DNC Changes the Rules Again

Over the past week, the Democratic National Committee drastically changed the rules for nominating a Presidential candidate. In doing so, they junked the long—standing tradition of having the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary launch the vote—gathering primary season. 

In the name of empowering blacks and Hispanics, they have inserted two new states into the Primary Season launch cycle: Nevada, which has a large Hispanic population, and South Carolina, which has a strong black population. The largely unspoken motive in moving Nevada up in prominence is to empower labor unions, which have organized large numbers of culinary and hotel workers in Las Vegas, and which are organizationaly able to mobilize turnout for caucuses.

Their stated goal is laudable in terms of values embraced by Democrats. They say they want to be inclusive, and that they want to ensure that America's two largest ethnic minorities have a strong voice in nominating their party's ultimate candidate. However, their way of going about this is almost certain to backfire in ways that they — blindered by an acute attack of Political Correctness — may not be able to see

The implicit message to New Hampshire and Iowa is one of rebuke for being 'too white.' Both states have greatly enjoyed their decades in the national media and political spotlight. Local media figures appreciate the national exposure their opinions garner, and ordinary folks enjoy being catered to by national political figures, who scour diners, VFW halls, pancake breakfasts, and other venues in search of hands to shake. There may well be a backlash for the Democrats in these two small states.

But worse damage is likely from the proposed serious penalties for candidates who buck the system — penalties such as denying them delegates they've earned in primaries or caucuses. If nothing else, this is an interesting way of treating men and women they hope might become President.  As a long—time political consultant who began his career in South Carolina, and who's lived and worked in Nevada for 15 years now, I hope that my perspective on what they're doing — and what they may be doing wrong — will prove informative and enlightening. Based on that, I offer the following:

1.  Some have questioned the legality of the penalties the DNC is proposing for candidates who buck the system. Based on my understanding of the way political parties work, the move is legal. Parties have wide latitude in seating delegates at conventions, and it would be well within the law for the party national convention credentialing committee to refuse to seat New Hampshire delegates pledged to candidates who broke the party rules.  However, that same credentialing committee could, at the 2008 national convention, over—rule this new ruling ... as I said, they have wide latitude, and their decisions are governed by politics.

2.  However, no matter how legal this move might be, it's my view that this move is extraordinarily bad for the Democratic Party, for a variety of reasons, including:

a.  The McGovern Factor:  You'd think the party would have learned from their disastrous 1972 election cycle.  Under the direction of George McGovern and his supporters, they re—wrote their rules to set quotas for delegates (so many blacks, so many women, etc.) and wound up nominating an unelectable candidate (McGovern). It took them years to overcome the problems those rule—changes made.  However, setting aside this painful lesson, they acted to ignore it.  This new ruling was made to give a much greater voice (presumably) to Hispanics (Nevada) and blacks (South Carolina). The result may be, as happened in 1972, the nomination of a candidate who appeals to (or panders effectively to) a couple of minorities, but who is unelectable to the wider national electorate.  Stacking the deck in the name of political correctness is not a sound strategy for winning a national election, and the Democrats are repeating their 1972 mistake.

b.  Reality vs. Perception:  Candidates may be tempted to buck the system — after all, the benefits might well outweigh the cost.  The reality of a win in New Hampshire will be far more powerful than will the perception of harm that will come from having the party saying "you can't have the delegates you won."  The first two events are both caucuses — in Iowa and Nevada — and neither the media nor the national electorate really understand (nor give as much credence to) caucuses.  Popular vote elections have more impact, and if New Hampshire decides to jump to the head of the queue as its law currently requires — and if a smart candidate decides to push hard to win in New Hampshire (for the media awareness and credibility) and not sweat the very few delegates New Hampshire actually delivers, that candidate could not only win in New Hampshire but make a shambles of this "reform" the Democrats have instituted.  The reality of a big win in New Hampshire could have far more impact than the perception of having "cheated" the system.

c.  Distraction Factor:  Once again, the Democratic Party has shifted the news story focus away from nominating a candidate who might be able to beat the Republicans and take back the White House. Instead, they have created a new news story, one about party control vs. the needs and plans of the candidates (who want to win in New Hampshire, no matter what the rules are).  So the new nominating process will be their story, not their candidate's story.  Even more important, if the Party pushes hard for candidates to follow the rules, the Democrats might actually damage the chances of their own candidate — at least the one with the best chance of winning in November.  For example, if Hillary runs, and if she decides (based on Bill's 1992 experience) that she needs to win in New Hampshire, she might be ostracized or condemned by the Party for violating the rules and campaigning in New Hampshire. However, if she wins the nomination in spite of that, she'll be seen (at least by Republicans and Independents) as a "cheater" who'll "do anything to win" — in other words, she might need to buck the Party to win the nomination, but in doing so, she might make herself unelectable.  This could apply to anybody — I just used Hillary as an example because she's on the cover of Time this week.  Again. For the 10th time.

Bottom line: this could well prove to be a really counter—productive decision on the part of the Democratic Party — a Party that frequently so fervently embraces political correctness that it loses sight of the real mission: to win the election and re—direct the country.  As a conservative, I can be thankful that they remain "the gang who couldn't shoot straight," but as a political observer and consultant, I've got to wonder what they were thinking of ... or if they were thinking at all.

Ned Barnett has been a political consultant since 1976, and has worked on campaigns for governors, senators congressmen and local officials — and, at the state level, on three Presidential campaigns.  He operates a PR and Marketing Communications consulting business with offices in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Arizona.

