It didn’t get all that much attention before the Ukraine scandal and the subsequent House Democratic move towards impeachment, but the Republican Party, nationally and in the states, has been quietly working toward avoiding any unpleasantness surrounding Donald Trump’s planned reelection gala in Charlotte next August. Four states — including two of the protected early states, Nevada and South Carolina, plus Kansas and Arizona — have formally cancelled their 2020 caucuses or primaries, and plan to award all delegates to the MAGA king. That wasn’t unprecedented. As nominating contest maven Josh Putnam has noted, numerous states didn’t bother to hold Republican primaries or caucuses when George W. Bush ran for reelection in 2004, and the same is true for Democrats during Barack Obama’s reelection run of 2012. The idea is that states (or in the case of caucuses, state parties) shouldn’t waste money on contests that are, well, no contest.
But neither Bush nor Obama had anything remotely like credible intra-party opponents, while Trump has two former governors (William Weld and Mark Sanford) and a former House member (Joe Walsh) publicly challenging his renomination. None of them have much traction at the moment, but rising impeachment sentiment (even among self-identified Republican voters) has to make Team Trump wonder if precautions are in order.
The canceled events aren’t the only measures Republicans are taking to protect the incumbent, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
President Donald Trump’s campaign helped orchestrate rule changes at party conventions in dozens of states, including Georgia, to weaken a potential GOP insurrection before it can start.
Three senior Trump campaign officials said on a conference call Monday that they pressed party officials in 37 states to make it harder for a Republican primary opponent to emerge at the nominating convention in Charlotte in August 2020.
The key strategy is to monkey around with the proportional representation rules that Republicans introduced in 2016. Now states are being encouraged in order to let states move back towards winner-take-all or winner-take-most systems. Here’s how it will work in Georgia:
Under the [new] rules, a candidate who wins a plurality of votes statewide automatically captures all of the statewide and at-large delegates. And the candidate who wins a plurality in each congressional district automatically captures all three delegates from the district.
The previous rules used in the 2016 election let candidates capture at least a handful of delegates if they won 20 percent of the vote statewide or, in some cases, if they finished in a strong second place in a congressional district.
As Putnam has noted, some state Republican parties have adopted rules that give candidates winning statewide majorities (as opposed to mere pluralities) winner-take-all awards. On a separate front, in 2018 the Republican National Committee abolished its debate-authorization commission. Wouldn’t want to give any pesky Trump rivals a platform to gain attention, would we?
It’s likely that these steps toward unanimity in the nominating process were motivated less by any fear that Trump might lose than by a desire to avoid the sort of divisive spectacle the party advertised in 2016, when Ted Cruz gave a big convention speech that did not include an endorsement of the nominee. Now that Trump truly controls the RNC, he can plan a convention that is, as his representatives have called it, a “four-day television commercial.” Don’t need any mixed messages when you’re revving up the party base to smite the anti-American, anti-God, baby-killing socialists in what will likely be a close general election.