New GOP Rule Aimed At Keeping States From Early Primaries In 2016

On Jan. 31, the night of the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich spoke in Orlando, Fla., after coming in second. Florida Republicans violated party rules by holding the primary at such an early date. New rules will increase penalties for states that jump ahead of the party's schedule. i i

On Jan. 31, the night of the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich spoke in Orlando, Fla., after coming in second. Florida Republicans violated party rules by holding the primary at such an early date. New rules will increase penalties for states that jump ahead of the party's schedule. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
On Jan. 31, the night of the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich spoke in Orlando, Fla., after coming in second. Florida Republicans violated party rules by holding the primary at such an early date. New rules will increase penalties for states that jump ahead of the party's schedule.

On Jan. 31, the night of the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich spoke in Orlando, Fla., after coming in second. Florida Republicans violated party rules by holding the primary at such an early date. New rules will increase penalties for states that jump ahead of the party's schedule.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Largely overlooked amid the convention floor fight over Ron Paul's delegates and the delegate selection process was another rule approved at the same time: It would harshly punish any large state that jumps the line on the primary schedule in 2016.

Looking at you, Florida.

This year, just as they did in 2008, Florida Republicans moved their presidential primary to late January in violation of the party rules. That triggered a calendar shift by the official early states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — all of which scrambled to move their own elections earlier.

Florida GOP leaders knew they faced losing half their delegates, but pushed ahead anyway.

They figured — correctly, as it turned out — that even half their 99 delegates would make them far more muscular than the other early states. And that's how it worked out, when the Florida primary went to Mitt Romney, giving him renewed momentum after a bad loss in South Carolina.

Four years from now, though, that math will be very different. Under the new rule adopted Tuesday, any state that moves its election earlier than the last Tuesday in February will have its delegation reduced to 12. For Florida, that would mean losing not 50 percent but nearly 90 percent of its delegate strength.

If it seems draconian, it was meant to be. State parties that want to increase their clout by jumping the line should no longer see any advantage in doing so.

Candidates would think twice before deciding to spend millions for television ads to win just a dozen delegates.

Among other changes in the new GOP platform:

— There will be no more secondary penalties on delegates from rule-breaking states (no more lousy hotel assignments, fewer guest passes, etc.).

— States will be allowed to allocate delegates on a winner-take-all basis, as the GOP traditionally has done. This year, states voting prior to April 1 were forbidden to hold winner-take-all events. The change was made at the request of the Romney campaign, which, in the event he is seeking re-election, wants a series of winner-take-all contests to wrap up the nomination quickly.

— The RNC is allowed to change the rules between conventions, if it can muster a three-quarters vote of its membership. In the event Romney does not win in November, the party can revert to requiring states that vote early to allocate delegates proportionally. That gives a shot to underfunded candidates (think Rick Santorum). The thinking is that if winner-take-all contests predominate, the candidate with the biggest war chest will almost certainly win.

— All elections, be they primaries or caucuses, have to result in the actual allocation of delegates. No more beauty contest primaries (Missouri) or beauty contest caucus nights (Iowa). In 2016, the results of the Iowa caucuses will have to count, and count immediately.

S.V. Dáte is the congressional editor on NPR's Washington Desk.

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