Over the past week, the Democratic National Committee drastically changed the rules for nominating a Presidential candidate. In doing so, they junked the long—standing tradition of having the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary launch the vote—gathering primary season. 

In the name of empowering blacks and Hispanics, they have inserted two new states into the Primary Season launch cycle: Nevada, which has a large Hispanic population, and South Carolina, which has a strong black population. The largely unspoken motive in moving Nevada up in prominence is to empower labor unions, which have organized large numbers of culinary and hotel workers in Las Vegas, and which are organizationaly able to mobilize turnout for caucuses.

Their stated goal is laudable in terms of values embraced by Democrats. They say they want to be inclusive, and that they want to ensure that America's two largest ethnic minorities have a strong voice in nominating their party's ultimate candidate. However, their way of going about this is almost certain to backfire in ways that they — blindered by an acute attack of Political Correctness — may not be able to see

The implicit message to New Hampshire and Iowa is one of rebuke for being 'too white.' Both states have greatly enjoyed their decades in the national media and political spotlight. Local media figures appreciate the national exposure their opinions garner, and ordinary folks enjoy being catered to by national political figures, who scour diners, VFW halls, pancake breakfasts, and other venues in search of hands to shake. There may well be a backlash for the Democrats in these two small states.

But worse damage is likely from the proposed serious penalties for candidates who buck the system — penalties such as denying them delegates they've earned in primaries or caucuses. If nothing else, this is an interesting way of treating men and women they hope might become President.  As a long—time political consultant who began his career in South Carolina, and who's lived and worked in Nevada for 15 years now, I hope that my perspective on what they're doing — and what they may be doing wrong — will prove informative and enlightening. Based on that, I offer the following:

1.  Some have questioned the legality of the penalties the DNC is proposing for candidates who buck the system. Based on my understanding of the way political parties work, the move is legal. Parties have wide latitude in seating delegates at conventions, and it would be well within the law for the party national convention credentialing committee to refuse to seat New Hampshire delegates pledged to candidates who broke the party rules.  However, that same credentialing committee could, at the 2008 national convention, over—rule this new ruling ... as I said, they have wide latitude, and their decisions are governed by politics.

2.  However, no matter how legal this move might be, it's my view that this move is extraordinarily bad for the Democratic Party, for a variety of reasons, including:

a.  The McGovern Factor:  You'd think the party would have learned from their disastrous 1972 election cycle.  Under the direction of George McGovern and his supporters, they re—wrote their rules to set quotas for delegates (so many blacks, so many women, etc.) and wound up nominating an unelectable candidate (McGovern). It took them years to overcome the problems those rule—changes made.  However, setting aside this painful lesson, they acted to ignore it.  This new ruling was made to give a much greater voice (presumably) to Hispanics (Nevada) and blacks (South Carolina). The result may be, as happened in 1972, the nomination of a candidate who appeals to (or panders effectively to) a couple of minorities, but who is unelectable to the wider national electorate.  Stacking the deck in the name of political correctness is not a sound strategy for winning a national election, and the Democrats are repeating their 1972 mistake.

b.  Reality vs. Perception:  Candidates may be tempted to buck the system — after all, the benefits might well outweigh the cost.  The reality of a win in New Hampshire will be far more powerful than will the perception of harm that will come from having the party saying "you can't have the delegates you won."  The first two events are both caucuses — in Iowa and Nevada — and neither the media nor the national electorate really understand (nor give as much credence to) caucuses.  Popular vote elections have more impact, and if New Hampshire decides to jump to the head of the queue as its law currently requires — and if a smart candidate decides to push hard to win in New Hampshire (for the media awareness and credibility) and not sweat the very few delegates New Hampshire actually delivers, that candidate could not only win in New Hampshire but make a shambles of this "reform" the Democrats have instituted.  The reality of a big win in New Hampshire could have far more impact than the perception of having "cheated" the system.

c.  Distraction Factor:  Once again, the Democratic Party has shifted the news story focus away from nominating a candidate who might be able to beat the Republicans and take back the White House. Instead, they have created a new news story, one about party control vs. the needs and plans of the candidates (who want to win in New Hampshire, no matter what the rules are).  So the new nominating process will be their story, not their candidate's story.  Even more important, if the Party pushes hard for candidates to follow the rules, the Democrats might actually damage the chances of their own candidate — at least the one with the best chance of winning in November.  For example, if Hillary runs, and if she decides (based on Bill's 1992 experience) that she needs to win in New Hampshire, she might be ostracized or condemned by the Party for violating the rules and campaigning in New Hampshire. However, if she wins the nomination in spite of that, she'll be seen (at least by Republicans and Independents) as a "cheater" who'll "do anything to win" — in other words, she might need to buck the Party to win the nomination, but in doing so, she might make herself unelectable.  This could apply to anybody — I just used Hillary as an example because she's on the cover of Time this week.  Again. For the 10th time.

Bottom line: this could well prove to be a really counter—productive decision on the part of the Democratic Party — a Party that frequently so fervently embraces political correctness that it loses sight of the real mission: to win the election and re—direct the country.  As a conservative, I can be thankful that they remain "the gang who couldn't shoot straight," but as a political observer and consultant, I've got to wonder what they were thinking of ... or if they were thinking at all.

Ned Barnett has been a political consultant since 1976, and has worked on campaigns for governors, senators congressmen and local officials — and, at the state level, on three Presidential campaigns.  He operates a PR and Marketing Communications consulting business with offices in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Arizona.