A Republican National Committee rules change known as the "proportionality window" could make it virtually impossible for a movement candidate to become the party's 2016 nominee, Ethics and Policy Center Senior Fellow Henry Olsen warns in an article for National Review.
The rule, said Olsen, requires states holding caucuses or primaries between March 1 and March 14 to allocate delegates proportionally, while allocating delegates at the congressional district level by the "winner-take-all" method.
The rule changes,
adopted last spring in Memphis, include stripping states — except for the traditional first four of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — of almost all their delegates to the party's nominating convention if they hold a presidential primary or caucus before March 1.
"The combination of these two rules means that the nominee will very likely be whoever wins the contests held after March 14," Olsen said. "It will be impossible to run up a sizeable delegate lead in the early phase of the race when many candidates are competing."
With many of the more conservative Southern states holding primaries inside the March time period, "a conservative candidate will probably not gain many delegates over the establishment choice by winning the states in his base," Olsen said.
Even if a Southern state allocates three delegates to each congressional district, as usually happens, the proportional allocation could put the conservative winner at a disadvantage, as he or she would have to compete in states that can select delegates by winner-take-all means.
Olsen pointed out that 10 of the 15 Southern border states will hold elections before March 14, with three other states, Iowa, Minnesota, Utah, Michigan, and Ohio.
Under the new rules, "a conservative could run the table in these events and yet barely open up a delegate lead," Olsen said, as an establishment choice could take less conservative states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
There is, however, an RNC change that could help more conservative candidates. In the last presidential race, candidates like Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich would win straw votes, but candidates with better infrastructure or more followers could dominate the political conventions and get the delegates, anyway.
The rule changes now require that delegates be allocated according to straw-poll results, meaning the candidate that wins the straw poll will get the delegates he or she has earned.
However, more conservative candidates are not likely to be nominated unless more conservative cases get around the March window.
"Southern states have banded together before to create a 'Southern primary,' " he said. If they can schedule the primaries for March 15, conservatives "will have an early and an effective impact on the 2016 nomination."
But states that do that must also adopt the method used by states outside the South, which award three delegates to the person winning each of the state's congressional districts, giving the remainder to the person winning the statewide popular vote.
For example, in Ohio in 2012, eventual nominee Mitt Romney won only by one point but got 13 more delegates than former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Olsen said.
"A conservative presidential candidate faces many barriers to victory," he concluded. "It would be a terrible shame if that person started the process with a tougher road because of establishment cleverness and conservative blindness.
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