It’s been a little over two weeks since Donald Trump essentially kick-started the 2024 presidential campaign by announcing he would run. On Friday, a vote by the Democratic National Committee added a layer of logistical chaos to the race, even if no one has quite realized it yet.
But let’s back up 24 hours. On Thursday, President Biden proposed a surprise change in the order of state presidential primaries.
The plan was described as both “shocking” and “bold.” Some said it came out of nowhere.
Even more surprising, members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee then adopted it almost unanimously on Friday afternoon.
For 50 years, the process by which candidates ran for president was the same. They first competed in the Iowa Caucuses and then, usually eight days later, in New Hampshire’s primary. In 1980, South Carolina was added as an early primary voting state and then in 2008, Nevada was elevated to do so. But both contests came after Iowa and New Hampshire and the changes were agreed upon by Republicans and Democrats alike, along with the states which implemented them.
What Biden recommended scraps that history entirely. The new proposed schedule: Put South Carolina first, followed a week later by New Hampshire and Nevada holding primaries on the same day, then a week later by Georgia, then Michigan.
With Biden and the party’s collective stamps of approval, you might think it’s all a done deal. But guess what? The DNC has no power to actually make any of this happen.
These primaries are all run by states. Four of the five states listed have Republican governors. Heck, the state required to make the boldest change, South Carolina, is entirely run by Republicans. And since the GOP has recommended no such changes, if these states, especially Georgia and Michigan, try and move their state primary dates for both political parties they will be in violation of Republican National Committee rules.
As far as Republicans are concerned, they are sticking with the traditional first four states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
Now imagine you have the Democrats saying the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa Caucuses are over, while the GOP counters that they are very still alive. In other words, we may be looking at a self-imposed mess from Biden and the DNC.
To be clear, dumping the duopoly of Iowa and New Hampshire is deeply popular within the Democratic base. There is merit to the argument that neither state represents the party — They are both very white and very rural. And in the case of Iowa, after several years of hiccups, it’s also proven to be a poorly run contest.
While states pick the dates of elections and pay for them, there is a role for the national parties in these contests. They alone decide whether the party will accept a slate of delegates to their national convention and how those delegates are selected. If they run the presidential primary debates, as they have only done in the last few presidential cycles, they can decide to punish candidates who campaign in states that don’t follow party rules.
But that is getting ahead of ourselves. The Democrats now essentially have to beg Republicans to do them a solid and agree to the same calendar.
Let’s go step by step.
The DNC rules will require South Carolina to pass a law moving its state primary, at least on the Democratic side. It is very unclear if South Carolina’s Republican-dominated state house will do this, particularly given the short notice and the money it will cost.
Next up are Nevada and New Hampshire.
At the moment, Nevada doesn’t have to change anything. Earlier this year, it passed a law that puts its 2024 presidential primary on the same date the DNC just recommended.
But, in less than a month, Nevada will have inaugurated a new Republican governor. The recommended change also proposes holding the Nevada contest on the same date as the one in New Hampshire and that violates New Hampshire law, which says that the state must hold the nation’s first presidential primary at least seven days before any other similar contest. Add to that the fact that New Hampshire law stipulates that its secretary of state is solely responsible for picking a date, leaving less room for political machinations.
All this is to say that New Hampshire is unlikely to go along with any of this. Instead, the state will probably proceed as follows: Sometime next fall, the secretary of state will announce a primary date after all other state legislatures have gone home, effectively ensuring that it will go first.
So then the questions become, will the candidates show up in New Hampshire? And will the national media treat it as the big deal it has always been?
Then there is Georgia, which also is entirely run by Republicans. On Friday, the DNC committee members, arguing for the recommended changes, gave speeches about how an early Georgia primary will help Democrats organize and win the state in the general election. Why would Republicans want to help Democrats do that?
The last state is the easiest: Michigan. Democrats have all the levers of power in that state, so they can do what they want. But even then it might have to come at a cost. They would have to decouple the Republican and Democratic primaries or risk their Republican primary violating the Republican National Committee rules.
It’s a logistical mess, plain and simple. How it plays out is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned.