For GOP in 2016, some medicine

Published: October 3, 2013
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There will be severely enhanced penalties for state parties that jump to the head of the line, into February. Previously, line jumpers were penalized half their delegates; now the penalty could be severely enhanced. For example, one senior Republican — not Priebus — involved in rethinking the rules says Florida could go from more than one hundred to nine.

Currently, beginning March 1, states' primaries can award delegates proportionally or winner-take-all. In 2016, through the first three weeks of March, allocation should be proportional to prevent an avalanche that unduly truncates the selection process. (In 2008, more than 40 percent of all delegates were selected on one day in February.) This should please everyone wary of a calendar that would allow the richest, best-known candidate to run the table early.

Regarding debates, the new rules, not yet fully formulated, will be the first rules. The object is to prevent a recurrence of the jungles of 2007-2008 (21 debates) and 2011-2012 (20 debates). In 1980, there were six, which Priebus thinks is about optimal.

Marginal candidates with minimal financial resources, for whom debates are the oxygen of free publicity, will resist any restrictions. Suppose they accept invitations to unauthorized debates. Will more plausible candidates be tempted to join them? Not if any candidate who participates in unauthorized debates is, before the convention begins, denied a substantial portion of whatever delegates he or she has won.

Priebus, who must placate fractious party factions, won admiration across the party spectrum when he said that if NBC and CNN proceeded with their proposed election-year miniseries and documentary, respectively, about Hillary Clinton, neither organization would be allowed to sponsor an authorized debate. By this he earned some deference for his changes.

Madison crafted our constitutional architecture of incentives — principally, the separation of powers — to encourage self-interested people to be moderate and compromising. Priebus' Madisonian revisions of the incentive structure of the nominating process could protect the party, and presidential candidates, from its current penchant for self-destructive behavior.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

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