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January 24, 2014 4:54 PM Unintended Consequences?

By Ed Kilgore

Most of the talk about the RNC’s new rules for the presidential nominating process assumes confidently that it will enable the next John McCain or Mitt Romney—you know, a Republican Establishment candidate seeking to beat hard-core conservative rivals—will have an easier route to the nomination and then a longer and better-funded general election campaign. Partly that’s because a well-known conservative activist, Morton Blackwell of Virginia, noisily protested the rules change as tilting the playing field (though he had few allies when the vote was actually held). And partly that’s because the MSM (and probably many RNC members) viewed the attempt to create a tiger calendar would reward the wealthiest and most conventional candidates, though it’s not entirely clear who that would be in 2016.

There are a number of things wrong with these breezy assumptions (for a good summary, see Josh Putnam’s disclaimers at Frontloading HQ). For one thing, the RNC’s ability to dictate the nominating calendar depend on state compliance. For another, states will want to hear from the DNC as well, given the cost involved in running separate party primaries, and we have no idea where Democrats are on the calendar.

Just as importantly, there are many scenarios that could make a hash of the idea that the new calendar will produce an Establishment-favored, “electable” nominee. Here’s just one as presented by Rick Moran at the American Thinker:

These changes will also have unintended consequences - like conservatives may coalesce around one candidate early. That will be difficult but if successful, it could be curtains for the establishment candidate. The last two election cycles, McCain and Romney were successful because it took months for candidate attrition to lead to a one on one match up with a conservative. While the right was fighting it out among themselves, McCain and Romney kept piling up the delegates until they had a prohibitive lead. Imagine if the right were to choose one candidate to support before the primaries even begin?

I certainly don’t think Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, if they run, are going to be cash-strapped long shots who slog their way through all 99 Iowa counties for months before registering in the polls or in other states—the situation endured by Rick Santorum, who wound up being Mitt Romney’s ultimate conservative challenger and came closer to victory than anyone had imagined.

So if I were an Establishment Republican, I wouldn’t be too certain the rules changes will work any magic, even if they happen to be fully implemented.

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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