For GOP, Adjusted 2016 Primary Calendar Is All About The Money

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Supporters gather on the first day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Aug. 27, 2012

The Republican National Committee took steps Thursday to change how it will pick its presidential candidate in 2016, the latest effort by the national party to tighten control over the primary calendar. The motivation behind the change is simple: it’s all about the money.

In the summer of 2012, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign was cash-strapped as most of its resources were tied up until he officially became the GOP‘s nominee at the Republican National Convention, allowing the Obama campaign months to define him with a television blitz. The RNC, is looking to free up those general election dollars sooner by moving the 2016 convention to late June or mid-July.

On Thursday, the RNC’s Rules Committee, continued to ease the path for better-funded establishment candidates to avoid the type of ‘long slog’ against poorly-organized and under-funded candidates that Mitt Romney was subjected to. The latest proposals allow proportional contests to be rendered as essentially winner take all, by allowing states to set minimum thresholds for support in order to receive delegates. Changes passed at the Republican National Convention in 2012 and subsequent meetings, have clamped down on caucuses, requiring that they directly tie delegates to the convention, instead of allowing grassroots convention takeovers at state conventions.

Under the RNC’s ideal scenario, which now appears likely, the first nominating contests for Republicans in 2016 will be Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, taking place in the month of February. Painful penalties, stripping states of nearly all of their delegates, should keep other states from moving their caucuses and primaries before March 1.

States holding primaries and caucuses before March 15, including the early four, would be required to award their delegates proportionally in what party planners call a ‘cooling-off period,’ designed to prevent a candidate from riding a wave of momentum to the nomination without the requisite public scrutiny.

But the changes also favor well-funded establishment candidates, by compressing the nominating timetable. The RNC is requiring that nominating contests finish 45 days before the convention — potentially as early as May 17, 2016. RNC members expect a crush of primaries in the second half of March once winner-takes-all contests are allowed. Grassroots activists complain that the compressed timetable disadvantages underfunded candidates who need small victories to stay in the race — precisely the goal of the committee majority.

Democrats, meanwhile, have not revisited their primary calendar. “Republicans are struggling in national elections because they are out of touch, not because of their convention date or their primary calendar,” said Democratic Party spokesperson Lily Adams. “As long as Republicans continue to oppose and block common sense policies like immigration reform, increasing the minimum wage, and equal treatment for all Americans no matter who they love, Americans will continue to reject them. The DNC is on track to use a similar timeline and practice – as we have done in the past – to develop the most diverse and inclusive nominating process.”

The full Republican National Committee is expected to approve the latest rule changes tomorrow with the requisite three-fourths margin. The next agenda item for the rules committee, according to members, will be asserting RNC control over primary debates, with action expected at the next meeting this spring.

What 2016 Will Look Like For Republicans:
First week of February: Iowa Caucuses

Second week of February: New Hampshire Primary

Mid- to Late- February: South Carolina Primary followed by Nevada Caucuses

March 1: States other than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada begin to hold nominating contests with proportional delegate allocation; states can set a threshold as high as 20 percent for obtaining delegates.

March 16: States may begin holding winner-take-all contests.

May 17: Earliest cut-off for primaries and caucuses. Forty-five days before first potential convention date. States that don’t have Republicans controlling the scheduling of their primaries and caucuses will be granted automatic waivers from the cut-off requirement.

Week of June 27: First week under consideration for the Republican National Convention.

Week of July 18: Second week under consideration for the Republican National Convention.