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December 11, 2013 4:45 PM In Republican Battle With Primary “Chaos,” Chaos Still Winning

By Ed Kilgore

CNN’s Peter Hamby does some good reporting in a piece on various Republican discussions about the 2016 presidential nominating process. But the natural tendency of a reporter to overhype the significance of his scoop is painfully apparent here. The following is Hanby’s lede with words italicized that add some questionable drama to the proceedings:

A handful of Republican Party officials is quietly advancing a new batch of rules aimed at streamlining a chaotic presidential nominating process that many party insiders viewed as damaging to the their campaign for the White House in 2012, multiple GOP sources told CNN.

In a series of closed-door meetings since August, handpicked members of the Republican National Committee have been meeting with party Chairman Reince Priebus in Washington to hash out details of a sweeping plan to condense the nominating calendar, severely punish primary and caucus states that upend the agreed-upon voting order and potentially move the party’s national convention to earlier in the summer, with late June emerging as the ideal target date.

Compare this account of what’s actually happening with that of the reigning expert on this whole subject, Josh Putnam of Frontloading HQ, who relies in part on Hamby’s factual reporting. I’m not about to go through Putnam’s vast post, but with his usual painstaking detail he examines what is and isn’t happening, and sees a lot less change in the works than Hamby’s adjectives suggest.

The quartet of privileged states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) retain their privileges and may be able to delay the starting gun for ‘16 until early February, though late January is more likely. The “severe” penalty for calendar-jumping has mainly been adjusted to keep small states from moving with light consequences. The early convention idea is colliding with the unwillingness of states holding simultaneous presidential and down-ballot primaries to hold both any earlier than they already do. And it’s important to distinguish between the dates for naming delegates and those for binding them to a candidate.

On top of everything else, all this talk must be coordinated with Democrats, who will have their own open presidential nominating contest in 2016.

Why does the difference in tone between Hamby’s account and Putnam’s matter? Well, it’s not earth-shaking, but Hamby’s approach reinforces the cherished MSM meme that for all the craziness of its “base” and “activists,” the GOP is actually run by a small but powerful cabal of shrewd and pragmatic “insiders” who use their superior procedural knowledge (in venues ranging from Congress to campaigns to the nominating process) to manipulate Republicans into doing their will. Just wait and see: the idea that the nominating process is being “overhauled” will soon merge with the idea that “pragmatists” are preparing to grease the skids for a “pragmatic” presidential nominee, presumably Chris Christie.

Truth is, the Republican presidential nominating process is a long way from being rescued from “chaos,” less because of the relative impotence of supposedly almighty party elites than because states still call the most important shots, and the early states are willing to do whatever is necessary to preserve their outsized power. So let’s keep any “reforms” or “schemes” we hear about—and their alleged consequences—in perspective.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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