the GOP powers that be.

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Reader Comments (2)

Mr. Wilkes' plan has many risks to the Republican Party, including lengthening the primary and further splinterring the Party.

Each candidate has a natural advantage over his/her opponents that place them in better footing in certain regions. There is no way to control for this except making candidates campaign in the various regions in the contests leading up to Super Tuesday. If you establish a day that is just a mini-Super Tuesday the event leads to the development of more regionalized campaigns that can ignore other states.

Gingrich would have no reason to campaign in Iowa if he knows money will be better spent on SC. Santorum has no reason to focus on developing New Hampshire if he can just focus on winning Iowa. Romney surely doesn't have to campaign as hard in Iowa or SC if he knows he will win big in NH and NV.

The result is that everyone comes out a "winner" in a relatively irrelevant day of contests. Together the five contests (even substituting WI for IA) lose their significance and ultimately shift the race to Super Tuesday where no candidate has any proven momentum. And so on a day that is supposed to cement at least the leader, all candidates can come out of Super Tuesday with some wins and claim legitimacy.

Therefore the system produces two large election contests that produce no definitive leaders but regional/single-constituency candidates. These type of candidates only further splitter the party and produce bruising primaries.

This year a very similar scenario played out because of a very weak field, outside money, and proportional allocation. If the Republican Party wants a united party, it must pay attention to these problems.

First, The Super PACs have essentially kept Gingrich and Santorum afloat. Surely ROF's support of Romney has not hurt, but if push came to shove Romeny would have the resources to supplement. Second, The party has been greatly hurt by proportional allocation and should go back to having a majority of states allocate by winner-take-all.

The national organization has less control over the first problem, but it shows there is a serious problem in our political system. Great candidates bowed out because of the the lack of civility on the campaign trail. The national organization should work harder to create a political environment that is less partisan and more civil.

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas

Sounds like Wilkes did his homework in his reports. Very interesting post. I'm from Lexington VA and I have heard about changing dates for the super tuesday.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

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