The Republicans' new primary calendar is rigged

(Image credit: (Getty/Alex Wong))

The Republican Party has over-learned the lessons of the outrageously damaging 2012 presidential nomination calendar, and today, it passed a raft of new rules designed to, as Zeke Miller writes, tighten control over the process.

It's about money, he writes. When Mitt Romney became the all-but-certain GOP nominee, his fundraising was tapped out, having been used to destroy the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and by rules he could not use general election money until he was officially nominated in August. That allowed the Democrats to pound Romney for several months, to define him as a corporatist, out-of-touch meanie, without the Romney campaign having the money to respond on television. By holding the convention in June, the Democrats won the power play.

The financial imbalance, as difficult as it was, hurt Mitt Romney much less than the epigastric circus of the primary season itself. For months, every new debate produced a new front-runner. Occasionally, manifestly unqualified Republicans were held up as the possible nominee: Michelle Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, being among them, along with (alleged) serial sexual harasser Herman Cain, the pizza company mogul. The party's own effort to incorporate and harness the energy of the Tea Party movement created the noose that hung the nominee when he eventually had to face the rest of the electorate. The GOP looked crazy and unserious. And Romney had to pander to keep up.

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So the new process does several things:

1. It takes power away from state parties, many of which, including the all-important Iowa Republican Party, are controlled by Tea Party activists. It centralizes power in the Republican National Committee. States that want to jump ahead will face serious penalties. (Of course, the nominee could always move to restore the delegates taken away from the penalized states at the convention.)

2. It increases the threshold for earning delegates, which will help GOP candidates who can win in larger states, and will penalize those who hold to a small-state strategy. It also makes the larger states much more valuable than they currently are.

3. It shortens the period of time between contests, which means that candidates who unexpectedly win a state won't have as much time to bask in the free media that accompanies it.

4. It reduces the amount of money that serious candidates have to raise for the primaries, allowing them to focus more on general election fundraising.

5. It marginalizes movement conservatives in smaller states by effectively writing them out of the process.

The end result is that the party has conspired to nominate the most electable conservative candidate and quickly. Challengers must prove themselves much earlier. Deep pockets and good field organizations will become more important relative to free media generated by tactical maneuvers and conservative radio hosts.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.